Democratic Socialist Voting Guide
Municipal Action Committee
New Orleans Chapter – Democratic Socialists of America
New Orleans DSA organizes for the power and benefit of working class and poor people in Louisiana, and to take power and influence from the wealthy and corporations. In our first electoral guide for the 2018 Midterm elections, we specifically choose not to endorse any candidates. There are currently no candidates for office whose platform includes our core values of fairness, direct democracy, and human dignity. We present this guide to offer historical context, information on candidates, and a vision of how these offices could function differently in our democracy.
The scope of this guide is limited mainly to issues appearing on the Orleans Parish ballot. This is a reflection of the majority composition of our chapter’s membership. It also includes comments on some of the Jefferson Parish School Board races.
There are more than 200 DSA members in New Orleans and more than 300 in Louisiana. If you have any questions or want to get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org
FIND YOUR POLLING LOCATION
Visit the Louisiana Secretary of State’s website to locate your polling place and view a sample ballot.
Carpool New Orleans is offering rides to the polls on election day. Contact them if you need or can volunteer to offer a ride.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS:
For ease, it is recommended that you bring your state-issued ID to the polls, but it is NOT REQUIRED. If you do not have a photo ID, you may still cast your vote by signature on a voter affidavit.
Election day is Tuesday, November 6. Voting hours are from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. You are allowed to vote as long as you are in line by 8 p.m.
The Election Protection Coalition produces a Louisiana elections FAQ which you can access here.
The Lens is partnering with ProPublica’s Electionland to monitor problems at polling locations. Visit The Lens’s site for information on how to participate.
Louisiana Secretary of State
The Secretary of State oversees elections and business registration. We feel this is a very important race because of increased incidences of Republican-led voter suppression recently throughout the country. While Louisiana has not seen the same kind of voter suppression yet, we believe it’s possible the pressure to do this could increase as it becomes more common–it could dramatically affect future elections. Democrats in Louisiana, who are likely to lose more power in the face of voter suppression, have done almost nothing to protect voters’ rights or even draw attention to the issue in their campaigns. This appears to reflect a lack of interest in the problem in general and an indifference towards winning statewide elections. Allowing Republicans to set the terms of every debate, to choose what is and is not acceptable to mention in a campaign, can have direct and dangerous consequences for people–especially marginalized people.
Kyle Ardoin (R) Is the incumbent, filling in for the disgraced Tom Schedler. Schedler resigned after being sued by a woman in his office for sexual harassment. Ardoin took the job on an “interim” basis with no plans to run in this election but then suddenly changed his mind on the final day of qualifying. (at 4:20pm no less!) Although he hasn’t been in office long, he’s already become embroiled in a controversy over the selection process for a new voting machines vendor. He also claims to have not known about Schedler’s sexual harassment history despite working directly beneath Schedler & directly supervising the employee who sued Schedler. Both of these incidences seem to point to, at best, negligence. At worst, they belie a hostile indifference to the plight of voters the office is concerned with protecting and of harassment victims directly under Ardoin’s charge.
Apart from Ardoin, we have concerns about statements from some of the more conservative candidates indicating a lack of commitment to protecting the right to vote. Those candidates include the following:
Heather Cloud (R) is the Mayor of Turkey Creek seen in this story threatening to “bring the full force of the law” down on some loiterers in a park. She became Mayor after she won a lawsuit challenging four votes in a close election which led to a tie being declared followed by a second election. She has cited this experience as evidence that voter fraud is “rampant” in Louisiana.
Rick Edmonds (R) is a State Representative from Baton Rouge. He is also the Vice President of the ultra-conservative Louisiana Family Forum. At a candidate forum hosted by New Orleans Republicans Edmonds spoke about ensuring that “only American citizens who are registered to vote” get to vote. In a campaign video, he stated that “Louisiana is in desperate need for more conservative leaders.” Neither of those statements gives us much faith that ensuring the integrity of the vote would be his primary aim in office.
