This voter education guide is published primarily as a resource and does not constitute an endorsement of any candidate or proposition by ANTIGRAVITY Magazine.
Welcome, readers, to the ANTIGRAVITY voter education guide for the March 20 election. This is a special election to become U.S. Representative of the 2nd Congressional District because, despite being coy about it, Cedric Richmond gave up his seat to join President Joe Biden’s senior leadership team. The field has 15 candidates, and the Louisiana Democratic Party has endorsed all eight Democrats. Due to Louisiana’s jungle primary electoral system (wherein a single candidate must achieve a simple majority to win outright), there will be another election in April.
Congressional District 2 includes all of St. James Parish and portions of Ascension, Assumption, East Baton Rouge, Iberville, Jefferson, Orleans, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, and West Baton Rouge Parishes. As of 2018, District 2 was 61% Black and the median income was $38,131. Seven of the 10 most air-polluted census tracts in America are in District 2, an issue we discuss at greater length in our November 2020 guide, which we advise you revisit in order to understand the legacy that this new candidate will be inheriting.
Since 2014, we have published and lovingly crafted voter guides as a service to our readers, first in collaboration with the New Orleans Harm Reduction Network, then separating to work under the ANTIGRAVITY banner. Our most consistent position through all the years? That no aspiring politician has earned our endorsement. We review candidates with the mentality that we ought to elect the people who we might most successfully push and pressure, to lessen suffering among those most likely to suffer. In other words, we vote for who we most want as our opponents.
We are releasing this voter guide at the onset of early voting per the demands of our readers. But news relevant to this ballot will continue to break. It is not feasible for us to keep updating this guide (we have this little side project called ANTIGRAVITY Magazine. We just published our 200th issue, check it out). So we encourage you to keep yourself informed.
This guide was written by a team of six people, including ANTIGRAVITY editorial staff. We pored over national media, local media, and social media. We watched virtual forums. Our research included (but was not limited to) public records, campaign finance reports, court filings, police reports, and real estate records.
This voter education guide was not produced by a political party or organization—in fact, many of us have little (or no) faith in electoralism. We are invested in creating this document as a way to dissect and map power. We use these values to guide us:
Local politics impact us most, and vice-versa. We prioritize issues that involve New Orleans, surrounding areas, Louisiana, and the Gulf region. We reject post-Katrina opportunism, pandemic-era exploitation, and austerity at all levels of government and the private sector.
Any analysis of power ought to center the needs and experiences of the most vulnerable among us—those most subject to bodily and institutional violence and neglect, not just by the State but also by mainstream politicians, including progressives. We seek to promote justice, dignity, and autonomy for historically punished and exploited populations like Black people, Indigenous people and people of color, people with disabilities, poor people, queer and trans people, immigrants with and without documentation, youth, elderly people, women, unhoused people, people who use drugs, people who earn income in informal or stigmatized industries like sex work, currently or formerly imprisoned people, and people most affected by climate crisis.
We write this guide as unapologetic utopians: we refuse to let the scarcity and horrors of our present dystopia limit our imaginations.
If you are registered and don’t care to vote, you can 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.
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.
The makeup of this ballot, including names of candidates and information about how, where, and when to register and vote is based on information provided by the Louisiana Secretary of State and the City of New Orleans website. For info on what your ballot looks like, as well as information about disability and voting, go to the SoS website, voterportal.sos.la.gov.
U. S. Representative 2nd Congressional District
Chelsea Ardoin (Republican)
Belden “Noonie Man” Batiste (Independent)
Claston Bernard (Republican)
Troy A. Carter (Democrat)
Karen Carter Peterson (Democrat)
Gary Chambers Jr. (Democrat)
Harold John (Democrat)
J. Christopher Johnson (Democrat)
Brandon Jolicoeur (No Party)
Lloyd M. Kelly (Democrat)
“Greg” Lirette (Republican)
Mindy McConnell (Libertarian)
Desiree Ontiveros (Democrat)
Jenette M. Porter (Democrat)
Sheldon C. Vincent Sr. (Republican)
Chelsea Ardoin is the benefits project manager for human resources at Entergy, meaning it’s no surprise she’s looking for a new job. Who’s just barely less-hated in South Louisiana than Entergy? Why, state politicians of course. And so Ardoin sets out, a registered Republican with no apparent political experience. Her campaign slogan is “America needs healing…I CAN help!” But Ardoin’s scant policy props leave the nature of this healing mostly up to our imagination. Suffice to say, it won’t include people with uteruses and a desire for reproductive choice, as she would work to “partially” ban abortion. Other campaign highlights include imposing congressional term limits—effectively a means of fettering government efficiency—and a moratorium on taxes until debt can be “dealt with.” The quotes are her own—it seems Ardoin’s time at Entergy at least prepared her for the political sphere insofar as it taught her a bit about hollow double-speak. It’s impossible to think about Entergy’s hijinks without recalling their astroturfing scandal or, more recently, how they cut off power three times more than necessary during rolling blackouts. But we digress.
Returning once again for a run at whichever political seat is up for grabs, is Belden “Noonie Man” Batiste, who is practically an honorary ANTIGRAVITY contributor at this point with how many times his name has appeared in our pages. Noonie Man was recently in the news after the police were called following a run-in with Councilmember Jay Banks outside the Batiste home. According to Noonie Man, Banks was angry that Noonie had criticized Karen Carter Peterson at a recent forum (Peterson is also on this ballot and has been endorsed by Banks). Batiste said Banks threatened him and demanded he drop out of the race. Banks, for his side, claimed he was simply concerned about Noonie Man’s wellbeing following an aggressive phone call to the councilmember’s office. A wellness check is nowhere near as benevolent as it sounds. There are alternatives to calling the police if you’re concerned about someone’s wellbeing, including but not limited to calling Metropolitan District Human Services. The feud is a mess, with more rumors circulating than we can substantiate, and which are ultimately not germane to the purpose of this guide.
