2019 Louisiana Democratic Socialist Voting Guide

Runoff Edition

A Brief Comment On Local Machine Politics

As you are reading the sections on the legislative districts in Orleans Parish, note that U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond has a horse in every race. Richmond has been in political office since he was 27 and was elected to Congress in 2010. He has since ascended to national prominence, serving a term as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and now as Joe Biden’s campaign co-chair. But most importantly for this election, he has assumed and built upon a formidable modern political machine in his district, which stretches from Baton Rouge to New Orleans and covers nearly all of Cancer Alley.

The Richmond machine recruits candidates and then helps them fundraise to win seats in the state legislature. When it’s time for him to run for re-election, he already has a local army of connected politicians to help get out the vote. The machine also uses surrogates like Ike Spears and Blair Boutte to have challengers disqualified before races begin and to disseminate smears on opponents that do dare to run in races against Richmond or his allies. It’s an effective and time-tested method for building and maintaining power, but one that requires significant fundraising, often from the worst of the worst actors in South Louisiana like the petrochemical industry.

Over time, systems like these inevitably reach a point where their primary function is to protect their own position while becoming more and more indifferent to the needs of the people they purport to represent. In the absence of true democratic representation, working class voters will often have to look to machine candidates as “harm reduction” options against more hostile right wing candidates. But we deserve a politics that is capable of offering more than “least bad” choices.

The dismal Richmond approach is also vulnerable to the occasional demagogue. In the 2017 mayoral race, Latoya Cantrell benefited from an “anti-machine” advertising campaign funded by wealthy conservative donors Lane Grigsby, Leslie Jacobs, and Boysie Bollinger. Cantrell continues to employ this rhetoric, vocalizing her displeasure with the machine long after the election. But an “anti-machine” politics in the absence of a genuine class-based argument can often serve an anti-worker agenda. Cantrell and her backers are now facing off with Richmond in District 98, where the mayor has endorsed the most explicitly right wing candidate in any New Orleans legislative district that doesn’t also include Jefferson Parish.

So keep the “machine vs anti-machine” dynamic in mind as you review the choices available on this ballot. New Orleans voters deserve a more vigorous democratically accountable politics where power rises up from the bottom rather than is distributed according to petty personal rivalries or the preferences of the people holding the purse strings.

State Senate District 3

New Orleans East and the West Bank

4-year term, limited to 3 terms

“Doc” Joe Bouie Jr. (D) has been the state representative for District 97 and helped pass a criminal justice package in 2017 that increased eligibility for pardons and commutations. Last year he introduced a bill for a $15 hourly minimum wage. He has also fought in the state house for equal pay for women and greater monitoring of polluting by the chemical industry. Like his opponent, he voted against the abortion ban bill passed this summer. Bouie has also been a highly visible skeptic of charter schools. Bouie has been endorsed by Step Up Louisiana, Cedric Richmond, and the AFL-CIO.

John Bagneris (D) has been representing District 100 and, like his opponent, has consistently fought for progressive legislation. This year he authored a bill to reduce the number of people who will lose their driver's license because of unpaid traffic court fees. He also wrote a bill to legalize recreational cannabis that did not pass the House. He has voiced weaker criticism of charter schools than Bouie and has received financial backing from Democrats for Education Reform, a pro-charter group, and several conservative sources that are a warning sign to some, and a marker of bipartisan ability to others.

State Representative District 91

Irish Channel to Central City to Carrollton

4-year term, limited to 3 terms

The primary race for House District 91 was a melee of four candidates, Mandie Landry, Carling Dinkler, "Pepper" Bowen Roussel, and Robert McKnight, all vying for the title of "most progressive." This battle — to accede to the seat formerly held by local favorite Walt Leger — turned ugly at times despite the (mostly) favorable positions of the candidates. Carling Dinkler came in a close third place, behind Mandie Landry in an even closer second, who in turn won 20 fewer votes than Robert McKnight.

Robert McKnight (D) is a young attorney with the Orleans Public Defenders, having been sworn in to the Louisiana State Bar a mere two years ago. He is aided in his first run for office by the backing of U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond. McKnight has taken a position on ending cash bail, reforming the criminal justice system in Louisiana, and increasing access to mental health treatment and other services for vulnerable populations.

Since the start of the runoff, however, McKnight has warmed to the endorsements of less progressive candidates and causes that call his leftist convictions into question. Most notably, he accepted the endorsement of Carling Dinkler, who in the primaries received crucial support from the pro-charter, anti-union Stand for Children, and who had once forked over thousands to Republicans in numerous local races (boosting David Vitter, Bill Cassidy, and Garret Graves). McKnight was also endorsed by the similarly pro-charter "DFER" (Democrats for Education Reform), about which he boasted on his campaign's Instagram account. His centrist turn in the general election has us concerned.

Mandie Landry (D) is also a young attorney, whose most notable work includes challenging the restrictive abortion regulations that promise to shutter nearly every (remaining) abortion clinic in the state. She also practices criminal defense and touts the same progressive stances on criminal justice reform in Louisiana.

Landry is endorsed by labor unions, including the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers & School Employees — the latter which takes a far more skeptical stance toward the big-money charter school racket. She endorses Medicare for All, a fifteen dollar minimum wage, increased investment in childcare, and decriminalization of marijuana (which is important).

