DSA New Orleans 2021 March 20 Special Election

Voter Guide

U. S. Representative

2nd Congressional District

2-year term, no term limits

Congressional District 2 is a winding snake of a district connecting the disparate areas of North Baton Rouge to most of New Orleans by way of the river parishes between them. Until 2011, the entirety of District 2 was contained within the Greater New Orleans area. But when the state lost a Congressional seat after the 2011 census, the state legislature and then-Gov. Bobby Jindal’s redistricting created a classic example of a “packed” gerrymandered district, designed to include as many Black residents as possible so that those voters would not pose a threat to Republican incumbents in other districts. Less concentrated minority populations were “cracked” and dispersed among the other five districts, a gerrymandering tactic complementary to packing that dilutes a given population’s voting power. Local wonks expect the 2020 census to result in the restoration of south Louisiana’s lost district. With Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards getting the final say on upcoming redistricting proposals, it will likely be a district similar to District 2 in racial demographics and party affiliation, possibly built around North Baton Rouge. However, the delay in final Census results leaves this somewhat up-in-the-air.

The geographical expansion of District 2 also reflects the diminished power and wealth of New Orleans in recent decades. The city’s population and the fortunes of its working class residents have been in a state of steady decline since the 1980s, when Reagan-era reactionaries began dismantling the Great Society programs of the 1960s intended to lift Americans out of poverty. As federal support for those programs deteriorated, so too did the improvised structures for their local administration that had grown out of the labor and Civil Rights movements of the time. These political organizations, created by a newly empowered generation of Black professional class leaders, were then forced to “do more with less” in the following decades to maintain the status of their members while the overall mission of community uplift became ever more difficult. Vestiges of that system remain intact. And the inheritors of it retain influence. But they have done so largely by adapting to the power of capital, aligning with business interests, and governing through neoliberal public-private ideology. The major candidates vying for this seat represent factions of that decrepit power structure trying to hold on to their respective pieces of a shrinking pie.

Cedric Richmond, a New Orleanian, held the seat tightly since just before the 2011 redistricting. Richmond basically inherited his power base from former Congressman Bill Jefferson after Jefferson’s career was cut short by a federal prosecution. During the course of his career in Congress, Richmond built a quasi political machine that elected Democrats to state and local offices supported by a coalition of community non-profits and organized labor, but backed by heavy donations from New Orleans bail bondsmen and south Louisiana’s petrochemical industry. Richmond stepped down from the seat for a position as a senior advisor in the Biden administration, setting this special election in motion.

Troy Carter (D), Richmond’s designated successor, has been around the block in state and local politics several times over, having served as a state representative, on the New Orleans City Council for two terms, and since 2016 in the state Senate as the Minority Leader. He is reportedly the leading fundraiser and a presumed frontrunner.

Carter has been in the news in recent months for being a negligent landlord. In 2018, Carter was hit with 14 code violations after neighbors complained about the condition of the house, lead paint, litter, and more, before the house caught fire in 2019. The house still stood, but Carter was content to let the partially-burned building remain in its sorry state until he began campaigning in this election. At one point, Carter was running a tab of $24,160 in fines and taxes on the property.

Beyond that story, Carter has kept relatively quiet in media, candidate forums, and social media, but has been extremely busy in the traditional playing field of New Orleans politics: the backroom. Carter’s long standing connections have garnered him several major endorsements from the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO, the New Orleans Advocate-Times-Picayune, Baton Rouge State Senator Cleo Fields, and South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn. Carter even scored a minor coup with the Independent Women’s Organization, an influential Democratic political group in New Orleans, securing a dual endorsement for himself and Karen Carter Peterson. Peterson is heavily involved with IWO and expected to be endorsed outright.

Carter’s most significant supporter, though, is still Cedric Richmond. Richmond’s political base is traditionally more reliant on organized labor than Peterson’s (hence Carter’s AFL-CIO support). But we should note that in the short month since Richmond joined the Biden White House, the President has failed to lead his Democratic majorities in securing critical aid for working people in the new stimulus bill. The results so far are a broken promise of $2,000 survival checks, a reduction in unemployment benefits, and a shameful desertion of the $15 minimum wage. Very soon, American workers will be demanding that Democrats protect their right to organize by passing the PRO Act. Would a Congressman Troy Carter have shown up to fight for us then? Or would he, like Richmond and Biden, prove to be just another paper ally at the critical moment?

Counterbalancing the parts of the New Orleans patronage system not controlled by the Richmond faction are those literally inherited by Karen Carter Peterson (D). Peterson is a state Senator and former chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party. She is a leading figure in the Black Organization for Leadership Development (BOLD), a powerful local political organization founded by her father and based in Central City in New Orleans.