A.G. Crowe (R) is a former State Senator from Slidell. He says he wants to offer training to candidates to give them “effective campaign tools and encourage them to conduct positive issues-oriented campaign.” He has an unusual plan to dedicate $25,000 a year of his salary to a scholarship prize for an essay contest for high school seniors in Louisiana on the topic of why voting is important. Our concerns come with regard to some of his responses to a Louisiana Family Forum questionnaire including this whopper, “I oppose adding any perverted non-Biblical classification to the constitutionally protected classes of the nondiscrimination law.” This is, to put it mildly, a really bad way to define what should be a “protected class.”
Cloud and Crowe have also loaned $101,000 and $90,000 to their own campaigns respectively from “personal savings” which looks like an increasingly common way to skirt campaign finance disclosure requirements. Not to be outdone, Jefferson Parish State Representative Julie Stokes (R) has loaned her campaign $250,000. Stokes looks to have garnered the most media endorsements in this race. Most of these cite vague ideas about “civility” and “bipartisanship” of which Stokes is supposedly a paragon. To her credit, Stokes is the only candidate to have made favorable statements about automatic voter registration although we remain skeptical of the depth of her commitment to that.
The most prominent Democrat in the race is Renee Fontenot-Free. She is a career lifer here as former aide to Secretaries of State McKeithen, Ater and Dardenne. Free is also fond of wearing cowboy hats and mentioning she rides horses. Free promises a purely “administrative,” apolitical term if elected. Along those lines she claims to have no interest in using the office to move into another position. But, then, that is similar to the promise Ardoin broke when he decided he wanted to keep the job. Free has stated that she opposes increased barriers to voting, but also supports our current voter ID laws. She is widely expected to make the runoff, but also would not likely be favored to win in that situation. Free is running a relatively quiet and professional campaign. Given the potential stakes here for Louisiana voters and just given the general political climate, that can be seen either as charmingly refreshing or bland and uninspired.
The other Democrat here is Gwen Collins-Greenup, an attorney from Clinton. According to her ads, she is all about “next levels.” Her platform is almost entirely based around increasing voter participation. She is also the only person of color running for Secretary of State.
There are two other minor candidates on the ballot. Thomas J Kennedy III (R) is an attorney from Metairie running a bare-bones (read: barely existent) campaign. Matthew Paul “Matt” Moreau (I) from Baton Rouge is the founder of Louisiana Cannabis Association. We are almost positive he had no input on Ardoin’s decision to run.
US Congress District 1
Where does one even begin to describe the staggering disgrace to Louisiana that has been Steve Scalise’s career in public life? Do we start with his attendance at and relationship with the organizers of a white nationalist conference in 2002? Or do we go back to the times he voted against recognizing the Martin Luther King holiday? Or to his often remarked upon self-branding as “David Duke without the baggage? Should we mention his aggressive opposition to abortion rights? Or his collusion with discredited anti-choice propagandists? Maybe we could talk about his “rock star” status within the oil and gas industry where the lobbyists consider him their “go-to man.” Should we mention his unabashed support for ICE? Or his belief that teachers should carry guns with them to school? How about his hostility to even the most moderate attempts to rein in climate change?
Or should we focus instead on Scalise’s role as the number 3 ranking Republican in the House of Representatives where he has had a key role in championing the Trump legislative agenda? From the rollback of the mild Obama era healthcare reforms, to a massive tax cut for the nation’s wealth holders, the acts of this President and Congress that have had the most devastating effects on working class Americans all bear Steve Scalise’s fingerprints. Again, it really is hard to know where to start with this guy.
What’s even more mystifying to contemplate is where it might end. Despite all of the above, Scalise maintains a strong base, is practically venerated in the media, and is generally considered a favorite to win reelection in the First Congressional District which covers the most densely populated parts of Jefferson and St. Tammany Parishes along with much of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Lafourche, and a small sliver of Orleans. Nonetheless we believe a better world is possible. Or rather, one could be given a smart, aggressive opposition campaign focused on social and economic justice for all Louisianians. Instead, we have these people.
