Allan Katz and Danae Columbus: LSU law professor Chris Tyson will give Secretary of State Tom Schedler a run for his money

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Allan Katz and Danae Columbus

There’s a battle brewing in the Oct. 24 election for Secretary of State that will pit the Republican incumbent, former State Senator and De La Salle High School graduate Tom Schedler, against LSU law professor Chris Tyson, an African-American Democrat.

In an election year where at least one other African-American is running statewide, Tyson is poised to appeal to the African-American voters and white Democrats already turning out for John Bel Edwards in the governor’s race and for Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden, who has announced for Lt. Governor.

Billing his candidacy as “the conservative choice,” Schedler was a St. Tammany based health-care marketing executive before he ran for the legislature and also served as assistant secretary of state under former Secretary of State Jay Dardenne. When Dardenne prepared to move up to Lt. Governor, Schedler barely beat House Speaker Jim Tucker in 2010 for the seat.

While Louisiana enjoys a high rate of registered voters, African-Americans have doubted Schedler’s commitment to registering the unregistered, even though Schedler, according to his website, developed programs in conjunction with GCR to identify and target those voters. Schedler has also been at odds with Attorney General Eric Holder regarding the release of detailed Louisiana voter information Holder requested. We say if the feds really want to know something specific about any of us, they have multiple ways to find it out.

Schedler raised almost $600,00 in his first race for Secretary of State, but has little to show in his campaign reports as of mid February, according to Ballotpedia, the interactive political almanac. Although newcomer Tyson has just begun his fundraising efforts, he has approximately $80,000 on hand as of last month.

Tyson has an interesting Louisiana political pedigree. His father is the late federal Judge Ralph Tyson, nominated by President Bill Clinton to the Middle District of Louisiana. Chris Tyson graduated from Baton Rouge’s University High and then went on to Howard University, made a stop at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and ultimately obtained his law degree from Georgetown. After Katrina, Tyson joined U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu’s staff where he was part of Louisiana’s recovery efforts.

Clearly Tyson is one of the new young leaders on the Baton Rouge scene. Married to board-certified gastroenterologist Dr. Gia Landry Tyson, originally from New Orleans, Tyson is currently the Newman Trowbridge Distinguished Associate Professor of Law at LSU and chair of Baton Rouge’s Capital Area Transit System. He is also a youth mentor and prison educator who helps young people understand what citizenship means.

Tyson believes that good government is “good for business” and pledges to operate a transparent and non-partisan elections system while also protecting our democracy, growing our economy and preserving our heritage.

Tyson will be in New Orleans today at the home of James Carville where he will be making inroads with New Orleans donors and key decisions makers. He and Schedler will make the election for Secretary of State an interesting competition indeed.

SAINTS OWNER TOM BENSON HOLDS HIS OWN, EVEN AT 87

In his recent interviews with reporters, Saints owner Tom Benson sounded a lot like the Tom Benson that Allan interviewed back in 1986. At the time, Allan was a reporter and columnist for the Times-Picayune and Benson was one of several aspirants to buy the Saints franchise from a hopelessly failed owner, John Mecom Jr.

One of Benson’s rivals boasted that Benson had no chance to become the owner of the Saints. “No used car dealer will ever own an NFL franchise,” the rival said. But Benson was the farthest thing from a used car dealer. He had built premier auto dealerships in New Orleans and San Antonio. Benson didn’t need to become wealthy. He was already wealthy with interests in banking and real estate as well as cars.

In that first interview, Benson said he knew that building the perennially losing Saints into an NFL power was going to be tough. But, he pointed out, that every business in which he had succeeded was tough and he thought that he could be tough too. Benson came up from the Lower Ninth Ward. He got a scholarship to attend St. Aloysius High School then went on to Loyola where he majored in accounting. He got his first job at Paretti Pontiac and from that unlikely beginning built an empire in cars, banks, real estate and football –- including a Super Bowl. Along the way, Benson hired and fired general managers and coaches if they couldn’t cut it. As he said, he is a tough guy, even at age 87.

Reading this week’s interviews with Benson, Allan couldn’t help but think that for anyone who knows him even slightly, it’s hard to accept the argument that Benson is demented or senile. At 87, you’re surely entitled to an off day now and then. But it seems pretty clear that Benson, even after eight-plus decades, still has his head together and is equal to the challenge of reshaping his empire to make wife Gayle Benson his heir and queen of Benson Land.

Allan Katz spent 25 years as a political reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune, and is now editor of the Kenner Star and host of several television programs, including the Louisiana Newsmaker on Cox Cable. Danae Columbus is executive producer of Louisiana Newsmaker, and has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall and the Dock Board. They both currently work for the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by their public relations firm are City council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

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