One reason BOLD has remained influential has been its close alignment with the city’s real estate and nonprofit sectors, as well as a heavy interest in the charter school movement. Peterson, in fact, was among the principal authors of Act 91 of the 2016 Louisiana Legislature. This was the law that transferred control of the public schools in New Orleans back to the local school board from the state but also guaranteed that the schools would be administered primarily through private non-profit charters. Peterson counts among her supporters charter CEOs and leaders of ostensibly “charitable” nonprofits, all of which benefit from policies that break the mission of public education into thousands of niche business opportunities. This is all very much in form with the kind of neoliberal patronage that has kept BOLD relevant. That and a willingness to make cynical political judgments. In 2003, BOLD endorsed Republican Bobby Jindal in a race he lost to Kathleen Blanco, Louisiana’s first woman Governor.

As state party chair during the 2015 and 2019 Louisiana gubernatorial elections, Peterson claims credit for the election of the deep south’s only Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards. However, Peterson and Edwards have had a long-simmering conflict over Peterson’s attempt to get Edwards to drop out before the 2015 jungle primary. With the help of former Senator Mary Landrieu, Peterson hoped to convince Edwards that the best move was to hedge their bets by supporting a “moderate” Republican more palatable than then-frontrunner and unrepentant creep Sen. David Vitter, rather than risk a moonshot bid for a Democratic governor. The fact that Peterson, the state chair for the Democratic Party, was once dead serious about electing yet another Republican governor rather than a member of her own party does not speak well of her political instincts.

To her credit, Peterson never wavered in her opposition to Louisiana’s proposed abortion ban, supported and signed into law by Gov. Edwards. Her platform rhetoric reflects a general desire to appear more outwardly progressive than most Louisiana Democratic campaigns — including her own previous campaigns. She has ventured as far as saying she would co-sponsor a Medicare for All bill, something Richmond never came close to entertaining.

In the same vein, when asked if she supports a Green New Deal, she replied in the affirmative, saying she believed that “aggressive action is needed” to achieve the goal of “net-zero” greenhouse gas emissions, which does not exactly equal zero. She cites the hardships faced by residents of Cancer Alley, the stretch of petrochemical development running through Congressional District 2 between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that for decades has poisoned countless Louisianans — the majority Black, Brown, and/or poor — as the reason for her newfound outspoken support for the Green New Deal. However, when asked if she opposed petrochemical expansion in the region — as demanded by community groups such as RISE St. James and the Coalition Against Death Alley, as well as a UN human rights panel of experts — Peterson waffled with only a weak promise to evaluate projects “case-by-case.” Peterson, as noted in the ANTIGRAVITY voter education guide, has personal ties to energy lobbying firms that call into question her rhetorical commitments to a Green New Deal. At a candidate forum in February, she was challenged to defend her campaign’s willing acceptance of corporate donations. Her labored response could be paraphrased as, basically, not-all-lobbyists.

“Even if they give you a check, it doesn’t mean that you are beholden to them. [...] Lobbyists are also Christians often. Or Muslims.. Or Jewish people who go to synagogues. They also serve on boards. They are people. It’s a profession. All lobbyists are not created equal. Just like all police officers, all lawyers, all doctors. Right?”

Lobbyists are people too. Just like cops, you see.

She says she wants to abolish ICE, but, in the grand tradition of reformers who build more elaborate carceral systems to temper the abuses of current carceral systems, she waffles on that too, saying “we need a path forward with an affirmative vision for a more humane enforcement scheme that is both effective and realistic that promotes compliance with immigration law." Coupled with her explicit statement that she does not want to defund the police, Peterson’s vague hope for a “more humane” system doesn’t inspire much confidence.

When asked about a federal jobs guarantee, Peterson says, “not yet,” hand-wringing about the cost.

Peterson’s veteran status in New Orleans politics and the Democratic Party have made her one of the state’s top Democrats on the national stage, having also served as Democratic National Committee’s Vice Chair of Civic Engagement and Voter Participation. She has leveraged her national relationships to garner the support of prominent Democratic political figures such as Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, as well as media figures like Donna Brazile and Walter Isaacson, who have local and national connections to Democratic Party politics.

Peterson is trying hard to appear like a progressive bona fide, collecting a head-scratching endorsement from Our Revolution, as well as the support of the House Progressive Caucus. Despite all that, Peterson does not really offer anything you haven’t been offered before by any other Louisiana Democrat. Peterson wants you to see her campaign as something special. But, like in a stage play, all the characters are the same, just played by different actors.

In stark contrast to the campaign operations of his two more established rivals, Gary Chambers (D) has no finely-tuned political machine nor backroom maneuvering history. The Baton Rouge-based activist, online journalist, and political outsider is best known for a viral video in which he roundly condemned notorious Baton Rouge school board member Connie Bernard for shopping online during a meeting concerning the renaming of Robert E. Lee High School, now Liberty High School. That video fueled his massive social media following, which dwarfs that of his opponents but is far less local in makeup.

Chambers' campaign casts his long-shot bid in the same light as Bernie Sanders’ 2016 and 2020 campaigns, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s 2018 upset victory, and the underdog wins seen in recent years from an informal leftist congressional caucus known as “The Squad.” He’s raised money from far more individual donors than either Carter or Peterson, claiming over 10,000 donors totalling over $300,000 donations by March — less total funds than Peterson and Carter are believed to have raised, but competitive, nonetheless.