For a candidate like Noonie Man, who routinely runs his campaigns on negligible financing and who finished next-to-last in two previous runs at Richmond’s seat, no press is bad press, even when a city councilmember is making accusations about your mental health. Maybe Banks really threatened him, maybe not; but Batiste is riding the press coverage for all it’s worth, filing for a restraining order against Banks.
Drama aside, policy-wise Noonie Man is a solid candidate. His policies remain steadfastly progressive. He’s been a longtime advocate for economic equality, and his campaign site prioritizes a $22 an hour living wage, housing and Medicare for All, plus a moratorium on petrochemical plants in Cancer Alley and reparations for those impacted by it. Regarding COVID relief, he stated: “People deserve $5,000 a month, let’s deal with it.” Electability-wise, we doubt Noonie Man would be described as viable in mainstream electoral discourse. (This guide is not concerned with viability.)
Claston Bernard is the officially-backed candidate of the Republican Party of Louisiana who, paradoxically, boasts that he’s a “political outsider.” Born in Jamaica, which he twice represented in Olympic track and field, and educated at Louisiana State University, he now runs a Gonzales home inspection business promising “gold medal performance.”
Bernard is also the author of three books, including Outcast: No Room at the Table for Conservative Blacks in Black America, and has said he expects to appeal to Black conservative Christians who don’t feel served by the Democratic Party. While he has emphasized his belief in the Constitution, Christianity is at the core of his politics in a way that people (of many backgrounds) will find exclusionary or just plain creepy. “If you want freedom look to the Cross,” says his official platform, which devotes its entire first plank to an explicitly Christian relationship with God. “If you need peace look to the cross. If you need justice look to the cross. God’s justice is perfect.”
A married father of two girls, Bernard wants to “incentivize and promote the nuclear family,” claiming two-parent families produce better outcomes than ones headed by a single parent (other non-nuclear options don’t seem to be addressed). He’s also staunchly anti-abortion, and his website includes a video of a pregnancy ultrasound, looping forever.
Bernard credits his education at a prestigious school in Jamaica and also LSU with getting him where he is today, and he’s called for a program to incentivize businesses and private donors to subsidize after-school programs in academics, the arts, and trades. But he believes that today, our “failing” public schools are too focused on race and gender issues to the detriment of reading and science. Fact check: these areas of study are nothing without each other and attacks on ethnic and gender related educational programs are an effort to write marginalized people out of history. Bernard is drawn to right wing conspiracies, including those that now foment violence against Asian-Americans. “This Wuhan virus seems to have one purpose, to make sure @realDonaldTrump is not reelected,” posted Bernard’s campaign Twitter account late last year. “Now election fraud witnesses have to quarantine due to exposure. Just like how the rigged votes were for Biden, the Trump team keeps getting hit by the virus.”
This kind of reactionary ahistorical political nonsense is the rule, not the exception: the Green New Deal, Bernard warns, is “a path to slavery,” and, he said in a Ballotpedia survey, the greatest challenge facing the United States over the next decade is “the attack of Socialism.” (Okay, we will brace ourselves to get smacked real hard upside the head with some student debt forgiveness, universal childcare, and health care, sir.)
Troy Carter has held a position in nearly every level of local and state government. He was first elected at the age of 27 and has been making his way through the ranks ever since. He’s been elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives, the New Orleans City Council, the Louisiana Senate, and he now has his eye set on Congress.
While Carter and his wife live in a gated community on the Westbank, he also owns several other properties. One in Algiers Point was declared a public nuisance in 2018 and caught fire in 2019. The property has been dilapidated for years, and neighbors have complained and provided pictures of the building’s shoddy infrastructure (ironically, Carter is the chairman of the Algiers Development District). Carter blames the City’s ineffectual permit system, but neighbors say they’ve been raising these concerns for a decade. We have little doubt that Carter has encountered some difficulty with government bureaucracy—who among us hasn’t—but the property’s long-standing neglect and disrepair renders him an exceptionally shitty landlord, and it doesn’t inspire confidence in his ability to get things done in a timely way.
At the time of this guide’s publication, Carter has raised $405,000, which is the most money of any candidate. With endorsements from the Independent Women’s Organization (IWO), AFL-CIO, New Orleans Councilmember Helena Moreno (who we kinda thought would run for this seat herself) and former seat-holder Cedric Richmond, he is undoubtedly one of the frontrunners in the race. In the Prophetic Voices forum he said “80% of our donations have come from within the state of Louisiana, and 50% of that is low dollar donations,” but this doesn’t track against his campaign finance reports. While 87% of his donations are individual donations, 85% of the grand total comes from large individual donations (the Federal Election Commission only requires reporting of donations that exceed $200—so that is the threshold for a “large” donation). Some standout contributors include 18th Judicial District Attorney Tony Clayton, former NOPD police chiefs Eddie Compass and Warren Riley, current Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson, former Republican House Speaker Jim Tucker, and Cedric Richmond’s campaign as well as his PAC.
Carter’s own PAC, the Algiers Political Action Committee (APAC), which is now chaired by Ed Robinson, owes the Louisiana Department of Ethics $6,600 in late fees and has not filed a statement of organization with Ethics since 2019, meaning they were not officially registered in 2020 and are not officially registered now. This didn’t stop APAC from making endorsements and accepting $33,000 in 2020 from candidates. Is Carter’s PAC involved in his current campaign for Congress? We can’t know, since the PAC has stopped filing required reports. Campaigns and PACs are supposed to be separate entities with limitations on their communication. But Carter’s current campaign address is also the same as APAC’s address. We have no evidence of overlap in infrastructure, which is what crosses the line. After consulting with experts, here is our understanding: One could request a probe from various entities (the State Ethics Committee, the State Senate, the FEC). In such an investigation, the onus rests on the campaign to prove there is no untoward collusion with the PAC. (Requesting such a probe is outside the purview of this guide.)