Tammy M. Savoie (D) is a retired clinical psychologist and Air Force veteran who comes to politics through the Emerge non-profit organization whose mission is to train moderate Democratic women to run for office if they can afford to put in the 70 hours and the $750 fee. She seems to have garnered majority support among the state Democratic Party establishment donors and apparatchiks. As such, her platform is what one would expect; cautiously progressive rhetoric prevails. Where we would like to hear more about a living wage and workers’ right to organize, her main economic issue is criticism of Trump’s tariffs. Where we would like to see calls for direct action on climate change, her environmental platform focuses tangentially on its effects while taking care not to address its causes. Where we would call for every American to receive free and universal health care by right, Savoie equivocates about “access to affordable” care. While all of this is certainly preferable to what Scalise is selling, it also does not satisfactorily build a case for deposing him based on the urgent needs of Louisiana’s most vulnerable. Nor does it give us much confidence that Savoie would go to Washington ready to fight very hard to see those needs addressed.
Jim Francis (D) has also drawn a fair amount of attention to himself. A computer programmer from Covington, Francis, like Savoie, is a first time candidate. Unlike Savoie, though, he has run a much more aggressive, if at times unfocused campaign. The issues pages of his website are more explicit than Savoie’s in their call for universal health care, for support of workers’ rights, and for direct attacks on the oil and gas industry and its culpability for climate change and coastal loss. It also features a scathing attack on Scalise’s voting record. It’s a pretty good campaign website where one can begin to see the contours of what a more successful campaign against Scalise might have looked like. Unfortunately, that version of Francis’s campaign has mostly stayed there on the website. Francis has been a prolific and erratic poster on social media where his occasional epic burn of Scalise, for what it’s worth, becomes buried under an embarrassing pile of Russiagate paranoia and general weird behavior. He and Savoie were involved in a bizarre episode this summer where Indivisible NOLA accused him of editing video of a forum they hosted so as to misrepresent comments made there by Savoie.
The other Democrat in the race is Lee Ann Dugas, a disabled Navy veteran who looks to be running almost entirely via social media. Independent Frederick “Ferd” Jones may not even be doing that much.
Howard Kearney is a Libertarian crank from Mandeville who tells NOLA.com here that he opposes the war on drugs but also opposes pasteurized milk. Kearney also lends us this noteable quote. “I can go on to tell you all the legislative regulations that strip away our freedoms, bit by bit, but I believe you understand where we are all heading: socialism.” We certainly hope so, Howard.
US Congress District 2
Cedric Richmond is concerned that the Democratic Party might be moving too far to the left. Shortly after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s primary victory over establishment Democrat Joe Crowley in New York this spring, Richmond told the New York Times he worries that while figures like Cortez and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders are “fighting for [their] principles on what direction the party should go, we don’t really have anybody doing it on behalf of moderates and other Democrats. It has become a one-sided conversation.” We here in the midst of the leftist insurrection think Cedric is exaggerating our influence just a tiny bit. But we are pleased to see him take notice. What we’ve noticed is Richmond has put in more than his share of “doing it on behalf of moderates.”
Richmond has resisted calls to abolish ICE telling us, “The men and women of ICE are federal employees who do their jobs admirably.” He also said the Baton Rouge police crackdown on Black Lives Matter protesters after the 2016 murder of Alton Sterling was “very reasonable.” Richmond’s own response to that incident, in fact, was a “bi-partisan solution” to help police buy more surplus military equipment. He has not signed on as a sponsor to John Conyers’ Medicare For All bill and has instead chosen to support a hybrid “consumer” driven buy-in scheme that preserves the private for-profit health care system. Richmond has also gone out of his way to defend Scalise from criticism, which suggests to us his commitment is to solidarity with the political elite classes he circulates in rather than with the poor and working class people of the district he represents.
Interestingly, in the wake of Ocasio-Cortez’s win, Richmond also garnered comparisons to Crowley as the sort of conservative Democratic machine politician who might one day be vulnerable to grass-roots leftist opposition. Such an opposition campaign doesn’t exist this year. In the meantime, the best we can hope for is for Richmond to continue to be aware of the possibility and lend a more attentive ear to leftist concerns as he moves up the seniority ladder in the House.
Among the other candidates running in District 2 is Belden “Noonie Man” Batiste. Batiste is a community activist and frequent candidate for office who has used this run to advocate strenuously for a $15 minimum wage and on behalf of the victims of industrial pollution such as the displaced residents of Gordon Plaza. Shawndra Rodriguez is a conservative pro-Trump candidate who claims, among other things, that climate change is not real, abortion is “murder” and that “the Constitution of the United States was put in place by our forefathers, ordained by none other than God.” Jesse Schmidt owns a security alarm company and says he is running because he “tired of partisanship.” He also wants to limit the rights of immigrants to appeal deportations in civil courts.