From a policy standpoint, Chambers' platform is as much modeled off of “The Squad” as his campaign style. It is unique, in this or any other Congressional election in Louisiana. Chambers is in favor of Medicare for All. Rather than muddying the waters, as faux-progressives have taken to doing (think “Medicare for all who want it”), Chambers explicitly describes Medicare for All as a single-payer universal health care system. He is supportive of the Green New Deal and relates it directly to the plight of residents of Cancer Alley. Chambers supports reparations, endorsing Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s H.R. 40 to establish a truth and reconciliation committee-style “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans.” He hedges more than we would like to see on defunding the police, saying it, “may not be the best solution.” Instead he proposes an intricate “formula based upon objective quality-of-life factors” to determine law enforcement budgets, something known as “smart funding.” He also proposes to demilitarize police by killing programs that send surplus military gear to police departments and banning the use of “military weapons, equipment, and vehicles” by police — a topic Baton Rouge residents know a thing or two about.

As an alleged “provocateur” not known to mince words with his political targets, it was certain that Chambers would attract some controversy and muck-raking from opponents. Reporters and opponents have tried ginning up a “bad tweets” scandal, based off of cherry-picked online comments Chambers made in his early 20s. But it was critics from the left who made the most hay out of a Chambers controversy after he enthusiastically accepted the support of Shaun King, a controversial political media figure. King’s supporters see him as a passionate and dedicated advocate of progressive causes, while his detractors consider him to be a self-interested, cynical character eager to attach himself to popular movements in order to enrich himself. When questioned by some observers skeptical of King’s motivations and involvement, Chambers vigorously defended King. The reason to be concerned about Chambers’ reliance on sensational viral moments and national celebrity endorsements is that, exciting though they may be, they also call attention to a key element missing in this campaign and, indeed, missing from the political landscape of this district. Presently, there are no working class power structures that can boost a candidate like Chambers in a way that competes with the political institutions Carter and Peterson benefit from. Nonetheless, one can see in the Chambers campaign and among his supporters the aspirations and potential for such a power to exist. It’s what we’re working to build at DSA. Consider joining us in that project.

Desiree Ontiveros (D) entered the race with a splash by painting an old and empty Popeye’s building pink with “DESIREE 4 CONGRESS” (ostensibly to call attention to the issue of blighted properties), leading many who had never heard of her to assume former mayoral candidate Desiree Charbonnet was entering the race. Ontiveros’ stunt may have been meant only to grab attention, but repurposing a blighted property into something whimsical but equally useless evokes New Orleanians’ weariness of other ambitious re-imaginings of their city spaces by opportunistic post-Katrina transplants.

Ontiveros’s camapign is all shallow end, no diving allowed. Ontiveros is unique among the major candidates in that her campaign pays no serious attention to Cancer Alley. She did offer one low-effort social media post in response to Sen. Bill Cassidy’s baiting performance of outrage at its name. But this, like her painted Popeyes, is more surface-level rhetoric. Her website’s section on environmental justice is so vague that one could easily assume Ontiveros is unaware of the specific demands of the many well-established community groups organizing against environmental racism in the area. Consider also her insistence on diversity and anti-bias training for police departments as a viable solution to systemic police racism, a key part of her “public safety” platform — programs we have already paid for and that we already know don't work.

According to a 2018 nola.com spotlight on her business, Ontiveros, a Texas native, came to town for the first time as a tourist via Los Angeles in 2015: “Ontiveros booked an Airbnb for one week in New Orleans. One week became six weeks. Then, without ever leaving town, she signed a long-term lease on a French Quarter apartment.” Ontiveros “didn't know a soul” in New Orleans before her extended Airbnb stay. Ontiveros now owns the Badass Ballon Co., which she says is a “globally recognizable brand” of balloons printed with slogans like “Ain’t Nothin’ But A Gangsta Party,” “Now We Sip Champagne When We Thirsty,” and “I Wear Heels Bigger Than Your Dick.” In her online campaign biography, she focuses on her “protest balloons,” but out of the many designs currently available for sale, only a few seem even nominally political. “Champagne Campaign,” however, may accurately describe the campaign Ontiveros is running.

She touts her position on the board of Plessy Community School as evidence of her commitment to “education for all.” Whatever merits or demerits of Plessy aside, all charter schools are part of the disastrous wave of school privatization imposed on New Orleans after Katrina by some of the most poorly managed and economically austere state governments in Louisiana history. This state-mandated privatization brought an unprecedented end to local control over public schools, at the expense of many children’s educations and literally every single public school teacher in New Orleans, who were all fired immediately after Katrina. More than half of those teachers, many of them veterans and a far higher proportion Black than in most urban school districts, never returned to work at a Louisiana public school again. These pro-charter policies kneecapped the New Orleans public school system in the name of private profit, silenced local parents’ voice through their elected parish school board members, and obliterated one of the city’s strongest and most influential unions, all at once.

