Viewpoint: Candidates lining up to fill Troy Carter’s state Senate seat

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Danae Columbus

Second Congressional District choose their next representative in the April 24 runoff.

With victory firmly in hand, U.S. Rep.-elect Troy Carter is wrapping up his work in Baton Rouge in preparation for his move to Washington, D.C. After his resignation today (April 29) from the Louisiana Senate, Senate President Page Cortez called the election for June 12 with a runoff if necessary on July 10. Qualifying will take place next week: May 5, 6 and 7.

Five diverse candidates are already considering the race for this West Bank seat: former state Sen. David Heitmeier, state Rep. Mack Cormier, state Rep. Rodney Lyons, Belle Chasse political insider Joanna Leopold, and Carter’s nephew, state Rep. Gary M. Carter Jr. 

Long-time Democrats, the Heitmeiers have been political players on the West Bank for decades. Before David Heitmeier ran for office in 2007, his brother Francis C. Heitmeier served in the Legislature for 16 years. An Algiers-based optometrist, Heitmeier chaired the Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee and was a member of the Environmental Quality, the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs, and the Transportation, Highways and Public Works committees.  

He chose not to seek re-election for personal reasons in 2015, a decision that paved the way for then-Rep. Troy Carter to move to the upper chamber in 2016. Armed with significant name recognition and a $213,719.50 campaign nest egg, Heitmeier has the financial resources for a long, tough fight. He was on hand for Troy Carter’s congressional victory celebration. 

Also in attendance last Saturday night were former Republican state Rep. Chris Leopold and his wife Joanna. A Democrat and mother of three, Joanna Leopold is a member of the Plaquemines Parish Board of Election Supervisors, having been appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards in 2017. If Leopold qualifies, she could be following a trend of women running for office after their husbands have been previously elected. New Metairie state Rep. Laurie Schlegel, whose husband is a Jefferson Parish judge, defeated Patrick Connick last weekend. 

As the only potential candidate who has not held elected office, Leopold does not have a record to run on, which is both good and bad. She might also be highly motivated to one-up Cormier, who beat her husband in a bitter 2019 contest. If Cormier qualifies and runs poorly, it could create an opening for a Leopold to run against him in 2023.          

A first-term state Democratic state legislator who already represents parts of Orleans, Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes, Cormier hails from a family where politics was always a topic at the dinner table. Both his father, the late Amos Cormier Jr., and his brother, Amos Cormier III, served as president of Plaquemines Parish. 

Cormier is a member of the Labor and Industrial Relations Committee, the Natural Resources and Environment Committee as well as the Transportation, Highways and Public Works Committee. He has filed several pieces of legislation this session including a bill that would allow the Board of Regents to purchase chest compression devices and another that would require orientation and training for new registrars of voters.  Cormier currently has a scant $1,683.38 in his campaign account. 

A Democrat representing portions of Jefferson Parish including Harvey and Marrero, Lyons was elected to the legislature in 2015. He is a member of the Appropriations, the House and Government Affairs, the Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs and the Joint Legislative Budget committees.  

Lyons has authored a bill to create an individual income tax checkoff to benefit the Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response, or STAIR, organization. He is also co-sponsoring legislation that would slightly reduce the sentence of an inmate who earns a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree while incarcerated. The bill has passed the House and is awaiting a hearing in the state Senate. Lyons has a balance of $25,205.58 in his campaign account.  His previous donors include Adams & Reese, Alario PAC, Associated Branch Pilots, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana and Crosby Tugs. 

Rep. Gary Carter Jr., a Democrat who represents Algiers, is the early favorite in the race. His father is Troy Carter’s brother, and the two are extremely close. An attorney in private practice, Carter was elected to the state House in 2015. A graduate of Xavier University and Tulane Law School, he is married to Dr. Desiree Morrell Carter, cousin of former State Senator J.P. Morrell. Insiders say Carter has always intended to seek the state Senate position after his uncle left office. 

Carter is currently vice chair of the Appropriations Committee and a member of the House Education Committee, the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget and the House Select Leadership Committee. Carter’s major legislative initiatives this year include two bills dedicating funds from the American Rescue Plan for homeownership and faith-based communities and two bills that would increase environmental fees.  

As of Feb. 18, Carter had $10,639 cash on hand. His 2020 donors include Atmos Energy, Century Link, ENPAC Louisiana, Centene Management Co., and the National Wildlife Federation. Fundraising should not be a problem for Carter; he is expected to have the support of his uncle’s donor base and field operation.

State Senate District 7 is predominately Black, Democratic and composed of three parishes: Orleans, Jefferson and Plaquemines.  After redistricting later this summer, the number of Black voters in the district is expected to grow.  In other words, a White candidate would probably have the best chance to win this year rather than in the future. 

With five candidates already considering the race, insiders believe that Carter’s team chose to move quickly to limit the ability of other candidates to raise money and build constituency. “The race will be quick and dirty,” said one consultant.  If all five candidates qualify, it is likely that the runoff will pit Carter against one of the White contenders.

POLICE MONITOR SUSAN HUTSON COULD BE FORMIDABLE OPPONENT FOR SHERIFF GUSMAN

Susan Hutson

Yesterday’s announcement that New Orleans Police Monitor Susan Hutson will take on long-time incumbent Sheriff Marlin Gusman queues up what could be one of the fall’s hottest races. Nothing gets the attention of a Black male elected official faster than a competent Black female wanting to oppose him.

A darling of the advocates for a smaller jail, Hutson knows where many of the bodies are buried in New Orleans criminal justice system. Though liberals and progressives are expected to quickly line up behind her, Hutson will have to win over a significant number of senior and White voters to defeat Gusman.      

Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

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 Councilman Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman at-large Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former City Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. She is a member of the Democratic Parish Executive Committee. Columbus can be reached at swampednola@gmail.com.

Editor’s note: This column was posted April 29 before Troy Carter’s official resignation and the naming of the District 7 election date. At about 4:20 p.m. on April 29, it was updated to give the new dates for qualifying as well as the dates for the election and potential runoff. 

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