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 once again to your ANTIGRAVITY voter education guide for the December 10 election. On this ballot you may be choosing your next public service commissioner and voting on three amendments to the state constitution.
We have published these guides since 2014—previously in collaboration with the New Orleans Harm Reduction Network and now under the ANTIGRAVITY banner. This guide was written by a team of five people, including ANTIGRAVITY editorial staff. We utilized national media, local media, and social media. Our research included but was not limited to public records, campaign finance reports, court filings, and real estate records.
Despite lacking faith in politicians or the political order, we create this document as a way to dissect and map power—and because our readers enthusiastically and repeatedly ask for it. We do not offer endorsements, but we do provide summaries, as this is a resource designed to aid and alleviate the work for you, dear reader. News relevant to this ballot will continue to break. We are but one resource, and we hope that you consult as many as possible before heading to the polls.
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.
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.
PSC District 3
Lambert C. Boissiere III (Democrat)
Davante Lewis (Democrat)
The Public Service Commission (PSC) is a state agency that regulates utilities like electric, gas, and telecom companies, as well as a smattering of other industries, like intrastate moving and bus companies, plus what it calls “non-consensual towing” companies. It’s run by five elected commissioners from districts around the state. District 3—the sole majority-minority district—includes parts of Orleans and Jefferson parishes, as well as a string of parishes from here to the Baton Rouge area.
New Orleans is unusual in that the City Council has primary responsibility for regulating utilities—most notably, Entergy New Orleans—operating within the City limits, including approving rates. After briefly ceding that power to the PSC in the ’80s, it took back regulatory authority after concerns that the PSC wasn’t adequately representing New Orleans’ interests. It’s not a perfect solution: The City Council has other things to worry about, and its members aren’t elected based on their expertise around utility law, which means the City spends heavily on legal consultants to help it regulate Entergy.
And, in practice, decisions that the PSC makes still impact New Orleans, since Entergy subunits operate throughout the state, and electricity and gas (and pollution associated with generating and extracting them) flow across municipal lines. As of September, the City Council is seeking to weigh in on at least five proceedings before the commission, on topics like hardening the power grid for “future storm events,” how to handle utility expenses tied to Hurricane Ida, and a broad look at “customer-centric options” for electric power, which could lead to a limit on monopolies held by Entergy and other utilities.
During the last election for this seat in 2016, incumbent Lambert C. Boissiere III ran unopposed, and candidates and media organizations alike have commented on how the public often pays little attention to the PSC’s workings. Those workings can seem esoteric even by the standards of other public agencies: A recently posted docket sheet includes everything from a towing company being cited for excessive charges to Entergy’s efforts to pass Ida-related costs onto consumers to a pair of power companies seeking to close a no-longer-cost-effective coal mine, all tersely described in short summaries riddled with industry jargon. But amid rising energy bills, and rising discontent after extended Ida-related outages, Boissiere faced four opponents calling for a new look at how Entergy and other power companies are regulated. Boissiere and Davante Lewis got the two highest vote totals (43% and 18%, respectively), with neither candidate getting more than half the total vote, sending them to this runoff.
Before Boissiere was first elected to this seat in 2005, he was constable for First City Court, leading an office that enforces court orders, perhaps most notably performing evictions. He comes from a political family: In fact, his father, Lambert C. Boissiere, Jr., now holds his old job as First City Court constable.
In his campaign materials, he points to his role in pushing to expand internet access in underserved parts of the state and his efforts to keep utility bills affordable. He’s recently critiqued Entergy for relying too much on fossil fuels—”Entergy doesn’t like solar until they figure out how to own the sun,” he quipped—and says he wants to continue pushing for renewable energy and lower bills.
But critics say he didn’t do enough during his almost two decades in office to reign the big power companies in. They also point to what an Advocate reporter called his “prolific fundraising” from companies regulated by the PSC, which is allowed under current rules. A new PAC called Keep the Lights On, which is affiliated with the Environmental Defense Fund, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in opposition to Boissiere, including ad buys across New Orleans TV stations, and New Orleans Democratic Socialists of America called on voters to “vote for #AnyoneButBoissiere,” detailing their argument in their routinely excellent voter guide.