In terms of experience beyond the charter board, Ontiveros describes herself as a “community leader” for her role on the Cultural Economy Committee, one of the city’s many make-work pseudo-prestige appointments for whatever local business owners that government officials want to make happy. What major insights she has on the complex culture of a city she has known for an absolute maximum of six years are unclear.

With heavy regional manager at Dunder Mifflin vibes, Chelsea Ardoin’s (R) website proclaims, “‘With liberty and justice for all!’ -Chelsea Ardoin.” Ardoin works for Entergy, though at candidate forums she insists on clarifying that she works in their human resources department on benefits programs. She’s jotted down a limited platform of saving coastal wetlands, opposing “partial-birth abortions” (which is not a medical term, nor does it refer to a medical procedure), term limits for the U.S. House and Senate, addressing the debt, and encouraging rural internet development.

Belden “Noonie Man” Batiste (I) is a respected figure in the culturally and politically influential Mardi Gras Indian community through his role as a flag boy for the Yellow Pocahontas. For over 20 years, Batiste has been a local activist and perennial candidate for local, state, and federal offices representing various New Orleans constituencies. He has never won an election or proceeded to a runoff, and many more established players and pundits in local politics are content to write him off. However, Batiste has long presented voters with one of the most coherent and honest understandings of political power in New Orleans and the people who wield it. He’s seen them in action through years of campaigning, even once losing his place on the ballot over tax issues — a classic New Orleans political machine move to eliminate competition.

There are a lot of characters in New Orleans politics, but you don’t see Councilmember Jay Banks personally showing up to all of their houses for a talking-to. Banks did show up at Batiste’s house, though. The two men tell wildly different stories about why he was there. Banks says he was responding to phone calls indicating Batiste may have been “in crisis.” Batiste says Banks was there to scold him about his criticism of Karen Carter Peterson during a candidate forum. Banks is affiliated with BOLD and a supporter of Peterson. Peterson’s subsequent “certainly, we need mental health care” remark at a forum aimed in Batiste’s direction came off as abelist as it was mean-spirited. Credit to his unmatched gumption, Batiste has responded by making it explicit that he is running with the express goal of stopping Peterson.

Batiste accurately describes the petrochemical industry, long economically and politically dominant throughout the district, as dying and in need of immediate replacement. He proposes redirecting support to green energy and tech jobs, and supports a moratorium on all petrochemical development in the district. He readily champions the Green New Deal and has expressed eagerness to work with those in Congress already fighting for it, as well as the Climate Displaced Persons Act to assist displaced communities in deciding their own destinies. Batiste believes in federal reparations for all those descended from Africans kidnapped and enslaved in the US and all other colonial societies, structured through “pensions and endowments.” His platform also calls for a decoupling of property taxes and school funding, Black homeownership programs, expansion of community medical facilities, and small business and community organization grants. He has indicated support for Medicare for All and has specifically called for free, fully-funded health care for all those affected by pollution in the district, from Cancer Alley to Gordon Plaza. Batiste is the most ardent of all the candidates on the issue of a living wage, saying $22 an hour is the lowest acceptable, and $30 as the “base for a thriving wage.” When asked if he supported a federal jobs guarantee and full employment, he simply answered “yes.” He openly supports defunding police and the decriminalization of sex work and drugs. He also favors the abolition of ICE, for-profit prisons, forced inmate labor, and the death penalty.1 Regardless of Batiste’s more finely honed personal political instincts and admirably open disdain for powerful and entrenched politicians, his campaign track record frankly does not inspire confidence in his ability to win elections.

Harold John (D) is a longtime local organizer and retired letter carrier who has described himself as the labor candidate in this race, though he’s having a hard time getting traction and funding. John has no listed donors, but his connections within the organizing community run deep. He has been organizing for workers’ rights for around 30 years, when he got involved with the National Association of Letter Carriers local Branch 124. He has been on the Executive Board of the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO since 2001. He has organized alongside Justice and Beyond since 2014. He has worked with Step Up Louisiana for the past 5-6 years where he is a member of their Local Advisory Committee. As a candidate, he sees the position of Representative as a continuation of his work as an organizer.

Although he does list Medicare for All as a priority, John says his interest in running for Congress is more local than national. He wants to use the “bully pulpit” of the position to draw attention to issues that face everyday New Orleanians, from housing and food insecurity, to retooling the charter school system, to environmental justice.

On environmental justice, John wants to advocate for people living in St. James and Assumption Parishes who are being poisoned by petrochemical companies. John says that charter schools inadequately prepare students, and that his opponents are fully entrenched in the charter system.

J. Christopher Johnson (D) is the youngest candidate in the race at the self-described “tender” age of 24. He describes himself as a “political activist, public speaker, philanthropist, entrepreneur, and community organizer” and CEO of Mobilizing Millennials, a nonprofit geared toward increasing political engagement among younger voters. Beyond that organization, Johnson is involved with a multitude of nonprofits, including CK Life Education and Pathways, which provides transgender people specialized resources, the New Orleans Youth Alliance, and two Tulane School of Medicine advisory boards.

