Greetings, friends, and welcome to the collaborative Anti-Oppression/Anti-Bullshit Voting Guide for the New Orleans election on November 6, 2018! These guides have been produced lovingly and carefully since 2014 by a group of individuals who wish to confront the existing lack of accountability in the branches of Louisiana government, and in the election process more generally. We did a lot of research and talked with our neighbors, friends, and allies. We tried to cut through the opaque language of the constitutional amendments so people feel more comfortable and knowledgeable about voting either way (or not voting).
We agree on the following guidelines to shape our analysis:
- Promote justice and advancement for people of color, poor people, queer and trans people, immigrants, youth, women, people with disabilities, and people most affected by environmental degradation; prioritize the needs of people most harmed by systemic oppression.
- Favor the judicial candidates least destructive to the lives of the poor and others caught in the dragnet of our punitive legal system.
- Be strategic about New Orleanians’ specific needs being adequately addressed on the state and federal levels, especially with regards to environmental, economic, and health care concerns.
- Reject the influence of post-Katrina opportunism at all levels of government.
We approach this work with a harm reduction ethos—that is, we understand we cannot easily nor quickly move the mountains of inequality, prejudice, bureaucracy, and oppression that keep people down; but we also understand that voting can be part of how we do that. When we say “diversity of tactics,” well, partner, voting is one of them.
* * *
This Louisiana election season, all six members of the House are running for re-election, and not one of their races is on the watchlist nationally. Our 1st Congressional District is an example of gerrymandering at its absolute finest: Stretching from the Northshore all the way down to the mouth of the Mississippi, the 1st District slithers along the western edges of Orleans Parish reaching into Lakeview, a sliver of Uptown surrounding Tulane and Audubon Park, with a white population of 76%. Toxic incumbent and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise is not bracing for any challenge from the five other candidates on this ballot. Scalise is looking at the House GOP’s #1 or #2 spot with the retirement of Speaker Paul Ryan. As the most powerful Louisiana politician in D.C., even establishment Democrats like Congressman Cedric Richmond value him.
But we’d be damned if we didn’t try hard as hell to unseat this self-described “David Duke without the baggage.” Democrat Lee Ann Dugas, who won more votes last go-around than any other challenger, and Libertarian Howard Kearney are back in the race. New candidates Jim Francis and Tammy Savoie are running more contemporary campaigns, both hoping for an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez-style upset victory in the fall elections, despite not running Ocasio-Cortez-style grassroots campaigns. Savoie is garnering the support of Scalise detractors; but unfortunately, politicos don’t consider the race competitive at all.
The only race we’re voting on statewide is for the office of the secretary of state, and it’s quite an important one for preserving election integrity and voting rights. Racist voter suppression in the Georgia gubernatorial race has elevated the issue nationally, and the secretary of state has considerable power in perpetuating or minimizing voter suppression. It is also a place where politically aspirational folks flock: this position is often a stepping stone to higher office. How has Louisiana’s Office of the Secretary of State been handling itself recently? Well, Kyle Ardoin, a Baton Rouge Republican, took over the job after a sexual harassment scandal ousted his boss Tom Schedler, and it seems Ardoin may have mishandled the bid process on new voting equipment. Ardoin and eight challengers are vying for our votes.
Voters will also consider six changes to the Louisiana Constitution. We have the historic opportunity to vote for unanimous juries and end a Jim Crow-era law! We’ll decide parish-by-parish on legalizing fantasy football betting. Locally, where our votes make the most impact on our lives and those of our neighbors, we’re looking at one judgeship in the Civil Court and two administrative positions in the courts. Now that may not get you excited, but you’d be surprised: stay tuned and learn how clerking in the courthouse is actually elevating a progressive agenda for $15 minimum wages!
Vote early and vote often! Unfortunately, the deadline for voter registration has passed, and Louisiana is not a state that allows same-day registration. If you are registered and don’t care to vote, please find someone who is currently incarcerated, on parole, undocumented, or otherwise disenfranchised from voting, but wants their opinions heard. You can vote for their interests.