Orleans Parish Civil District Court Clerk
The elected clerk positions are some of the most important individual positions in the actual day-to-day running of a courthouse and heavily influence how the courts interact with the public. The Clerk’s office manages the systems for handling filings and forms. It also sets and collects filing fees. The Civil District Court handles cases, such as personal injury, accidents, successions and foreclosures as well as domestic civil cases. The Civil Clerk’s office also oversees the City’s Notorial Archives. It is very frequently a position used as a stepping-stone into the judiciary.
Jared Brossett is the current District D city councilperson where he has been more receptive than most to arguments in favor of living wage protections for city workers and for stricter limits on the proliferation of short term rentals. None of that says much to recommend him specifically for the Clerkship but it does suggest the council may be worse off in his absence. Brossett is endorsed by the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO.
Chelsey Richard Napoleon is the incumbent having taken over on an interim basis from Dale Atkins when Atkins was elected to a judgeship on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal. Richard Napoleon is the niece of Alvin Richard, owner of Richard’s Disposal, a major city sanitation contractor. She is endorsed by the Independent Women’s Organization.
Orleans Civil District Court Division E
This court handles civil and domestic litigation—domestic cases includes abuse, divorces, child custody disputes, and disputes over successions and wills, etc, while civil cases are cases in which one party is suing another for damages. They may arise from many situations, including accidents, breaches of contract, and allegations of fraud. Typically junior (ie newly-elected) members of the bench are assigned the domestic cases, while the more plum large civil cases are assigned to the more senior judges.
The likely frontrunners here are Omar Mason and Richard Perque. Each of them ran and lost races for Civil Court seats last year. Both Mason and Perque talk about their legal experience and their compassion for the people who would appear before them in court. In this Advocate blurb, Mason complains about the elevators in the Civil Court building. Previous plans to relocate the courts as well as City Hall have hinged on approval of the judges. Mason has been endorsed by the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Council, by the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO and by a poll of the New Orleans Bar Association.
Family pedigree is a prominent issue for Perque. He is the son of U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo and grandson of former State Representative Risley “Pappy” Triche whose long career in politics has been noted for, among other things, his evolution from segregationist to racial reconciliationist. In the campaign Perque has been largely focused on improving the domestic/family docket.
Kenneth M. Plaisance is a personal injury attorney who has worked previous public service work includes work for the City Attorney and D.A.’s offices. Plaisance was temporarily disbarred earlier this year for failure to pay child support about which he tells the Advocate “I have life experience in that area”
Marie Williams is a self-described community activist and frequent candidate who has significant legal aid experience. She lost a race for a different Civil District Court Seat last year to Rachael Johnson which included a fair amount of mudslinging. Previously, Williams was involved in a bizarre “sting” operation orchestrated by a WDSU TV reporter against Frank Marullo in 2014.
Orleans Parish 1st City Court Clerk
The City Courts are small claims venues. First City Court handles civil lawsuits with claims up to $25,000; small claims suits up to $5,000; and evictions for residential and commercial properties with rental fees within the jurisdictional limit of up to $3,000 per month. The Clerk’s Office processes filings and fees and assigns cases to the judges’ docket. New Orleans is in the midst of a housing crisis. It is critical that the judges and administrators of this court exhibit sympathy for poor and working class residents faced with the prospect of losing their homes.
Timothy David Ray is currently holding the office on an interim basis after the election of Ellen Hazeur to a Civil District Court judgeship. He ran for City Council last year in District B. After finishing third, Ray offered a memorable runoff endorsement of eventual winner Jay Banks. Banks has not returned the favor. He and several other city council members, along with many political insiders are endorsing Austin Badon. In the Clerk’s office Ray has instituted a $15 minimum wage for employees. This summer he was involved in a mild controversy over some informational brochures he had printed up on tenant’s rights about which Badon tried to raise a stink. Prior to this Ellen Hazeur had been producing a similar document. The main difference with these, and likely the cause of Badon’s objection, seems to have been that Ray’s face appeared on the new ones in place of Hazeur’s.