Tracking Carter’s position on education is a little tricky. He’s received donations in the past from charter school backers Stephen Rosenthal and Scott Jacobs, but has also received some union support from Teachers Union LFT-PAC and GNO AFL-CIO. However, he did endorse pro-charter school board candidate and rampant transphobe Leslie Ellison, whose bigotry we discussed at length in our November guide (don’t worry, she got absolutely bodied by J.C. Romero). Carter attended PHILOS, a convening of “an influential group of stakeholders in the education reform movement” often held at luxury locations. However, he also attended the Southern Education Foundation Forum on the Politics of Equity (SEF has published articles critical of education vouchers and the Louisiana Recovery School District). Overall, this feels like appealing to—plus accepting free lodging and transportation from—both sides. It’s hard to get a grasp on where Carter’s own views truly reside.
In the Power Coalition forum, Carter said that lobbyists should be allowed in government, but there should be a better balance of huge, well-funded lobbyists and citizen lobbyists. He also said he doesn’t think that it’s bad to be a career politician, calling it a dedication: “Change takes a long time.” Change surely doesn’t come overnight, but the speed at which it currently progresses is glacial. This is not solely the fault of Carter, or any single politician, but being an active and lifelong participant of the impotent political machine and continuously assuring the starving populace that greener pastures are coming, sometime, in some future, produces skepticism among constituents (including us).
Carter has sponsored state-level legislation since 2015 to increase the minimum wage, including in 2019. That would have raised the minimum wage to $9, but those measures have been voted down every time. He also voted against a bill that would limit environmental lawsuits against oil and gas companies, and said if elected he’d immediately engage with EPA Region 6 in order to reduce emissions and establish better monitoring. He describes “effective partnerships” with petrochemical companies as being those that don’t harm the communities in which they’re located. We’ll let that sentiment stand on its own. He hasn’t come out in favor of policies (like the Green New Deal) that would provide extensive infrastructure shifts away from oil and gas toward less environmentally disastrous options. Tick tock tick tock tick tock.
When it comes to the prison industrial complex, Carter promises bare minimum reforms. In 2018, he sponsored a bill that would have loosened sentencing and parole rules, but he does not seem in favor of substantive measures for ending mass incarceration. In forums he’s said he wants to end private prisons, but this talking point is reformist misdirection. The problem with private prisons is not that they are private but rather that they are prisons. In the November 2020 election, Carter’s PAC endorsed incumbent candidate and alleged sexual harasser Franz Zibilich. (Don’t worry, this sore loser got absolutely bodied by Angel Harris, and his reflections on his loss speak to his character: “The White male is extinct almost in this city,” Zibilich bemoaned.) Carter sponsored a bill “to express wholehearted support for law enforcement and police departments and reject any notion to defund law enforcement or police departments in Louisiana.”1An earlier version of this guide referred to Senator Peterson as a cosponsor of SR54, as indicated on three websites that independently track bills. We were contacted by her campaign who informed us that Senator Peterson was not a cosponsor. Senate Secretary Yolanda Dixon explained that Senator Peterson’s name was added automatically per an informal tradition in which, when there is a call for all senators, absent members are added and can request to be removed if they so wish. Senator Carter had also moved for all senators to be included regardless of their attendance. Data is not available to contextualize how often that occurs, but Secretary Dixon indicated it is not uncommon. There are 39 senators and 38 listed as authors, indicating that Senator Peterson alone requested the removal of her name (the five other absent senators did not make such a request). We have changed our original language to reflect that Senator Peterson did not sponsor this bill, and have offered her campaign the opportunity to make a comment on why the senator chose not to. So beyond some possibly lighter sentences and in-name ending private prison contracts (state prisons also contract out to private companies for specific services), that’s it. Status quo.
We are not who we date nor who we marry. Who among us has not had a partner we fervently wish to not be judged by? But we are also not running for public office. Worth knowing, then—Carter’s wife, Col. Andrée G. Navarro, is a United States Army Officer, listed as a Commander for “2nd Psychological Operations Group,” and she also “oversees logistics at the New Orleans Asylum Sub-Office, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security.”
Overall, it’s hard to trust Carter’s positions or his ability to get things done in a timely manner (see the house in Algiers). We have concerns about his funding sources. He seems content enough with the slow pace of governmental inaction, and has yet to put forth an aggressive stance or plan to change anything.
Joining Troy Carter as a frontrunner in this race is State Senator Karen Carter Peterson. She’s been endorsed by the IWO (who also endorsed Troy Carter)—of which Peterson and her mother are both members—and Stacey Abrams, perhaps being positioned as part of Louisiana’s own blue wave corollary to the one Abrams spearheaded in Georgia. KCP (she refers to her volunteers as Team KCP, so we’re taking our cue from her here) is running this election on the progressive platform popular among many Democratic voters right now. However, one doesn’t have to dive all that deep into Peterson’s background and political history to find stark contradictions to her current talking points.
Peterson has repeated at multiple forums that she supports a Green New Deal, pointing out that Black and brown communities are disproportionately impacted by non-renewable energy and climate change—which she calls the major crisis of our lifetime. Strong words coming from a woman who has been elbow-deep in corporate oil and gas for years, through her connections with Dentons, one of the largest corporate law firms in the world, representing major oil and gas companies and raking in over $4 million lobbying in 2019 alone. Dentons has received various contracts from the New Orleans City Council dating back to the 1980s, ostensibly for the purpose of consulting and regulating Entergy. As reported by The Lens, Dentons and others who received lucrative energy contracts from the council have made substantive donations for years to the same politicians tasked with awarding the contracts. Particularly relevant here are the $25,000 worth of donations to the Louisiana Democratic Party’s political action committee spanning the years 2013 and 2018. KCP was the chair of the party during this time, and was hired by Dentons in 2014. Actions speak louder than words.
Money talks even louder: Peterson’s ethics report shows an annual salary of over $100,000 from Dentons, and she was listed as counsel on the firm’s website as recently as February 24. However, after a series of tweets exposed Peterson’s connection to the firm, the Dentons site was purged of any mention of Peterson. When asked for clarification, Peterson’s campaign told us the senator resigned from her role at Dentons prior to announcing her bid for Congress in order to focus entirely on reaching out to voters. Maybe that’s true, but her LinkedIn account indicated that she was employed at Dentons as of March 2. Regardless, it seems Peterson already did enough outreach with her lobbyist coworkers before supposedly resigning—campaign finance reports reveal members of the firm have contributed thousands to her congressional run. Add to this her membership in Black Organization for Leadership Development (BOLD), a New Orleans political org co-founded by Peterson’s father that has also been tied to energy and utility consultants since the late ’80s, and the senator’s campaign pillar of the Green New Deal starts to look pretty shaky.