We suggest you bring a photo ID to the polls, but if you do not have one you can still cast a ballot by signing a voter affidavit which vouches for your identity. The secretary of state audits all voter affidavits after the election to ensure that you are who you say you are. When we say “diversity of tactics,” well, partner, voting is one of them.
When we say “diversity of tactics,” well, partner, voting is one of them.
If you have a disability, you are entitled to receive assistance to cast your vote. If your assigned polling place is not accessible, you can vote at the nearest polling place with the same ballot or at the Registrar of Voters Office. For more details on disability and voting, see the Louisiana Secretary of State’s voting information page.
CA NO. 1 (ACT 719 – SB 31) – Prohibit felon from public office
Do you support an amendment to prohibit a convicted felon from seeking or holding public office or appointment within five years of completion of his sentence unless he is pardoned?
Consider the scenario: a formerly incarcerated person convicted of a felony wants to run for public office. They’ve done their time and been held accountable for any wrongdoing. Now their name is on the ballot, and you can vote for them because they’re an OK person for the job. Or you don’t vote for them. It’s up to you! Lawmakers, who think they can instill public trust in our notoriously corrupt political system, are asking us to vote on prohibiting people formerly incarcerated for felonies, unless pardoned, from seeking or holding a public office until five years after the completion of their sentences.
From 1997 to 2016, formerly incarcerated Louisianans were barred from running for office for 15 years. Derrick Shepherd, a former-state lawmaker from Marrero who wanted back in to politics in 2015, challenged the provision, and the Louisiana Supreme Court overturned it (because of differences in language approved by the legislature and by voters). Since the law was overturned, people convicted of a felony have been allowed to seek office immediately after serving their time, while legislators argue about how long they want someone convicted of a felony to wait before qualifying for public office. A “yes” vote supports the proposed five year waiting period, which was unanimously agreed upon in the Senate, while the House generally supported longer waits.
A “no” vote leaves the choice up to voters of which leaders to elect.
CA NO. 2 (ACT 722 – SB 243) – Unanimous jury for noncapital felonies
Do you support an amendment to require a unanimous jury verdict in all noncapital felony cases for offenses that are committed on or after January 1, 2019?
Louisiana’s non-unanimous jury rule was put into place during a slew of Jim Crow policies skirting the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution in order to disenfranchise Black voters, and it is still in place today. A recent study by The Advocate, which reviewed about 3,000 felony trials over six years, found that 40% of trial convictions came over the objections of one or two jurists, with a disproportionate effect on Black people. Now is your chance to right this wrong.
A “yes” vote—encouraged by Saints linebacker Demario Davis, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter John Legend, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Southern Poverty Law Center—as well as conservative groups the Louisiana Family Forum and Americans for Prosperity—supports this amendment to require the unanimous agreement of jurors, rather than just 10 of 12 jurors, to convict people charged with felonies.
CA NO. 3 (ACT 717 – SB 263) – Permit donations from political subdivisions
Do you support an amendment to permit, pursuant to written agreement, the donation of the use of public equipment and personnel by a political subdivision upon request to another political subdivision for an activity or function which the requesting political subdivision is authorized to exercise?
Sharing your town’s vacuum trucks, bulldozers, etc. with your neighboring town? Yes, sharing.
CA NO. 4 (ACT 720 – SB 59) – Transportation Trust Fund
Do you support an amendment to remove authority to appropriate or dedicate monies in the Transportation Trust Fund to state police for traffic control purposes?
A “yes” vote removes state police from the beneficiaries of the trust fund. A “no” vote allows state police to continue to tap into the fund—meant for construction and maintenance of roads and bridges, flood control, ports, airports, and transit—for traffic control purposes. Louisiana State Police has a history of financial misconduct. In 2017 Superintendent Colonel Mike Edmonson resigned amid a financial scandal when it was found that Edmonson misused taxpayer dollars, state property, and the labor of incarcerated Louisianans. We are decades into a national trend of diverting funds for public goods to police and prisons; this is one opportunity to oppose that.