Housing is a central issue in Johnson’s platform, including proposals for universal rent control and rent relief at the close of the COVID eviction moratorium. He also advocates for developing “housing communities for social work and development” to help the unhoused “develop tools needed to thrive in life."

Johnson says industrial development in Cancer Alley should cease immediately. He says he intends to draft legislation that will shift funding from petrochemical companies to infrastructure development nationwide while providing for “one-for-one” job replacement programs. He also proposes a direct tax on petrochemical companies to fund health care services specifically for workers affected by exposure on the job. We should point out, though, that such a program would still leave out residents living in nearby fenceline communities who also face exposure to toxins. To address other health concerns, Johnson wants to expand the Affordable Care Act with a public option, although he did answer simply “yes” when asked if he supports Medicare for All. He connects the abysmal maternal health outcomes for Black women in Louisiana to reproductive rights and abortion access, declaring himself pro-choice and a supporter of maternal health programs for Black mothers, as well as dedicated funding to support the success of Black and Brown medical students.

Also central to Johnson’s campaign is the College for All Act to provide free public higher education. He characterizes this policy as a solution to both the racial wealth gap and the gender pay gap when supplemented by an increase in the national minimum wage and the reintroduction of the Equal Rights Amendment. Johnson pinpoints $35,000/year, or just under $17/hr, as a living wage, with $50K/year, just over $24/hr, as a “thriving wage.” He also plans to increase funding for education and social services by reallocating money from policing, which he accurately describes as “reactionary.”

Johnson is more direct regarding transgender residents’ concerns than most other candidates in the race, calling for the abolition of Louisiana’s notorious “Crimes Against Nature” statute, an unconstitutional anti-sodomy law still on the books and not uncommonly used by police to target, entrap, and harass LGBTQ+ and especially Black and Brown people. He indicates a desire to work for “transgender protections” in the realms of housing, employment, and public accommodations. He does commit to “advocate for mental health programming to assist with unaddressed traumas” for trans people, but is a bit vague on specifics in some of his proposals.

Understanding Lloyd Kelly’s (D) candidacy requires familiarity with Belinda Parker-Brown’s prisoner advocacy group Louisiana United International. Parker-Brown took Kelly to watch the murder trial of Pastor Errol Victor, Sr., where the judge saw Kelly in the gallery and appointed him to assist the otherwise lawyerless defendant. Kelly is not a lawyer. The purpose of this campaign is all about drawing attention to the absurdities of Victor’s case. Victor is running a parallel campaign in the 5th Congressional District as part of the publicity drive. Kelly began his campaign calling out Cedric Richmond, Troy Carter, and Karen Carter Peterson for doing nothing to help the thousands of people in the 2nd district facing evictions and foreclosures.

Brandon Jolicouer (NP) introduces himself as LGBTQ and from a long military lineage, with a desire to help others experiencing disasters and poverty. He calls out racism and corporate greed as the reason for Louisiana’s lackluster pollution regulations, with proposals for reducing the petrochemical industry’s stranglehold by harnessing energy from the Mississippi River and by growing hemp. He takes issue with people who privately fence off local waterways, and is into restoring coral reefs. He believes that all people, including same-sex couples, should have the right to choose a family should they want one. He offers a number of liberal policy positions such as expanding legal avenues for immigration, expanding healthcare with special attention to veterans, a cost of living adjustment for social security beneficiaries, as well as some boilerplate security state language about “protecting the country from terrorists.” He works as a catastrophe adjuster for natural disasters and as a film production assistant. At the Coalition Against Death Alley candidate forum, he was among the most ardent candidates supporting a moratorium against new or expanded petrochemical development in Cancer Alley.

“Due to overwhelming support from America Greg announced he's retiring from IT to run for Congress,” read Republican army veteran Greg Lirette’s (R) tweet announcing his campaign. “Regardless of results Greg is running.” Lirette seems to have a MAGA starter pack of positions concerning “disinformation,” “big tech censorship,” and “election integrity ensuring all legal votes count —” not to mention a litany of tweets denouncing Republicans who endorsed the presidential election. And, as the ANTIGRAVITY voter guide reported last week, Lirette faces extensive and horrifying domestic abuse allegations.

Mindy McConnell (L) hopes to cut government spending by first deregulating business and limiting “unnecessary regulatory agencies,” a position dangerously out of touch for a district that encompasses Cancer Alley, where regulators are already woefully ineffectual, underfunded, and inattentive (by design). The rest of her platform is the usual libertarian goofiness. For instance, on one hand, she acknowledges the need to wean our state off fossil fuels, but, on the other hand, insists that we need at least 15 more years of status quo operations before we can transition to “clean oil,” which is not something that exists. McConnell is a co-principal at the Bridge Middle School Charter, and a firm believer in charter schools. McConnell meets the low bar of acknowledging COVID-19 is real. But she loathes local governments that have implemented policies to “restrict religious freedoms” by keeping people from gathering in churches to stop the spread of a deadly virus.