Speaking of campaign finances, Peterson has raised the second-most of any candidate (behind Troy Carter) in this race with just over $300,000. Rubbing elbows with the lobbyists in her campaign finance reports are a handful of charter school proponents, such as Sharon Clark, the Principal/CEO of Sophie B. Wright Charter School, and D’Juan Hernandez, a former CEO of a failed charter who racked up $13,000 on his school’s credit card, and has since served on multiple boards at other charters. Hernandez also happens to be Peterson’s brother-in-law—Louisiana charter schools are part of the family business for Peterson. Her husband, Dana Peterson, has held numerous positions in the Louisiana Department of Education over the last decade, and is part of the department’s Recovery School District, used as a major tool to convert “struggling” (read: intentionally impoverished) public schools to charters in South Louisiana. According to ethics disclosures, he raked in six-figure salaries for his trouble, all despite having no apparent prior education experience. How does the saying go? Behind every successful man is a woman who was the main author of Act 91, legislation that reunited schools under the Orleans Parish School Board but in the same swoop gutted their power by requiring a supermajority vote on a number of decisions, and meanwhile granted broad authority and autonomy to charters.
Peterson has been vocal about her support for increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and in fact recently filed legislation to do so. The increase wouldn’t come into play fully until 2026, with no change until next year. Yes, we need an increase in the minimum wage, but we needed $15 a decade ago and five years from now it will be even further off from a livable wage. Also worth noting here is that Peterson put forth legislation as recently as 2016 to increase the minimum wage to just $8.50. So is she adapting with the times or saying what she thinks people want to hear?
It’s surprising, perhaps even impressive, that Peterson found time to file legislation at all. Legislative roll calls indicate that Peterson was absent from or did not vote in 20 of 24 of what nonpartisan watchdog group Vote Smart called key votes in the State Senate in 2020. Since 2017, she has missed over 1,700 (or 45%) of all possible legislative votes.
Where does Peterson stand on prisons and policing?2An earlier version of this guide referred to Senator Peterson as a cosponsor of SR54, which “Expresses wholehearted support for law enforcement and police departments and rejects any notion to defund law enforcement or police departments in Louisiana.” Our research was based on the corroboration of three websites that independently track bills. We were contacted by her campaign who informed us that Senator Peterson was not a cosponsor. Senate Secretary Yolanda Dixon explained that Senator Peterson’s name was added automatically per an informal tradition in which, when there is a call for all senators, absent members are added and can request to be removed if they so wish. Senator Carter had also moved for all senators to be included regardless of their attendance. Data is not available to contextualize how often that occurs, but Secretary Dixon indicated it is not uncommon. There are 39 senators and 38 listed as authors, indicating that Senator Peterson alone requested the removal of her name (the five other absent senators did not make such a request). We have changed our original language to reflect that Senator Peterson did not sponsor this bill, and have offered her campaign the opportunity to make a comment on why the senator chose not to. In an IWO forum, Peterson called for an end to mandatory minimum sentences and privately-funded prisons, and voiced support for allowing formerly incarcerated people to vote. She also proposed ending the war on drugs by expunging past convictions (this would not end the war on drugs, it would merely… expunge past convictions). Then she doubled down on how much she values the police, and proudly touted her endorsement from Gonzales Police Chief Sherman Jackson. How would she deal with police violence and systemic racism? With more training, of course. It’s the typical neoliberal phone-a-friend answer (they are dialing 911). The problem with more training, and what Defund the Police advocates have been saying, is you can’t fix a system that’s broken from the top down. How do you train away white supremacist groups actively infiltrating positions of power in police departments across the country for half a century? How do you reform a Baton Rouge cop choking out an unarmed 13-year-old child just weeks ago? You can’t.
One talking point Peterson has parroted throughout this campaign is her track record for sticking to her principles and values, and never compromising (which, see above). Or for further reading: Peterson’s addiction-shaming rhetoric toward former city council candidate Seth Bloom (before her own gambling addiction was publicized); or betraying former ally Walt Leger III. If there’s one thing KCP sticks to it’s her habit of saying what’s politically advantageous while acting in her own self-interest. During the 2015 gubernatorial race, she notoriously encouraged John Bel Edwards to stand down and make way for a more moderate Republican candidate to challenge the far-right frontrunner. However, in this campaign she’s more than once plugged her own pivotal role in getting Edwards elected twice. It’s not that both stories can’t be true, and it’s not unforgivable that when things looked bleak for Edwards, Peterson may have just been trying to pivot to the lesser of two evils—a decision voters are certainly familiar with (sick to death of?). But to center her campaign on a narrative of herself as uncompromising or principled is to presume voters are too disengaged or apathetic to research her. (Or, rather, to wait until they do, then hastily edit the web page in the middle of the night.)
Ultimately, Peterson is an establishment politician through and through. She’s saying all the right things now, but her money, legacy, and record are littered with self-serving governance and contradictions.
Gary Chambers is an activist born and raised in Baton Rouge. He has been endorsed by former presidential candidate Marianne Williamson. He’s the publisher of The Rouge Collection, which is described as “Baton Rouge’s Black owned urban media platform,” where Chambers authors the vast majority of content (the last thing published on the site was in June 2020). He’s also the owner of Signature Consulting LLC, a business consulting agency.