CA NO. 5 (ACT 721 – SB 163) – Extend eligibility for tax exemptions
Do you support an amendment to extend eligibility for the following special property tax treatments to property in trust: the special assessment level for property tax valuation, the property tax exemption for property of a disabled veteran, and the property tax exemption for the surviving spouse of a person who died while performing their duties as a first responder, active duty member of the military, or law enforcement or fire protection officer?
If homeownership was within reach for more people and we all could be thinking of succession planning for our families, then getting some real estate tax relief on the house we plan to leave for our grandkids, baby cousins, or favorite punk collective would be cool. In reality, a “yes” vote just benefits some rich people, enabling them to hoard their wealth while taking away tax revenues for the public.
CA NO. 6 (ACT 718 – SB 164) – Reappraisal of residential property
Do you support an amendment that will require that any reappraisal of the value of residential property by more than 50%, resulting in a corresponding increase in property taxes, be phased-in over the course of four years during which time no additional reappraisal can occur and that the decrease in the total ad valorem tax collected as a result of the phase-in of assessed valuation be absorbed by the taxing authority and not allocated to the other taxpayers?
No, no, no. The ballot language does not match the legislative language, so this is a total waste. Beloved State Senator J.P. Morrell, who authored the bill, meant to ease the ballooning property values of New Orleans homeowners (who live in the homes they own) plagued by the phenomenon of monetized housing (i.e. Airbnb), by giving them four years of slowly easing into skyrocketing property tax payments, instead of an immediate jump. But this is unfair because it only applies if your home’s value increases by 50% or more. Your home is assessed at a 40% increase? You’re paying more in taxes than the person whose home increased by 50%. All in all, the legislation sucks and this amendment won’t hold up.
PW Fantasy Sports – Authorize Fantasy Sports Contests – Act 322, 2018
Shall fantasy sports contests be permitted in the parish of Orleans?
Oh great, so some parishes will OK legalizing fantasy football gambling, some parishes won’t, and state legislators will spend way too much time in the next sessions arguing over state laws regulating it. A “yes” vote means that legislators will argue whether betting is allowed on your mobile phone (à la New Jersey) or if your local Harrah’s, Boomtown, Golden Nugget, or—insert major casino name here—gets the monopoly on that money-money-money (à la Mississippi). A “no” vote means legislators will be arguing about this same issue for other parishes in Louisiana that OK’ed it—and goddamn if New Orleans would lose its gamblers to L’Auberge’s lazy river in Baton Rouge (Love you, Baton Rouge).
SUMMARY: Yes, because criminalizing activities people already do is not smart.
SECRETARY OF STATE
Kyle Ardoin (Republican)
Heather Cloud (Republican)
“Gwen” Collins-Greenup (Democrat)
A.G. Crowe (Republican)
“Rick” Edmonds (Republican)
Renee Fontenot Free (Democrat)
Thomas J. Kennedy III (Republican)
Matthew Paul “Matt” Moreau (No Party)
Julie Stokes (Republican)
*Hollywood movie trailer voice* In an office… where the last elected official was thrown out for sexual misconduct, and the replacement mishandles contracts, the seat is coveted by nine candidates…
The unelected incumbent, Kyle Ardoin, abruptly switched gears, at first praying for some of the candidates when they visited his office to qualify, then choosing to run to keep the third most powerful office in state government to himself. Why is he wrong for the job? For starters, Ardoin, who served directly under Tom Schedler, claimed he had no knowledge of the sexual harassment going on in the office, despite also supervising the employee who made the claim. Ardoin has also become embroiled in a bid-rigging controversy over the selection of a vendor for new voting machines. Although it isn’t at all clear that this will negatively affect Ardoin’s chances, the appearance of impropriety—at a time when the integrity of elections all over the country has come under great scrutiny—is a serious matter. To top it off, Ardoin opposed waiving public transit fares on Election Day in Lafayette—that’s how much of a troll he is. He’s challenged by a slew of candidates, and we’re certainly expecting a run-off in December. Among the challengers: A Koch brothers-supported state representative from Baton Rouge, Rick Edmonds; the former Assistant Secretary of State (under Al Ater and Fox McKeithen), Renee Fontenot Free; elections commissioner and attorney Gwen Collins-Greenup; and the most darling Republican to the Democrats, Representative Julie Stokes.