Jenette M. Porter (D) is a small business owner. As Uptown Messenger first reported, she was motivated to run because she’s “angry about how my people — Black people — are being treated” by police. She is a member of the local chapter of the NAACP and the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, but beyond that, her campaign presence is rather limited.

Sheldon C. Vincent Sr. (R) thinks “Dads matter and Grandpa too.” Confusingly, his platform is limited to creating an ultimatum for spending any tax dollars on children. He argues both biological parents should be required to be involved, boasting that this would “put a police officer in these homes called dad.” Out of all the candidates present at the Coalition Against Death Alley’s candidate forum, he was the most openly hostile to their goal of promoting environmental justice and a green economy. Vincent is a self-funded perennial candidate. Last November, he ran for this seat as a Republican taking in 4.9% of the vote. Vincent is a veteran, landlord, and, we assume, a grandpa.

A former Olympian and LSU track star, Claston Bernard (R) is the officially-endorsed Republican candidate in this race. State GOP bigwigs such as former gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone and state party chair Louis Gurvich attended his Donaldsonville launch rally, which drew a sizable crowd of mostly unmasked supporters. Bernard, who has run for office once before as a Democrat, is centering his campaign on disaffected Black conservative Christian voters like himself "who don't really have a place in the Democratic Party." His stated goal is to convince voters generally skeptical of Republicans that the party is “about fixing our community.”

But Bernard’s platform indicates otherwise. He insists that the 1990s welfare reforms, which devastated countless working families, worked well, specifically espousing work requirements for welfare recipients. However, “workfare,” as such requirements are known, has long been discredited as deeply ineffective at alleviating poverty and primarily benefiting wealthy people who don’t want to pay their fair share in taxes. While Bernard’s candidacy and the state Republicans’ investment in his campaign are part of a broader Republican effort to appeal to populations of voters outside of their established base of support, they do not represent any kind of meaningful policy or culture change for the party.

U. S. Representative

5th Congressional District

2-year term, no term limits

The heavily white and Republican District 5 spans from the upper northeast corner of the state to as far south as portions of Tangipahoa and St. Landry parishes. When the state lost a Congressional seat in 2011, it redrew the map to split minority populations between primarily the 4th, 5th, and 6th districts, a gerrymandering tactic known as “cracking,” and included as many Black residents as possible in the 2nd district, a complementary tactic called “packing.” This resulted in five secure Republican seats and one Democratic stronghold in District 2.

In 2002, a Democrat named Rodney Alexander was elected to represent the district, but just before the 2004 race, he switched parties and was re-elected as a Republican. After Alexander switched parties, Zelma Blakes became the sole Democrat in the 2004 race. In an interview leading up to the election, Blakes pointed out that a sample ballot distributed by the Louisiana Democratic Party failed to include her name, highlighting the party's lethargic approach to the race — and elections outside of New Orleans and Baton Rouge generally.

In 2014, Ralph Abraham was elected to the seat, backed by some big Republican names. When he retired in 2020 after a botched 2019 campaign for governor, he hand picked his campaign-manager-turned-chief-of-staff, Luke Letlow, for the seat. Letlow died of COVID-19 between his election and swearing into office, prompting a special election. Letlow's wife Julie Barnhill Letlow is in the running to fill his spot, continuing a long southern tradition of politicians’ spouses stepping into the ring when their elected partners pass away. Mr. Letlow’s chief Republican rival in the November race, Lance Harris, is sitting out this election after an unsuccessful bid in January to replace Louis Gurvich as state Republican party chair.

Julia Letlow (R) has made no indication that she plans to deviate from Mr. Letlow’s policy platform: cozying up to oil and gas, austerity, the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer...you know the drill. She is endorsed by Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise, who also serves as a major power player in Louisiana Republican politics

Dr. Letlow is no stranger to the residents of District 5 or Louisiana politics. She’s served in various administrative roles at educational institutions in Louisiana, most recently at the University of Louisiana at Monroe— first as marketing director, then as the chief of university external affairs, in the latter role serving as ULM’s liaison with the state government. Before her husband’s election, Dr. Letlow was one of six top contenders for the university presidency. She was not selected.

The other Republican candidates are a grab-bag of long shots and local characters. Errol Victor, Sr. (R) is currently in jail on a second-degree murder charge delivered by a non-unanimous jury. A former pastor, Victor and his wife were charged with the murder of his stepson. Their cases shuffled around the courts for a few years, then the couple is alleged to have skipped trial after firing their lawyers, leading to an “America’s Most Wanted” appearance. Victor’s wife was unanimously found guilty. Victor, however, was found guilty by a 10-2 vote: a non-unanimous jury verdict, since ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court. Already having served 6 years at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, Victor is back in state court. Victor may be no Eugene Debs when it comes to campaigning from jail, but he deserves his fair trial and the right to stay closer to home (and outside of a cell) to prepare for it, as requested by the NAACP. He’s supported in his candidacy by prisoner advocacy group Louisiana United International and the associated candidacy of Lloyd Kelly in District 2.

