While the presidential race and Louisiana's contest for the U.S. Senate will dominate local political news cycles between now and Nov. 8, there are plenty of other important elections on the ballot — in fact, there are hundreds of them spread among the state's 64 parishes. All six congressional seats in Louisiana are contested, and two of them are "open" because the incumbents in those districts are running for the Senate seat that will be vacated by two-term U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-Metairie, early next year. In addition to those hotly contested federal elections, voters across Louisiana will choose two members of the Public Service Commission, two members of the Louisiana Supreme Court, a handful of district and appellate judges, and hundreds of local and parochial office holders.
Of particular local importance are the races for Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) and two special elections in Kenner. The seven OPSB members to be elected this year will begin overseeing the return of all state-run Orleans Parish public schools before the next round of elections, thanks to a state law mandating the return of once-failing schools that were placed under state control in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The Kenner elections will fill vacancies created by the election of former Mayor Michael Yenni as Jefferson Parish's president and Yenni's appointment of former At-Large Councilman Keith Conley as the parish administration's chief operating officer.
Since 2005, New Orleans' many failing public schools have been managed by the Recovery School District (RSD). Created during the tenure of former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, the RSD has presided over vast improvements in student test scores and graduation rates while converting virtually all of its local schools into charter schools. This was a bold step and was not always a rousing success. Overall, however, a majority of public school parents and taxpayers have expressed confidence in the track record of local charter schools.
That said, it's time to begin implementing a plan to put all local public schools back under local control. For its part, the OPSB has cleaned up its finances, improved its bond rating significantly and earned voters' trust — although that road has not always been smooth. Former District 1 board member Ira Thomas' conviction on federal corruption charges last year stands as a stark reminder that voters as well as prosecutors need to keep a close watch on the school system.
Meanwhile, in Kenner, voters face important choices in the coming years in terms of upgrading the city's aging infrastructure with limited resources. Kenner has been blessed with responsible leadership in recent years, and these special elections afford that city's voters a chance to continue that track record.
We hope voters across Louisiana will pay as much attention to local elections as the contests for president, U.S. Senate and Congress. The latter have more prestige and visibility, but the local elections on the Nov. 8 ballot have a far greater — and more direct — bearing on the quality of life in all our communities.