Conservative candidates are using the race to stoke fears about so-called voter fraud (a crime that happens at negligible rates on the level of the individual, while thousands are disenfranchised or purged from voter rolls), with the incumbent using mailing lists only he has access to for sounding warnings at elderly and disabled voters (looking at you Edmonds and Ardoin). The Republican who isn’t a total joke is state representative for the Metairie-Kenner area, Julie Stokes. She is drawing support from Dems either because, as the only certified public accountant in the race, she seems competent, or because her campaign is well-funded, so she garners the statewide recognition that the rest of the candidates lack. Stokes’ messaging has focused on being corporate-friendly when it comes to the part of the job description dealing with business-filings, and she’s open to stricter voter ID laws. Her legislative record on social issues is shameful, and her ascendence is undesirable. A good thing? She mentioned that she would support automatic voter registration, requiring eligible voters to opt-out rather than opt-in.
It would be a great feat should a Democrat win this race: Governor John Bel Edwards is the only Democrat recently elected to high office in a generally red Louisiana. For all the midterm enthusiasm nationally, it’s strange that the state Democratic Party exerts so little effort to capture winnable, high-profile statewide offices. A similar scenario played out in last year’s race for state treasurer. The Democrats seem confident in their ability to win the governorship again but uninterested in developing a bench of candidates with statewide appeal.
One of the two Democrats in the race, Gwen Collins-Greenup criticized the way the office has been functioning at a recent forum. She pointed out that while the state spends $52 million a year on elections, “we’re not getting bang for our buck, not with 13% voter turnout.” Collins-Greenup is elevating the need for voter education, and we agree! Not sure Collins-Greenup has the statewide profile to be competitive in the race, though.
The other Democrat, Renee Fontenot Free, is a lawyer who has spent over 20 years working in state government. This is her first run for public office, and she claims to have no political aspirations aside from holding this position. She has extensive experience in the attorney general and the secretary of state offices. Free played a part in setting up the elections compliance unit, which investigates matters of voter fraud, but she has not emphasized voter fraud as a campaign issue. She has regularly affirmed her support for our current voter ID laws (which are not as draconian as the newest wave of racist voter ID laws that ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, has schemed up to disenfranchise indigenous people and other systematically oppressed peoples), and for increased investment in voter education. Throughout the campaign she has emphasized that she does not believe the role of secretary of state should be taken on by a “political activist,” and that it should be nonpartisan. As the secretary of state is inherently a very political role, it’s hard to imagine exactly how that would play out.
SUMMARY: Renee Fontenot Free
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE 1ST CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
Lee Ann Dugas (Democrat)
“Jim” Francis (Democrat)
Frederick “Ferd” Jones (Independent)
Howard Kearney (Libertarian)
Tammy M. Savoie (Democrat)
Steve Scalise (Republican)
Libertarian candidate and Baptist deacon Howard Kearney is a former Republican, inspired into running by the campaign of former presidential candidate Ron Paul, and supports the “right to life including full protection of the unborn.” So, safe to say he will not be an ally for reproductive rights. Independent Ferd Jones, from Hammond, has zero presence in this race.