Allen Guillory (R) is one of the few candidates returning to the race after participating in the November election. Unfortunately, his first act upon re-entry was to declare that Julia Letlow’s children, who just lost their father to COVID-19, “would lose two parents” should their mother win, presumably because he believes women belong at home as caretakers for children. This misogynist remark seems to have taken the wind out of his campaign’s sails, as he has not posted on his campaign Facebook page since December.

Chad Conerly (R) is a political newcomer who has made his career in armed services administration. He lists a standard right wing national platform; support for cops and guns, opposition to the right to abortion and what he perceives as big tech’s “censorship” of conservatives, along with the familar complaints about “election integrity” associated with the current movement afoot to suppress voting rights. Concerning more local issues, Conerly calls himself “pro-agriculture,” being a farmer himself. It’s worth asking what that might mean, though. A 2019 Bayou Brief profile on Ralph Abraham’s “family farming” interests showed that this can be a big (and heavily subsidized) business. Conerly vaguely alludes to a need for rural economic development, and wants to expand rural internet access, noting that he is running his own campaign from a mobile hotspot. He’s also admonished the role of money in politics, pointing out that it “shouldn’t take $1.4M” to run a rural Congressional campaign. Those last few issues really do matter, but Conerly isn’t on the right track to solving them, given his strong allegiance to Donald Trump and his Republican party.

Usually styling himself as “Captain Landsen” since his service in Iraq and during the military occupation of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Robert Landsen (R) practices maritime law in New Orleans and Ponchatoula. He is a devout fundamentalist Christian, hoping to unite people on the grounds that “Muslims, Christians, and Jews are all people of the Book.” Based on Landsen’s campaign materials, his primary political concern is the Biden administration’s willingness to accept that women have a right to abortion and his desire to restrict that right.

Sancha Smith (R) of Opelousas is also a devout Christian, the centerpoint of her “Christian Conservative” campaign. She has shared several videos on her Facebook page indicating she has built her campaign on traveling extensively throughout the disparate district, with little apparent consideration of COVID beyond vague indications that certain places are “open for business.” In one video posted to her campaign page, she describes an ideology (or theology) reminiscent of Manifest Destiny, with a contemporary nationalist spin: “When I say that I believe in national sovereignty… that means protecting America from foreign influence that would want to tell us how to govern our people, right? That would want to define our borders for us. No, no, no, no, baby. No. The Lord carves out the boundaries and establishes the borders.” This worldview evidently places the United States government, military, and colonial apparatus in the role of the Lord. In another, Smith signals she’s ready to work with the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, one of the state’s most vile anti-worker, anti-regulation, and anti-environmental lobbying groups. That one’s got another stinger: “American exceptionalism. Here we go!” In this one, she’s wearing one cross-shaped American flag pin, and another Israeli-American flag pin. Sorry, we’ll stop now. You get it.

M.V. “Vinny” Mendoza (I) is an organic farmer, disabled veteran, and perennial candidate for various constituencies and statewide races. Most recently, he ran for Bill Cassidy’s Senate seat in November, earning just under 0.38% of the vote. He supports Medicare for All, but opposes the right to abortion. He also says he supports a $15 minimum wage. His rhetoric is also infused with a healthy dose of conspiracy theory, frequently alluding to certain secret knowledge of stealth military bases and “senior advisors” he claims to have.

Jaycee Magnuson (R) has just under a couple hundred Facebook followers and a Trump-modeled five-bullet platform. Horace Melton III (R) went to an out-of-state crawfish boil and was disappointed in the under-seasoned mudbugs, according to his campaign site.

Richard H. Pannell (R) and Jim Davis (NP) do not appear to have active campaigns.

You would think that Louisiana’s jungle primary system and this clown car of Republican lesser-known candidates might lend some hope for a credible Democratic challenge. But in District 5, the Democratic Party organization is stagnant, and their lethargy functions to protect the current patronage systems affording them power and wealth. An extension of this is that the party does not seem to put effort or have interest in finding, developing, and running dynamic candidates.

The sole Democratic candidate in the current race is a businesswoman and social worker from Alexandria named Sandra “Candy” Christophe (D). She was the state Democratic party-endorsed candidate in the November general (ultimately coming 0.2% short of reaching the runoff), and has once again received the state party endorsement.