Austin Badon is a former State Representative and has run for various offices in municipal government before. As stated, he has numerous endorsements from the Republican and Democratic Executive Committees as well as from several city councilmembers. Badon’s legislative record is not exactly stellar. He carried Bobby Jindal’s school voucher legislation in the state House. He has voted for and authored bills to restrict abortion rights. He authored a bill to give arrest powers to the Orleans District Attorney’s office. Badon has also repeatedly called for drastic increases in the State Police presence in New Orleans. As a potential mayoral candidate in 2010, Badon told the audience at one forum he hoped to see NOPD “kicking down four doors a day.”
Ray has been endorsed by the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO. The Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance put out a questionnaire to candidates in Orleans Parish. Given that First City Court handles landlord and tenant disputes, this seems like a particularly relevant matter for this race. Badon declined to respond to the questionnaire.
Amendment 1 (Ex-Felons barred from public office)
A YES VOTE WOULD impose a ban on persons convicted of felonies holding any elected or appointed office during the five years after completion of their sentence. It would largely reinstate the prior ban (then 15 years) which was overturned in 2016 by the state Supreme Court due to technical problems with the wording. As a tangential result of that ruling, ex-offenders now enjoy the same rights and privileges as any citizen with regard to office seeking. Passing this amendment would again relegate them to second class status.
There are all sort of problems with this beginning with the arbitrary lines that determine a felony conviction. For example, just this year a new law greatly expanded the definition of felony trespass in response to the Bayou Bridge pipeline protests. Furthermore, the difference between felony and misdemeanor is largely up to prosecutorial discretion. As a result there’s a wide race-based discrepancy in charges brought for similar acts. Prosecutors also frequently take advantage of habitual offender laws and draconian mandatory felony charges for drug possession to slap people with heavier penalties on what are really minor offenses. Individuals stamped with a felony conviction have difficulty overcoming the stigma associated with it long after their sentence has ended. This is one reason the City Of New Orleans is moving to pass “ban-the-box” legislation this year.
A NO VOTE WOULD mean that ex-felons remain eligible for office immediately after serving their sentence. There is no valid justification for extending their penalty beyond what they have already paid. Furthermore, it extends to voters the full authority to choose from among every candidate willing to stand for office, which is kind of the point of democratically determined governance.
Amendment 2 (Require unanimous jury verdicts)
A YES VOTE WOULD require that all jury verdicts in the state of Louisiana would need to be unanimous, which is the law in almost every other state and commonly assumed to be how juries work. Louisiana’s aberration has its roots in Jim Crow era efforts to impose a white supremacist system of jurisprudence. Removing it would be a positive step towards undoing the vast racial inequity in our criminal justice system.
A NO VOTE WOULD keep this brutal racist relic of a law in place, meaning that Louisiana would still be one of two states in the country where a person can be sent to prison for life even if two people on their jury were not convinced of their guilt.
Amendment 3 (Permit donation of resources between governmental entities)
A YES VOTE WOULD mean that municipalities and other “government subdivisions” would be allowed to loan things to each other with a written agreement. Currently such entities are required to agree on an exchange of “equivalent value” in order to share such resources.
A NO VOTE WOULD keep this kind of sharing unconstitutional, which can cause problems such as in the case that prompted this bill where Denham Springs was deemed to have inappropriately loaned a vacuum truck to Walker.
Amendment 4 (Prohibit the Transportation Trust Fund from being spent on State Police)
A YES VOTE WOULD mean the Transportation Trust Fund, which is a fund that comes from gas taxes and is meant to be used to maintain our transportation infrastructure, could no longer be plundered to fill in gaps in the Louisiana State Police budget. As a reminder, the State Police spent millions of dollars in 2017 for several officers to visit the Grand Canyon on a relaxing vacation. The State Police also spend millions of dollars each year patrolling the French Quarter where they are allowed to operate outside of the dictates of the NOPD consent decree and are frequently engaged in abusive behaviors.
A NO VOTE WOULD mean money that’s meant to keep bridges from collapsing would continue being used to shore up the budget for the State Police, who, again, just as a reminder, spent millions of dollars in 2017 for several officers to visit the Grand Canyon on a relaxing vacation.