State Representative District 94

Lakeview, City Park, Bucktown, Causeway Boulevard

4-year term, limited to 3 terms

Stephanie Hilferty (R) is the incumbent in this district which combines parts of Jefferson and Orleans Parishes. In her time as a representative, Hilferty has helped give child care stipends to low-income families, fought for a larger share of tourism dollars in New Orleans to go to city infrastructure, and pushed for greater accountability from the Sewerage and Water Board. She is also anti-abortion, voting for the six-week abortion ban bill. Hilferty has received financial backing from the oil and gas industry, and has ignored opportunities in the legislature to roll back or democratize Louisiana's Industrial Tax Exemption Program, which subsidizes hazardous big business with exemptions from property tax.

Tammy Savoie (D) has challenged Hilferty on economic justice, criminal justice reform, and environmental issues. Savoie has voiced support for raising wages and giving parishes control of minimum wage instead of the statewide rule we have now. She supports reproductive rights and equal pay for women and wants to fight against gerrymandering and climate change. While District 94 has elected Republicans for decades, Savoie represents a chance to flip the district this November.

State Representative District 97

Gentilly, Pontchartrain Park, parts of Mid-City

4-year term, limited to 3 terms

Matthew Willard (D) won 34% in the primary, the top vote-getter in the four-way race. He’s a member of a prominent political family and a marketing manager for a local biotech startup. Willard advocates for a “living wage” in Louisiana by 2025, a pointlessly long timeframe when the city’s working class needs relief now. He aims to end state preemption laws, which would allow New Orleans to set its own minimum wage, and eliminate cash bail but only for non-violent offenses. Willard supports equal pay for equal work and paid family leave. He is endorsed by Step Up Louisiana and the AFL-CIO.

Eugene Green (D) received 29% of the vote in the primary. He has been involved in local politics for decades as a member of the City Planning Commission, the Industrial Development Board, the New Orleans Council on Aging, and Gulf Coast Social Services. He supports increasing funding for water and street infrastructure. Green has signed on to the Mayor’s Fair Share Pledge. We don’t know what the pledge really promises, but Cantrell’s “fair share” deal is entirely insufficient. Green favors a cap on property tax assessment increases. He supports Orleans Parish School Board taking over failing charter schools, which is a step in the right direction but not nearly good enough. The city needs to completely abolish charter schools. Green also supports equal pay rules. He is endorsed by Cedric Richmond and the AFL-CIO.

State Representative District 98

Uptown & Riverbend

4-year term, limited to 3 terms

Aimee Adatto Freeman (D) finished first in the October primary with 32% of the vote. She’s a business consultant and adjunct Tulane professor endorsed most notably by former Republican-lite City Council member Stacy Head, the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation, and Mayor Latoya Cantrell. Some of Freeman’s biggest donors in the run-up to the primary were charter school booster Leslie Jacobs, industry lobbying group LABI, and Republican megadonor Lane Grigsby. Freeman publicly touts the typical Louisiana political bromides of attracting new business, “improving” education, and reducing crime. She also has a particular bee in her bonnet about car insurance rates in Louisiana, consistently bringing up reducing them as one of her key legislative goals. When asked about raising the minimum wage, Freeman supports it, but only “reasonably and over time.”

Kea Sherman (D) narrowly edged out competitor Ravi Sangisetty by only 42 votes in the primary, making the runoff with 19% of the vote.The attorney and co-owner of Freret St. cocktail bar Cure also co-founded Emerge Louisiana, the local branch of a group that recruits women candidates to run as Democrats. Emerge is also backing candidates Mandie Landry and Tammy Savoie in their respective districts. Sherman’s financial backers include hospitality industry PACs, fellow local attorneys, pro-charter school organizations, Republican mega-donor Boysie Bollinger and LaTanja Silvester, President of the local SEIU and ally of Cedric Richmond. Her lineup of local endorsements include Richmond, councilmembers Jason Williams and Jared Brossett, former U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, and the Alliance for Good Government (which is not as good as it sounds). She supports an “incremental” increase in the minimum wage offset by tax credits for businesses, along with banning insurance companies from using credit scores and income to set car insurance rates.

State Representative District 99

Ninth Ward, Bywater, St. Roch, parts of New Orleans East

4-year term, limited to 3 terms

In the October 12th election, Candace Newell (D) came within 16 votes of securing a majority and winning outright, but ended up heading to the runoff against Adonis Exposé. Most local media has not fleshed out big differences between between the two candidates, mostly noting that Newell has received support from her uncle, City Council member Jay Banks, while Exposé is backed by U.S. Rep Cedric Richmond. While neither candidate has much political history to look to, Newell's stated goals make her out to be the more progressive candidate. She answered a DSA candidate survey and expressed belief in Medicare for All, shifting more of the tax burden to corporations and the wealthy, voting for Green New Deal legislation, and decriminalizing sex work, among other issues.

Adonis Exposé (D) is running on a platform of strengthening education and bringing new business opportunities to the district. He has said he wants to raise teacher pay and invest in early childhood education. A big red flag for his campaign, though, is heavy support from energy industry lobbyists, which is disturbing for any legislator in Louisiana, and especially disappointing for the district that includes Gordon Plaza, where victims of environmental racism are still waiting for restitution.