Christophe has a long history of receiving Medicaid and Louisiana Department of Corrections contracts for questionable therapy and re-entry programs for the formerly incarcerated. Christophe lied about her qualifications to receive a contract with the state corrections department to provide therapy to sex offenders, and then violated ethical guidelines and best practice standards while treating her patients. Violations included hosting group therapy sessions with 21 people instead of the maximum 12 directed in treatment protocols, and treating clients for far shorter amounts of time than required. She also solicited clients who were already being treated by other therapists to use her counseling center. Surely, one would think, the state Democratic party could find and develop a candidate with a little bit more distance from a shady industry that profits off of mass incarceration, but no. In her campaign materials and social media, Christophe runs a feel-good campaign directed to the ever-shrinking social milieu of Louisiana Democratic party activists, carrying behind her a light platform and heavy baggage.

The Louisiana Democratic Party never had any real intention of contesting this race, now or back in November. Generally speaking, the top dogs of the party are content to remain a minority in certain districts and even in state government, provided it advances their personal interests. The party routinely fails to even qualify Democratic candidates for races in countless districts statewide. In many ways, the party has willfully condemned itself to the status of controlled opposition.

State Representative

82nd Representative District

4-year term, limit 3 terms

This is a special primary election to fill the seat left vacant by Charles Henry’s abrupt resignation to join New Orleans law firm Adams and Reese as a senior government affairs adviser. Henry formerly served as Chief of Staff to U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, as did his brother State Senator Cameron Henry (who held this seat prior to Charles Henry’s election). Scalise, himself, held the seat before he was elected to Congress.

District 82 includes parts of Old Metairie, Jefferson, Elmwood, Harahan and Kenner. Republicans have held the District 82 seat since 1984. The District voted 63% for Trump in the 2020 presidential election, but swung 52% for Gov. John Bel Edwards in 2019.

Raymond Delaney, Jr. (D) is a military veteran, former law enforcement officer, and current position as assistant professor of criminal justice at Southern University of New Orleans. His website and social media includes much of the same jargon as his opponents on businesses, working families, and fondness for the second amendment. He also makes vague claims that he will work to “upgrade infrastructure” and “improve veteran’s healthcare.” Delaney notes that he contracted with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to provide support and treatment to formerly incarcerated individuals with special needs.

Edwin “Eddie” Connick (R) is a well-recognized name in New Orleans area politics. We may as well include a family tree for this political dynasty. There’s infamous former Orleans Parish District Attorney Harry Connick, Sr., who served as DA from 1973 to 2003, and his son actor/singer Harry Connick, Jr. There’s also Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick, Jr. and Louisiana State Senator Patrick Connick. In 2011, Justice Ginsburg, in a dissenting opinion joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, concluded that the prosecutorial misconduct during Harry Connick, Sr.’s reign as New Orleans DA “was no momentary oversight, no single incident of a lone officer’s misconduct. Instead, the evidence demonstrated that misperception and disregard of . . . disclosure requirements were pervasive in Orleans Parish.”

Eddie Connick works for a medical device sales company. He is promoting himself as “the only candidate to be endorsed by both business and labor,” touting endorsements from the Alliance for Good Government, Crimefighters, the Jefferson Parish Republican Party, Jefferson Chamber PAC, AFL-CIO, Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), and SOUTHPAC, LABI’s PAC.

As expected for this district, Connick’s platform highlights his anti-abortion views, love of the Second Amendment, and pro-corporate desire to cut taxes for businesses. In return, Connick has raked in the most money in this race. He’s received donations from the likes of Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta, marine industry companies, Airline Shopping Center Partnership, Jones Walker law firm, and NORPAC — a PAC with a mission to increase military spending and lobbying for more U.S. military support of Israel’s brutal oppression of Palestine.

Laurie Schlegel (R) is a faith-based mental health counselor and the wife of Jefferson Parish Judge Scott Schlegel, who recently lost a bid for an open Louisiana Supreme Court seat. Her campaign is supported by Baton Rouge contractor Lane Grigsby and Eddie Rispone. She shares the LABI and Jefferson Chamber PAC endorsements with Eddie Connick, and also has the endorsement of Greater New Orleans Area Republicans (GNOR) PAC.

Prior to becoming a counselor, Schlegel worked as a sales representative for AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals and Marriott Hotels. She is a graduate of St. Catherine, Dominican, and LSU. Like most Christian counselors in the New Orleans area, she received her Master of Arts in Marriage & Family Counseling from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. No surprises here — she is anti-abortion, pro-cop, and pro-corporate tax cuts.

As is the case with fellow St. Catherine and Dominican alum Amy Coney Barrett, the internalized misogyny runs rife and deep. On her website, Schlegel claims she will “bring conservative solutions to the table.” Schlegel is listed as a counselor with Christian-focused Lighthouse Healing Center, which specializes in “therapeutic process for healing sex addicts.” According to their website, they will happily pathologize teenagers for daring to look at pornography or express their sexuality through sexting or any sexual activity. This form of sex-negative counseling is alarmingly reminiscent of conversion therapy — moralistic judgments dressed up as clinical theory. The concept is often used to demonize sexuality, and to further exploitative political agendas persecuting vulnerable populations, sex workers, LGBTQ+ people, and women. This appears to be one of the many “conservative solutions” that we can look forward to if Schlegel is given a position to further her oppressive agenda.