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Clancy DuBos: Louisiana political stories to watch in 2017

What to expect in the New Year

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As we rush headlong into 2017, some of the new year's top political stories already are taking shape because of events that occurred in 2016. Here's an early look (in no particular order) at some of those stories.

New Orleans elections — Qualifying for mayor, City Council, sheriff and other offices is only six months away (July 12-14). Candidates and would-be candidates already are testing the waters, floating rumors, commissioning polls and lining up political and financial support. District B Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell has declared for mayor via email, and that field could grow to a dozen by the time qualifying closes. Mayor Mitch Landrieu is term limited, as are several council members. Also, it will be interesting to see if Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who was stripped of his authority over the city jail by a federal judge, will draw a major opponent.

The Yenni scandal and the recall effort — Don't be surprised if more details emerge in Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni's sexting scandal. Meanwhile, the drive to recall him from office has until April 10 to gather more than 90,000 validated signatures (as of mid-December, it had fewer than 50,000). And then there's the federal investigation into Yenni's sexting of at least one high school student before Yenni took office as parish president.

Fiscal reform — Various Louisiana governors and civic organizations have tried to overhaul our state's tax code and budget policies, with limited success. We seem to have better luck when we hit rock bottom, which means this could be the year ... or not. Wrapped up in this issue will be the future of Louisiana's public universities and public hospitals, along with the popular TOPS college scholarship program.

Legislative partisanship — There was a time when political parties weren't a big factor in state politics. No more. Now it's all about partisanship, particularly in the House of Representatives. That's where fiscal reform faces its toughest fight, thanks to a tightly knit band of Republican lawmakers who staunchly oppose any tax increases. It will be interesting to see how they respond if TOPS gets cut again — and whether Gov. John Bel Edwards embraces comprehensive budget reforms as well as a tax code overhaul.

Replacing David Vitter as the GOP's leader — John Neely Kennedy took Vitter's U.S. Senate seat, but who will fill the former senator's shoes as the driving force of the Louisiana GOP? For more than a decade, Vitter has been the best political strategist in either party, his loss in the 2015 governor's race notwithstanding. This is not a big election year, but the GOP will need someone to emerge as its leader among the elected class.

Crime and violence — This is a story we'd all like to see disappear from the headlines, but local and statewide poverty and education rates dictate otherwise. Crime once again will be a top issue in the New Orleans mayor's race. One glimmer of hope is the growing tide of bipartisan support for prison reform at the state level.

  Here's hoping for some good news as well.

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