Chambers has by far the most grassroots support of any candidate in this race, particularly in his hometown, Baton Rouge, but we haven’t seen the left mobilize for him in New Orleans. And we do mean the left—not liberals. A prominent leftist organization in town is Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the national membership of which touts itself as the most consequential leftist organization in the country. New Orleans DSA appears to be an organization well-equipped at using people power and infrastructure to support specific campaigns. They were significant players in the powerful coalition to oppose Prop 2. As a national organization, DSA makes endorsements, and some individual chapters choose to as well. We know that New Orleans DSA, in their excellent voter education guides, has so far not made endorsements (or summaries singling out candidates, such as ours). We just also know New Orleans DSA can be quite a force, and we wonder why we haven’t yet seen that force backing the progressive Black grassroots candidate from Baton Rouge. As stated in the intro: this document you are reading exists not to carry water for candidates but to map power. DSA is on that map, and we are interested in seeing what they do between now and election day.
Chambers has a large social media presence, with nearly 85,000 Twitter followers and 282,000 Instagram followers—earned, in part, by confrontations with local governance. In 2017, he was kicked out of a Baton Rouge Metro Council meeting for bringing up the death of Alton Sterling, who was shot and killed by the Baton Rouge Police Department. Last year he gained national attention by going viral for telling off school board member Connie Bernard, who was caught online shopping during a meeting about renaming Lee High. From FEC reports available so far, Chambers has raised $106,000 with no PAC money; 100% of it has come from individual donors, and 78% of that has come from small donors (under $200). This is an impressive level of fundraising for someone who’s never held office before.
Chambers seems to espouse policies in line with our values, and it doesn’t feel like a put-on; he’s been vocal in his community for years. He supports the Green New Deal and talks about the need for Louisiana to divorce itself from oil and gas. In the Prophetic Voices forum he said “If America can take a man to the moon, we can get rid of cars with gas.” He recognizes the need to advocate for River Parishes and areas outside of New Orleans as well. He also supports Medicare for All, citing the pandemic as proof of its necessity. Chambers believes in the right to abortion and that marijuana ought to be legal. He’s stated that his biggest priority is creating more jobs so people aren’t leaving Louisiana for greener pastures, or being forced to break the law to survive. He talks about the need to reform the criminal legal system, but his website says that rather than defunding the police he’d advocate for “smart funding” the police—a phrase that evokes even less substantive change than “defunding.” (We are team abolition.)
Take a moment to revisit our analysis of New Orleans’ educational apartheid system in our November guide. If you don’t have a moment: the all-charter school system is an inequitable, unstable, and unaccountable apparatus, robbing Black students of the high-quality education every child deserves. In a Q&A, Chambers was asked if he supports more locally-run charters rather than out-of-state operators. Chambers replied that he’s not sure he supports charter schools at all, saying they haven’t delivered the results they promised and the “highest performing” school districts have zero charters. Indeed.
During the Prophetic Voices forum, Chambers criticized lobbyists, saying they should not be allowed in government and that working class people don’t have time to lobby their representatives. This is a stark difference from the two front-runners of the race, who both said that lobbyists are not inherently bad, that there are good lobbyists and bad lobbyists. A lobbyist’s job is to influence public policy, and they are paid to do so in increasingly discreet ways.
Chambers recently hosted an event with mainstream progressive Shaun King, whose reputation seems impervious to the plentitude of criticisms from Black activists, particularly Black women. King (who even slid into the comments of a Power Coalition forum to say he’s “rooting for Gary Chambers”) has long been the subject of controversy, and has been called out repeatedly for using his platform in ways that harm the communities he claims to be serving, and for being opaque about where the money he raises really goes. When Chambers was questioned about his association with King, he got defensive, saying “I’m not your typical person running for office, I’m loyal to those who are loyal to me.” Bit of a reactionary tautology there. Chambers later said “So take this note early, don’t ever come at me about who I associate with.” Loyalty to those loyal to you, rather than loyalty to just causes and ideals, is exactly what we expect from an establishment politician. To tell your not-yet constituency that they’re not allowed to question your associations is worrisome; the company you keep matters. When concerned supporters made those points, he blocked at least one. Chambers seems to be fighting for the right things, but in order to represent the people you have to be able to take criticism and feedback from the people. It’s in the job description.
Harold John, a retired postal worker, previously ran for state rep of the 99th district in 2019. John calls himself the “true labor candidate” behind his background in union organizing and advocacy. He is an officer for Step Up For Action, a nonprofit sister org of Step Up Louisiana that focuses on economic justice and education reform. In a recent forum, John stayed true to these ideals, drawing a connection between criminalization of youth and inadequate youth education in New Orleans. He called charter schools a failure and said we ought to invest in public education, diversify school curricula, and expand extracurricular activities. He also pointed to the loss of the teachers’ union as having a substantive negative impact on youth education. This is a nuanced assessment the likes of which we’re not used to hearing from Louisiana political candidates; without union protection, teachers can get fired for standing up for policies that help kids. Everyone loses—the teacher and the policy both get sacked, and the kids bear the ramifications from the fallout. When asked whether he supports defunding the police, John said yes, but also no, reframing the question to reallocating funds rather than doing away with the deadly punishment bureaucracy. He would redistribute police funds to mental health, he says, and supports legislation that would do away with qualified immunity, but still thinks police should be responsible for public safety. John also supports decriminalizing marijuana.
J. Christopher Johnson is the youngest candidate in the race, having just reached the constitutional minimum age of 25 to serve in the House. He supports rent relief and $2,000 retroactive monthly pandemic survival checks, along with free public college and student debt cancellation. He backs support for traditional, non-charter public schools, reallocating police funding, protections for workers on the basis of gender and sexuality, and a Green New Deal. He supports abortion rights and wants to see funding that helps get Black and brown people into the medical profession and that lessens the “astronomical” Black birthing mortality rate. He’s also called for phasing out charter schools and eliminating standardized testing in schools.
“I am in this fight for anybody who is somebody and that is everybody, including both you and me!” he says on his campaign website. A Dillard University graduate and activist who is working on a master’s degree in urban planning at the University of New Orleans, Johnson is the founder of Mobilizing Millennials, a hashtaggy nonprofit that aims “to recover the fabric of true American democracy while promoting social equity and economic mobility.” In practice, that’s meant things like getting out the youth vote, collecting resources for unhoused people, and organizing rallies and petitions by young residents calling for a wide range of reforms.