Davante Lewis is probably best known for his work with the Louisiana Budget Project, a group that works to analyze potential state legislation’s effects on low and middle-income residents and is generally considered to be on the progressive side of things.
He recently advocated against a bill to loosen regulation on payday lenders, he’s called for laws preventing kids from being shamed or punished because their families can’t afford school lunch, and he’s pushed for a raise in the state minimum wage. Lewis was also a plaintiff in the challenge to Louisiana’s Congressional redistricting, challenging the Republican legislative majority creating only one Black-majority district out of the state’s six Congressional districts.
In his run for PSC, he says on Twitter that he’s running to be “Entergy’s worst nightmare.” He’s calling for a “Ratepayers’ Bill of Rights” that would limit power cutoffs and late fees and put seniors on fixed billing plans. He also wants utilities to adopt more wind and solar power and encourage residents to install rooftop solar and batteries. Lewis has also said he won’t take donations from industries regulated by the PSC and wants strengthened ethics rules around the practice. The New Orleans City Council recently passed a similar rule, barring campaign donations from companies it regulates. Ties to Entergy, including employment and consulting arrangements with the company, are, to say the least, very common among Louisiana politicians.
Lewis has also vowed to use the power of the PSC to “fight for affordable phone rates in jails & prisons.” Prisons and jails typically contract with telecom companies, which often front the cost of installing equipment in the facilities, then charge incarcerated people and their families rates significantly higher than they’d pay in the outside world, with the revenue split between the phone companies and the agencies that run the jail. That forces often-poor people to dig into their pockets to stay in touch with incarcerated loved ones and further isolates people in custody. In recent years, some jurisdictions have moved to free phone calls, saying that even putting moral arguments aside, enabling people in jail to stay in touch with family helps reduce recidivism.
Additionally, he’s advocated for more municipally run utilities in Louisiana, like the ones that exist in cities like Alexandria, Houma, and Lafayette. Pushes for a public agency to take over Entergy’s operations in New Orleans have periodically been launched at times when people have been even more dissatisfied with the utility than usual, but they’ve never been successful.
Lewis has called for Louisiana to move to getting 100% of its power from renewable energy sources by 2035.
SUMMARY: Lewis has put forth concrete proposals to use the power of the PSC to rein in the power companies. While Boissiere claims to have reforms in mind, his record hasn’t done much to assuage voters weary of utility power.
CA No. 1 (ACT 279, 2022 – HB 178) – Requires U.S. citizenship in order to register and vote in Louisiana
Do you support an amendment to provide that no person who is not a citizen of the United States shall be allowed to register and vote in this state? (Amends Article I, Section 10)
This amendment would close what’s been called a potential loophole in the state Constitution and officially prohibit non-U.S. citizens from being able to vote in Louisiana elections. To be clear, they already can’t do so: As the Public Affairs Research Council points out, Louisiana residents already have to certify that they’re U.S. citizens to register to vote, the state legislature (which just voted in favor of this amendment, hence it being on the ballot) is unlikely to change that, and cities and parishes don’t seem to have the power to allow non-citizens to vote locally, either.
Some places in the U.S. do let some people vote in local elections without U.S. citizenship, and New York City recently voted to allow non-citizen permanent residents and certain visa holders to vote, though a state court ruled that violates the New York state constitution. Advocates in those places point out that non-citizen immigrants pay taxes, send their kids to school, and are obligated to follow the laws passed by local legislatures and school boards. And different places around the world have different rules on who can vote in which levels of elections, just as they generally have different rules about who is a citizen and what rights different classes of people have.
But Louisiana has taken no steps to allow non-U.S. citizens the right to vote, and this feels like the equivalent of putting a yard sign up to declare hostile political views towards the undocumented community and other immigrants.
CA No. 2 (ACT 281, 2022 – SB 160) – Requires Senate confirmation of gubernatorially appointed members of the State Civil Service Comm.
Do you support an amendment to make appointed members of the State Civil Service Commission subject to confirmation by the Louisiana Senate?
Right now, the governor has the ability to appoint six members to the State Civil Service Commission. The State Civil Service Commission serves as an “impartial review board” to regulate state personnel activities and hears appeals from state employees and agencies about employment matters. A seventh member is elected by the state employees themselves. Members serve a six-year term, and the governor’s appointees must be chosen “from a list of three people nominated by the president of one of the state’s major private universities.”