Candidate forums with the Democrats, Tammy Savoie, Jim Francis, and Lee Ann Dugas, have seen Savoie emerge as the most competent and well-prepared, but it doesn’t say much: there are times when all Steve Scalise’s challengers sound utterly incoherent. Savoie pivoted far, far away from centering abortion access in her stance on the threat of a Roe repeal, openly saying that her military background has enabled her to put ideology aside in the face of compromise. She also asserted, as a medical professional, that we need to “prepare our counselors and law enforcement” in the event of recreational marijuana legalization, because it will lead to an increase in addiction. (According to the literature: In states where marijuana is legal, doctors write fewer prescriptions for opioid painkillers, according to a 2016 study in Health Affairs. Opioid overdose rates are 25% lower compared with states that didn’t legalize marijuana, according to a 2014 study in JAMA Internal Medicine.) Not to mention, in an October panel, Savoie listed Iberville and Bienville as her two favorite and most inspirational Louisianans, recasting their participation in colonization and genocide as a “positive relationship with Native Americans.” Jim Francis stated (with gusto!) that he’d be eager to fund the border wall if it could be used to leverage Louisiana coastal protection.
Credit we will give to Tammy Savoie: It seems like she knows how the federal government works; she’s a graduate of Emerge Louisiana (campaign training for Democratic women candidates); and she’s not Steve Scalise.
It is essential that Scalise doesn’t garner 50% of the vote. Vote for any of them. Just think of a vote FOR any of the Democrats as a vote against a white supremacist with profound and insidious power gaining even more profound and insidious power. Vote against that with everything you’ve got (which is one ballot, in this case). Runoff election is December 8.
SUMMARY: Not Scalise. Only because of the terrible options, Savoie.
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE 2ND CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
Belden “Noonie Man” Batiste (Independent)
Cedric Richmond (Democrat Incumbent)
Shawndra Rodriguez (No Party)
Jesse Schmidt (No Party)
Louisiana’s only progressive member of congress, incumbent Cedric Richmond, could be on his way to a top leadership position in D.C. If the Democrats upset the majority in the House, there’s a real opportunity for the first (in the history of Congress!) Black lawmaker to become Speaker. Speaker of the House has a real opportunity to challenge the Trump administration at this critical time, when the President has openly stoked the embers of white supremacist violence in this country. As head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Richmond is rumored to be a contender for this position. How does he get here? Well, a $1.7 million war chest helps, as well as his his oft-touted bipartisan friendship with Steve Scalise which, in our opinion, is a bone-chilling indictment of “civility politics.”
But we can’t leave it there. Challenger “Noonie Man” Batiste is elevating the platform of the Poor People’s Campaign, spreading the news about local organizing efforts on his Facebook page, and taking a stand against racism and oppression. So tune in to his campaign and get involved in local resistance.
Shawndra Rodriguez is a Baton Rouge-based fundamentalist Christian who, in addition to the usual stances against immigration and abortion, describes herself as “against any climate change/global warming agendas. There is no such thing.” Jesse Schmidt is a Gretna-based Navy veteran and volunteer firefighter running on a Libertarian-lite platform.
SUMMARY: Cedric Richmond or Belden “Noonie Man” Batiste
JUDGE CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, DIVISION E
Omar Mason (Democrat)
Richard Perque (Democrat)
Kenneth M. Plaisance (Democrat)
Marie Williams (Democrat)
This is a special election to fill a judgeship that not a lot of judges stick with. Apparently, the docket is made up of a family law caseload (domestic abuse, divorce, child custody, that sort of thing), which is undesirable to some judges, but a number of them have used the position to advance. All the candidates seem to have some sympathy for the folks they could expect to see in court (if elected), and they don’t seem to disagree with each other, except on who’s more experienced.
Richard Perque, for whom politics is an inherited privilege (his grandfather is former state Rep. Risley “Pappy” Triche and his mom is U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo), insists he’s interested in sticking to this docket, and points to his private law practice that has often dealt with family cases as evidence of his commitment. He has run campaigns for judgeships in the past, and along the way he garnered endorsements from progressive organizations. However, at a forum at Dillard, Perque (who is white) stumbled during a response to a question about Black New Orleanians’ experience in the criminal-legal system, mumbling about “socioeconomic status” and “lack of education” while futilely attempting to regain his long-gone balance.