Brandon Jolicoeur has worked in film and as a catastrophe adjuster, which means in the wake of disasters like hurricanes he appraised damages to homes and businesses in order to determine how much insurance should pay out. Making morality calls based on one’s job isn’t a concept that holds up very well—most everyone is contributing at various levels to a system exploiting the most marginalized—but a job that requires disasters in order to create profit is dubious, to say the least, and disaster capitalism, to say the most. On his campaign site, Jolicoeur spins his work as a unique means to engage firsthand with communities across southern Louisiana impacted by climate change and environmental negligence. Fittingly, his platform is largely centered around environmental justice. He wants to move Louisiana away from oil and gas reliance and instead harness energy from the Mississippi, which is an idea so simple and obvious in concept it must be either brilliant or not thought out at all (we know which our money’s on). He would also Audit the Government (caps his own) as a means to reduce spending and lower the debt, and based on his findings, might lower taxes for individuals.
Lloyd M. Kelly is a Democrat who doesn’t appear to have a huge campaign presence. He’s the executive director of a nonprofit called Helping Ourselves Make Economic Strides Inc. (HOMES), which is a building consultant business, and the manager at 420 Health Solutions LLC, which appears to help patients access medical marijuana, both of which are listed at the same address.
In a forum on February 24, Kelly focused on three main issues: extending the moratorium on foreclosures and evictions, getting rid of the prison labor exception in the 13th Amendment, and providing reparations for Black people. He said he will support legislation that ensures anyone making less than $17 an hour will have their student debt wiped out three to five years after graduating, and after that it’s on a sliding scale. He discussed the district being majority Black, noting that New Orleans makes up about half of the district’s population. He went on to say that while the rural, River Parishes need schools and hospitals, New Orleans needs more of them. New Orleans certainly needs a jolt to its infrastructure, but the River Parishes have long been neglected at the expense of bigger cities.
We are in the unhappy position of marking an ANTIGRAVITY voter education guide first: a trigger warning preceding coverage of a candidate. We almost exclusively deal with upsetting content, given that we analyze power (which lends itself to abuse), but the following merits special advisement: prepare for detailed accounts of violence, abuse, and harassment (and care for yourself accordingly).
Republican Greg Lirette boasts on his campaign site that he’s “a lifetime member of the NRA and a NRA Certified instructor.” While employed in IT as an “escalation engineer,” he ran for city council in a Dallas suburb on a platform that included letting people bring guns into public buildings. But Lirette neglects to mention that after being charged with “battery of a dating partner,” in St. Bernard Parish, he is currently prohibited from having firearms under a judge’s order of protection3We obtained these documents from the St. Bernard Clerk of Court’s site using a month-long subscription; the watermark designating the documents as “unofficial” is because we are a broke zine, and you have to pay $1/page for the watermark to vanish. For the Orleans Parish Civil District Court website, the fee is $3/page—on top of a costly subscription. How public are public records? A serious question, but the work of another piece..
The charge came after Lirette allegedly grabbed his girlfriend by the throat and hit her in the head when she confronted him about chatting with another woman online, according to a St. Bernard Sheriff’s Office report. Deputies reported seeing marks on her head and neck that confirmed her account.
His guns, according to court records, were at that point actually already in the custody of the St. Bernard Sheriff’s Office. They were taken after he was caught on camera pointing one of them “in the direction of” the vehicle of a neighbor’s adult son, as the man drove away following an argument with Lirette. After officers arrested Lirette in that 2019 incident, for which he faces charges of aggravated assault, the sheriff’s incident reports that his girlfriend said “she was so happy that detectives were there” and that “Lirette has been saying crazy things and should not be in possession of a gun.”
While we would never advocate taking police sources as gospel truth, there exists no systemic State bias against white male Republican IT consultants. According to the documents we obtained and have linked here (redacted to prioritize the privacy of victims and witnesses), Lirette has racked up a concerning series of domestic violence charges and restraining orders across multiple jurisdictions. You must already know, reader, we stand with survivors.
In 2006, according to court records, Lirette pleaded no contest to Texas charges of “family violence” assault, criminal mischief, and “unlawful carrying of a handgun by a license holder.”
In Jefferson Parish in 2011, court records show an ex-girlfriend was issued an order of protection against Lirette after she alleged he came to her home highly intoxicated, entering through the doggie door while she was asleep. He purportedly went into her bedroom, woke her up, and refused to leave for approximately an hour. According to court records, she said he had on previous occasions “used a choke hold type restraint hold” on her and “shoved and kicked” her. She also said that Lirette (who is running as a “cybersecurity and IT expert” who can take on the “big tech big wigs”) hacked into her email account. The ex-girlfriend reported that Lirette accessed potentially embarrassing personal messages, forwarding them to her employer and various government agencies, effectively making her quit a high-paying job (if true, this is a form of economic abuse). Lirette also claimed in some of the emails he sent that his ex-girlfriend and her father had hired “the Mafia” or “high end thugs” to menace him. A Jefferson Parish judge issued a roughly $191,000 default judgment against Lirette, including damages for defamation and violation of a federal privacy law as well as attorney fees and court costs, writing that Lirette “never answered” the complaint.
We are far from done. Lirette also faces a battery charge in New Orleans after allegedly tasing a man during a late night altercation on Bourbon Street in 2019, with EMS removing a “Taser prong” from the reported victim’s thigh. Lirette has pleaded not guilty.
On top of the assault and battery charges, Lirette faces an additional charge in St. Bernard Parish for possession of stolen property. After he was arrested for allegedly attacking his girlfriend, she, according to a Sheriff’s Office report, told officers that Lirette had ID cards belonging to “unknown women” and she was concerned they might be “victims of identity theft.” At least one of the women purportedly told officers she has never been to Louisiana and there’s no reason for Lirette to have her Tennessee ID. Lirette has pleaded not guilty to all three of the St. Bernard charges.
In another legal matter, a Chalmette woman sought a protective order in 2017, alleging that Lirette “has threatened to kill her,” “infiltrate every aspect of her life,” observed her home from outdoors, commenting on the contents, and later banged on her door yelling. He also appears to have attempted to doxx her after a feud online, publishing her legal name and Twitter handle in a vitriolic blog post where he accused her of being part of “the hacker group anonymous based on race relations out of Ferguson.” The judge dismissed the case, saying the two were “equally guilty of the alleged grievous conduct on-line.”
