Aug 032017
 
Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

When three of the Republican candidates vying to become state treasurer made their pitch this week to the Orleans Parish Republican Executive Committee (OPREC), they were seeking not only an endorsement — but also greater access to the city’s close-knit network of Republican donors.

Many of the state’s biggest GOP givers reside in metro New Orleans. OPREC’s endorsement is a seal of approval that can open many doors. The seat is available after 17 years because former State Treasurer John Kennedy now serves in the US Senate. Long -time Stste Sen. Neil Riser of Columbia won the Orleans Parish endorsement.

Riser promises to bring accountability and fiscal responsibility to the office. He is counting in deep relationships in this region and his often pro-New Orleans stands at the Legislature to help propel him into the runoff. “Neil has a lot of support in New Orleans,” said one Republican leader. “We can always count on Neil to work with us,” said a long-time Democratic elected official.

A ten-year member of the State Senate, a former member of the State Bond Commission, and past chair of the powerful Revenue & Fiscal Affairs Committee, Riser hopes to achieve “stability” and “get our house in order.” During his tenure, Riser has played a leadership role in the development of tax policies and oversaw hundreds of construction projects that came before the Bond Commission, which he would chair if elected.

Riser is pleased with his 20-year effort to build Caldwell Bank & Trust from a community bank to a regional powerhouse with $500 million in assets. “I will look after your money like it is my own.” He also praised Kennedy for having done a “great job” of treasurer.

Riser says that the oilfield will continue to be a key component in the state’s budget forecast as well as the continued growth of the Port of New Orleans.

A graduate of East Jefferson High School, former State Rep. John Schroeder of Covington is the popular choice of Jefferson Parish’s Republican Executive Committee which endorsed him last week. Schroeder has also received more than 100 other endorsements from parish level elected officials around the state.

A former special agent in the United States Army, Schroeder, 56, began a second career as a successful developer, realtor and builder. First elected in 2007, Schroeder served on Homeland Security, Education, Military & Veterans Affairs, Civil Law and the Joint Budget Committee.

“I want to finish up my career using all the things I have learned to make Louisiana better,” said Schroeder, who was vice-chair of the House Republican Caucus until his resignation. “Louisiana has a spending problem. Until we fix it, we can get into the revenue issue. The public has lost trust. I want to restore faith,” Schroeder explained.

Also addressing OPREC was Lafayette-based candidate Terry Hughes, owner of an oilfield related business. “I am not a politician,” said Hughes who is self-funding his campaign. “I want to track down where the state’s money is being wasted. It’s not for us; it’s for our kids and your kids.”

Hughes says Louisiana’s economy has caused great hardship to his business. “It’s not fun to lay people off. We need to bring the state back without levying additional taxes.”

Republican candidate Angele Davis did not respond to OPREC’s invitation to address them. Also not present was Westbank lawyer and accountant Derrick Edwards, a Democrat. Edwards ran for Senate in 2016.

With approximately 70 days before the October 14 election, two polls in the race show that none of the candidates have high recognition and that a significant number of voters are undecided. If Democratic voters coalesce behind Edwards, he could make the runoff. If not, the three major Republican candidates will fight it out for the two runoff slots.

Riser enjoys the strongest voter support in North Louisiana. Davis and Schroeder are better known in the Baton Rouge area. Solidifying votes in metro New Orleans appears to be an important key to victory. Either way the race is wide open.

The Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee will hold their endorsement meeting later this month. Other groups including RDO and the Crescent City Democrats are interviewing candidates this week. IDEA, the organization of young African-American professionals, unveiled their slate yesterday.

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Foster Campbell, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. Her current clients include District B City Council candidate Seth Bloom.

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