Specifically, that’s Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana Christian University (formerly called Louisiana College) in Pineville, along with Dillard, Loyola, Tulane, and Xavier universities here in New Orleans. This amendment—introduced by state Sen. Cleo Fields (D-Baton Rouge), and approved by a bipartisan legislative majority—would require the governor’s choices to also receive state Senate confirmation, similar to other officials appointed by the governor.
Having a state board nominated by the presidents of private institutions, including four that are not only in the same city but are essentially along a single municipal bus line (albeit all with different origins and histories), doesn’t seem particularly progressive. It’s a bit odd that voters are entrusted to elect judges who can order someone put to death, but not boards who can decide if a state accounting clerk was wrongfully dismissed.
But at the time the first version of this provision was passed in the 1940s, then granting the appointment power to the heads of Tulane, Loyola, Centenary, Louisiana College, and Louisiana State University, it was seen as an antidote to the notorious civil service corruption of the Huey Long era. “Every safeguard has been thrown around the manner in which the civil service commission is to be named, for politics cannot possibly enter into the selection of eligibles by the five college presidents. (Louisiana State university in the past has been politically dominated, but that era has come to an end; there has never been any politics in the affairs of Tulane, Loyola, Centenary and Louisiana college),” the Shreveport Journal proclaimed at the time.
Of course, running a major college or university, whether public or private, is inherently political. Nonprofit universities own property that’s often exempt from taxes and generally aim to keep it that way, for one, and colleges are often major employers where they’re based. Even private schools benefit from good relationships with all levels of government, not to mention the wealthy potential donors who doubtlessly have their own political views. There are plenty of reasons public and private universities often hire retired politicians as presidents. The choice of which schools participate in this process is political too—it’s unsurprising, given our history, that historically Black institutions Dillard and Xavier didn’t initially have seats at the table—as is the fact that labor only gets one representative out of seven.
So, while the current system ensures that one person isn’t in charge of appointments, and it’s likely better than giving nominating power to, say, the heads of the state’s top oil refineries, car dealerships, hotels, or souvenir shops, it still isn’t a democratic process, nor is it truly apolitical. Creating a confirmation process, like the one that exists for most boards and commissions appointed by the governor, would vet candidates further and add a layer of checks and balances. This can, of course, lengthen the process for appointments, but it ensures more input into who serves on this commission.
CA No. 3 (ACT 280, 2022 – SB 75) – Requires Senate confirmation of certain members of the State Police Comm.
Do you support an amendment to make appointed members of the State Police Commission subject to confirmation by the Louisiana Senate?
Currently, the governor has the power to appoint members to the State Police Commission without requiring senate approval; this amendment would make it so that senate approval is required.
The State Police Commission is an “independent civil service system for all regularly commissioned full-time law enforcement officers” in the State Police and they work to “recruit, develop, and retain a state police force.” Basically, they oversee the State Police of Louisiana. Louisiana is unusual in having what’s effectively a separate Civil Service Commission for the State Police.
As with the Civil Service Commission, six members are appointed by the governor from lists drawn up by the various university presidents, with the seventh member elected by State Police themselves.
Similar to the last amendment, an additional layer of oversight and checks and balances seems like a positive—especially when the body being checked and balanced is one in charge of the state’s many flavors of police.
“We want to make sure that they do some of the basic things,” said state Sen. Cleo Fields (D-Baton Rouge), when he introduced the amendment (he’s also the author of Amendment 2). “You know, making sure your taxes are paid, that you don’t have a criminal record, you know, those are basic things that you have to pass when you go through Senate confirmation.”
The deadline to request a mail ballot is December 6 by 4:30 p.m (other than military and overseas voters).
The deadline for the registrar of voters to receive a mail ballot is December 9 by 4:30 p.m. (other than military and overseas voters).
Early voting for this election begins on November 26 and ends on December 3, (excluding Sunday, November 27) from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday election voting hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
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Saturday, March 25, 2023
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This voter education guide is published primarily as a resource and does not constitute an endorsement of any candidate or proposition by ANTIGRAVITY Magazine.