Publishing angry blog posts interspersed with reposted police press releases about New Orleans crime seems to have been a pastime for Lirette, along with getting into online fights, particularly with women. (Lirette posted that he cleared his Twitter followers and timeline around 2019, but many old Twitter and blog posts are still archived online.)
At one point, it appears that Lirette posted a recording to YouTube (on an account bearing his name and which also hosts campaign materials) of a conversation with an anonymous woman who appears to be calling to challenge him about his behavior online. “You have a problem every week and you’re targeting people—every week, somebody different,” she told him.
“Oh yeah?” he responded. “You’re so full of shit. You sound like a real bitch. You sound like a real bitch. You sound like a true bitch.” Later, after she continued to confront him, he added “you sound a little bit worked up.”
He then called what appears to be an emergency phone number. After putting the initial caller on speakerphone, he told the operator “ma’am, this is a woman talking to you, she’s in desperate need.” The caller told the confused operator that Lirette was “making threats to many women,” and the operator suggested contacting her local police. After the call ended, the recording continued for a few seconds, and Lirette seems to say “fucking bitch—let me post this shit.”
“Abuse of power comes as no surprise” is a truism for a reason. Everything we have discussed so far should be disqualifying alone. But let’s delve into Lirette’s politics.
In a February forum hosted by the Power Forum for Equity and Justice, Lirette appeared to distinguish himself by being the only candidate in attendance who wouldn’t support decriminalizing sex work with what at first might seem a surprising objection. “No,” he said, “it’s degrading to women.”
Is it odd that Lirette supports low taxes, loose gun laws, decriminalized marijuana, “Constitutional Rights,” and “reviving the economy and growing jobs,” yet believes women should be jailed for turning otherwise constitutionally protected activities into a paying job? Nah, there has been a long line of politicians who believe in economic liberty for those they favor (usually men who look like them) and paternalistic restrictions for everybody else. A century ago, the Supreme Court allowed limits on working hours for women, not men, explaining that “as healthy mothers are essential to vigorous offspring, the physical wellbeing of woman becomes an object of public interest and care in order to preserve the strength and vigor of the race.” Since then, most types of work have been claimed off limits to women under similar pseudoscientific authority, as it would damage their fragile lil bodies and souls.
Lirette may find women using their bodily autonomy scary compared to activities like bearing arms and tut-tutting in Caucasian at NOPD press releases, but he’s presented no argument that meets his own stated standard of following science in making policy.
Science, he argues, should govern our response to the coronavirus pandemic. “I’m the only science candidate,” Lirette told the host of a conservative webcast called “Wake Up America!,” before clarifying in response to a question that he does “absolutely not” have a degree in the sciences.
Specifically, he said in the Power Forum event, the science indicates that hospitality workers who test positive for coronavirus antibodies should be allowed to go back to work “without restriction, because science backs it up” under the law. “I see nobody talking about it, not just in this forum,” said Lirette.
In fact, such policies were discussed since the early days of the pandemic, when even conservative economists warned they could present a serious danger—that people would infect themselves with the virus (and likely pass it on) so they could get back to work.
That’s that on Lirette. We don’t think he has a shot at winning, but people who run for office tend to continue seeking positions of power and today’s longshot could be tomorrow’s frontrunner. One function of this guide is to contribute to the public record, in that event. Moving right along.
Mindy McConnell, running as a Libertarian, is co-principal at The Bridge, a “therapeutic program” contracted by New Orleans Public Schools and run by a charter management organization. The school was created for children who have been expelled from other schools. Charters who’ve expelled these students, or want to free themselves of children they can’t handle, pay the program a daily fee. New Orleans Public Schools also kicks in extra money. Or put with less editorializing: “Schools with an expelled student pay a set rate for each day the student is at an alternative site.” The school opened after the only alternative charter school serving expelled middle school kids suddenly shut down in the beginning of the 2018-19 school year (after New Orleans Public Schools didn’t provide the school with requested assistance).
McConnell is a certified teacher for English 6-12 and special education for students with “mild/moderate” disabilities, but she isn’t certified for a school leadership position, something that’s allowed in the charter environment but not in public schools. Though she helps oversee a school that feeds off the charter system, her son attends a private school. The lack of faith in charter schools to properly educate her own child raises concern. The lack of proper qualifications and transparency at the school she oversees for kids who should be receiving the most care and education raises even more.
McConnell’s overarching priority is decreasing government reach. She’s mentioned across platforms that she’s changed parties multiple times (all along the right of the political spectrum) because she doesn’t believe that any party truly encapsulates her beliefs. She has stated that she’s in favor of decriminalizing drug possession and sex work, which we’ll always give props to within this guide, and she’s also in favor of $1,400 monthly checks for the duration of the pandemic—however, that’s about as far as our shared interests extend.
In the Prophetic Voices forum, McConnell said that during the pandemic the government put the rights of the CDC above the rights of the church, thereby infringing on religious freedom. When the moderator pushed back saying that nobody’s right to worship was stripped from them, there were simply guidelines put in place in order to slow the viral pathogen that has killed over 500,000 Americans, she held firm that the government had overstepped its reach and took away people’s right to assemble and practice religion. Her website states, “Let people make their own decisions about their personal life and their health, as long as their decisions do not harm the rights of another individual,” though she also did not wear a mask to this debate, saying, “I received a COVID test this week.”
McConnell is also committed to ensuring Louisiana does not divest from oil and gas in a substantial way anywhere in the near future. In the Power Coalition forum she said “We need oil and gas production at least for the next 15 years” until we can transition to “clean oil.” She later said that sweeping change simply isn’t feasible right now. It’s true that if oil and gas production were halted without building infrastructure to replace it, Louisiana’s economy would be screwed. But her hesitancy to take drastic environmental action doesn’t bode well for the future of Louisiana’s coast. Rather than fighting for substantial investment in less environmentally disastrous infrastructure, she insists we must remain dependent on oil and gas. During the forum she also said that she supports the right to an abortion, but only until 24 weeks, meaning she doesn’t really support the right to an abortion.