Amendment 5 (Apply special tax exemptions to properties placed in trust)
A YES VOTE WOULD – Louisiana currently offers certain property property tax assessment exemptions to people over the age of 65, as well as to the spouses of people who were disabled or killed while in active duty with the military, or while working as first responders. A YES vote here would extend these exemptions to the inheritor of a property if the owner who originally qualified for them placed the property in a trust before they died.
A NO VOTE WOULD be the tiniest little protest against state protections of generational wealth. Despite what the ballot language implies, it has very little to do with rewarding those who have bravely sacrificed for our country, and everything to do with making sure wealthy people pay as few taxes as possible.
Amendment 6 (Four year phase-in of tax increase due to reassessment over 50%)
A YES VOTE WOULD allow homeowners who claim a homestead exemption on a property whose assessment has risen 50% or more to apply for a four year phase-in of the higher tax liability. Instead of having to pay the full amount of the higher tax immediately, the homeowner would only pay a quarter of that value the first year, half in the second year, three quarters in the third and then bear the full increase in year four. The qualifying percentage does not include increases due to new construction or home improvement.
A NO VOTE WOULD change nothing. But it would be a rejection of an amendment that is minimally effective in its intended purpose and fails to protect the residents most vulnerable to displacement, namely renters, as well as any homeowners whose tax bills “only” go up 49% or less.
This ballot measure would basically legalize participation in online fantasy sports gambling apps that are already in widespread use anyway. The most interesting aspect of this measure is that it can be voted up or down on a parish by parish basis.
Parcel fees in Lake Oaks Subdivision, Kenilworth, and Lake Bullard
A YES VOTE WOULD In any of these a yes vote would renew dedicated parcel fees to support “beautification and security” in the designated neighborhood.
A NO VOTE WOULD Would reject this balkanized approach to city services and public subsidization of private police. There are nearly 20 of these isolated security districts in Orleans Parish. Some of them have million dollar budgets with minimal oversight by elected bodies. Public safety should not be a private good with resources dedicated only to those residents or neighborhoods who can afford to pay higher fees and taxes.
RECOMMEND: NO on all three
Jefferson Parish School Board
Presumably, these elections represent the latest round in an ongoing political back-and-forth between the Jefferson Federation of Teachers and the Jefferson Parish business establishment over control of the board’s agenda. The so-called business block of board members backed by the Jefferson Chamber and Business Council currently holds a 6-3 majority. This year that faction orchestrated the firing of Superintendent Isaac Joseph and replaced him with DeSoto Parish import Cade Brumley. There may be residual bad blood over this. “If history serves, there’s going to be two, three, four new board members,” District 5 incumbent Cedric Floyd tells the Advocate. “Some of these board members need to be uprooted.” For its part, the union says it is not specifically out for revenge so much as it wants to regain some sway on the board in order to better benefit its membership. If JFT is satisfied with the results in this election they may seek to re-open negotiations over their collective bargaining agreement.
But those alliances are not as cut and dry as they may seem with the union and business groups backing some of the same candidates this time around or at least trying not to show their hand. One example of the confusion might be District 1 incumbent Mark Morgan who, despite a clear record in support of the business faction, has an AFL-CIO endorsement in this race. This may have more to do with Morgan’s future ambitions than it does school board business but, in any case, it is a good example of why we are suspicious of a politics based on personal transactional relationships. Similarly, District 3 incumbent Tiffany Higgins Kuhn also has a labor endorsement despite having voted at times with the business crowd.
There is also confusion as to whether some of these candidates really are what they say they are. Former District 7 member Melinda Doucet took a turn toward the business faction after having won her seat with union support. She has been disqualified for reelection due to a tax evasion controversy. Her replacement is former John Ehret High School head football coach Billy North now running unopposed. North is courting teacher support but it remains to be seen whether he delivers for them.
So, without the benefit of a crystal ball, it’s difficult to see what influence the outcome of these elections will have for Jefferson Parish teachers, parents and students. The teachers’ union clearly prefers Ricky Johnson in District 2, Glenn Mayeaux in District 4, and Marion Bonura in 8. Those choices may or may not work out well for them. As for us, we can only stand in solidarity with the teachers and support staff of Jefferson Parish Public Schools as they continue to organize and struggle for better conditions for their members and a better school system for the Parish’s residents.