Omar Mason, less of a public standout on the campaign trail, but a darling of local lawyers, judges, and politicos, is pitted against Perque in this race. He doesn’t have much experience in family law (more in business-related law, like asbestos claims). But as a competent lawyer, he is the New Orleans Bar Association favorite and is endorsed by the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO.
Omar and Perque are joined by two others in the race; but well, Kenneth Plaisance isn’t really competitive, and Marie Williams is a repeat political candidate who highlights community activism but never earns more than a quarter of the votes.
SUMMARY: Omar Mason
CLERK CIVIL DISTRICT COURT
Jared Brossett (Democrat)
Chelsey Richard Napoleon (Democrat)
Jared Brossett (representing District D) has done a good job so far in City Council, but he has his eyes on this office, with its larger budget, higher number of employees, and its potentially longer-term appointment (former Clerk of Court Dale Atkins held the post for 30 years before joining the state’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal). Brossett is challenging Chelsey Richard Napoleon, who has been filling in as clerk since Dale Atkins’ election. As the office’s longtime deputy clerk (11 years), a lawyer, a member of the League of Women Voters and Independent Women’s Organization, and an Emerge Louisiana Boot Camp graduate, Napoleon is groomed—and more than qualified—for the job. Brossett will be holding on to unspent campaign contributions and you know he’ll be campaigning again soon for some sort of political advancement we can get behind.
SUMMARY: Chelsey Richard Napoleon
CLERK 1ST CITY COURT
Austin Badon (Democrat)
Timothy David Ray (Democrat Incumbent)
Although administrative positions in city government do not allow for officeholders to advance progressive agendas in the same way that legislative positions do, Timothy David Ray has made significant strides at the clerk’s office in his short time there. Last spring, former clerk Ellen Hazeur won the election for Judge of Civil District Court Division A, paving the way for Ray to become the interim clerk—the first African American man to serve in that role.
Ray has instituted a $15 minimum wage for all employees, increased public accessibility to court records through electronic upgrades, and worked toward establishing a small claims mediation program. Ray also produced brochures illuminating the eviction process for tenants, which drew criticism from the powers-that-be (the judges!) and wreaked havoc over the summer. The conflict appears to have been resolved: We aren’t lawyers and we haven’t seen these brochures, so we don’t know if complaints that Ray made legal errors or inappropriately blended campaign rhetoric with education materials were justified. However, it is certainly admirable that Ray seems dedicated to educating tenants about their rights, especially in this hellacious New Orleans housing landscape. Grandstanding snake Austin Badon has challenged Ray for this clerkship and on the eviction brochures, in both cases referring to his own schmoozy relations with the judges.
Badon’s schmoozy relations don’t end with the judges, but also include local politicos, having garnered endorsements from the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee and the Orleans Parish Republican Executive Committee, as well as several city councilmembers. Most curious among those is Jay Banks, who may owe his recent victory in District B at least in part to Ray’s colorful endorsement of him in the runoff. As a state representative, Badon carried Bobby Jindal’s voucher scheme to fund religious and private schools at the expense of public education. As a potential mayoral candidate in 2010, Badon once promised to have the New Orleans Police Department “kicking in at least four doors a day,” which is not exactly the sort of image one wants to associate with the administrator of a court that handles eviction orders.
SUMMARY: Timothy David Ray
Depending on where you live, your ballot may differ from this guide. Visit voterportal.sos.la.gov to view your ballot by your name or address. Election day voting hours are from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
League of Women Voters of New Orleans
Candidate biographies and questionnaires
Voters Organized to Educate
Equal justice and civil rights advocacy
Public Affairs Research Council
Guide to the 2018 Constitutional Amendments
Bureau of Governmental Research
Report on Constitutional Amendment No. 6 – Reappraisal of residential property
Anonymous Progressive Collaboration
Baton Rouge voting guide from a harm reduction and progressive reform perspective
This voter education guide is published primarily as a resource and does not constitute an official endorsement of any candidate or proposition by ANTIGRAVITY or New Orleans Harm Reduction Network.
photo BEAU PATRICK COULON