Desiree Ontiveros is a business owner who moved to New Orleans in 2015 to “take it easy.” She founded Badass Balloon Co. in 2016, a company known for its adult-themed balloons featuring slogans like “Ain’t Nothin’ But a Gangsta Party” and “Jealousy Is A Disease Get Well Soon.” Her campaign website boasts that “Her protest balloons became a popular way for activists to send a message in crowds,” but in a 2018 interview she said “Everything we do, we do it for the gram.” Her “Feminist AF” balloons did appear at the 2017 Women’s March in Los Angeles, but to deem that a practical instrument of protest is a reach and a half.
In 2018, Ontiveros said her balloon company couldn’t have been successful in other places because New Orleans is “an affordable place to live and work, and we love a good party here.” We do indeed, but about that first part—for any person actually working and trying to live here, this rings hollow. Last year New Orleans & Co. featured Ontiveros’ company in a Q&A, which gives an idea of who the balloon company is really aimed at: the extractive tourist industry and transplants who stick the caricatured New Orleans brand on products in order to sell, sell, sell the city.
Ontiveros lives and works in the French Quarter and is a board member at Homer Plessy Charter School. She has said that she’s in favor of “school choice,” which has long been a defense for the charter system, but is in fact a misleading euphemism for a system which enforces and reproduces inequity. She wasn’t registered to vote in Louisiana until March of 2020, so her commitment to electoral politics in the state seems fairly recent or… maybe opportunistic? Performative? Disingenuous? Or it could be new. Her campaign focus mostly seems centered around helping small businesses, which is convenient, seeing as she’s a business-owner.
Her website lists “economic opportunity for all” as an issue her campaign is committed to addressing. A 2020 interview calls Badass Balloon Co. a “multi-million dollar company;” however, in 2019 Ontiveros and her company were sued by her assistant for unpaid overtime. The case was settled out of court and the settlement terms are confidential. Also in 2019, her company sued a former employee for violating4Here the original text has been changed from “allegedly violating.” On March 10, Ms. Ontiveros contacted ANTIGRAVITY requesting that the word “allegedly” be removed regarding the 2019 case in which she sued her employee (because as we noted she did win that case). a non-compete clause. The defendant, a past circus performer who claimed extensive previous balloon knowledge, argued that the terms “balloon artistry,” “balloon twisting,” “balloon installations,” and “party supplies,” were too vague, that he hadn’t solicited or exchanged money with any of Badass Balloon Co.’s clients, and that he had received none of his balloon training from Ontiveros’ company. Badass Balloon Co. won the suit, and the defendant was banned from making balloons in the area until last year. She couldn’t keep this clown down, however—he’s back in biz. The fact that in one year she sued a former $10/hour employee and was sued by another former employee for unpaid wages doesn’t lend a lot of credence to fighting for the little guy.
Ontiveros seems to know the right talking points for the times: clean jobs, more equity, health care is a human right, reforming the criminal legal system, gender equality. But in the end she’s a devout capitalist, and the issue that overshadows all the others is the right for businesses to keep on keeping on–as long as they don’t threaten her own.
Jenette Porter of Jefferson Parish, running as a Democrat, is a graduate of Southeastern Louisiana University. Porter is on the recruiting committee of the NAACP’s New Orleans branch. She has said she was motivated to run by concerns about racism and violence by police.
In an IWO forum, Porter backed additional stimulus payments, relief for small businesses, and federal rent and mortgage relief. She’s also called for air monitoring around potential pollution sites and expressed concern about climate change.
Porter has worked as an Avon rep, according to a print ad. Another business endeavor involves selling gift items like New Orleans-themed teddy bears. She doesn’t appear to have set up a campaign website or campaign social media.
Sheldon Vincent Sr. previously ran for this seat last year (when Cedric Richmond was reelected). He’s also run for school board and Jefferson Parish Council. Vincent is a Navy vet and retired postal worker, as well as a landlord who owns properties in what he calls “high crime areas” in Jefferson and Orleans Parishes.
A Republican, his campaign slogan is “Dads Matter & Grandpa Too,” and much of his campaign materials revolve around a conservative, idealized notion of the family unit. That extends into his platform—he suggests tying aid for children to “legislation that would require participation of both biological parents,” which he says will “put a police officer in these homes called dad.”
Domestic violence occurs in an estimated 40% of households where Dad is literally a police officer, according to experts—but domestic and intimate partner violence is notoriously underreported. Police officers as abusers are increasingly recognized not as an isolated phenomena but a systemic reality—in other words, a feature rather than a bug. The pandemic has seen an increase in the rate of domestic violence and also a decrease in reporting, as people are even less able to access help. Between Vincent’s proclivity for codifying abuse and his penchant for compulsory heterosexuality, we see a compelling case for him remaining retired.
SUMMARY: Gary Chambers. It’s difficult to stomach any other option. But his resistance to critical inquiry from the left is worrisome and disheartening. It’s hard to say how that attitude will manifest if elected. Bottom line: any of our qualms about Chambers pale in comparison to the shortcomings and misdeeds of his opponents. The people of Louisiana deserve better than what we are offered. We must look beyond the ballot box to build a world in which we can survive, or one day even thrive. Organize your workplace. Volunteer as an eviction court monitor. Support your local abortion fund and harm reduction group. Join the fight to decriminalize sex work. Look after one another, we’re all we’ve got (we can look to Texas to remember the State is not coming to help—something New Orleanians have known for quite some time already). Read revolutionary texts that sustain your spirit and remind you: the struggle is not new. It continues. See ya in a month.
Early voting is March 6—13 from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (excluding Sunday, March 7).
The deadline to request an absentee by mail ballot is March 16 by 4:30 p.m.
The deadline for a registrar of voters to receive a voted mail ballot is March 19 by 4:30 p.m. (other than military and overseas voters).
Saturday election voting hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
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