Allan Katz and Danae Columbus: Local legislative candidates hope lightning strikes this fall

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Allan Katz and Danae Columbus

With qualifying less than 60 days away, local candidates are wanting lightning to strike to drive interest and money into the fall legislative races. Will lightning strike twice for School Board member Leslie Ellison as she takes on popular State Sen. David Heitmeier? As a physician and Chair of the state senate’s Health and Welfare Committee, Heitmeier played a leadership role in the passage of medical marijuana.

Ellison beat out OPSB incumbent Lourdes Moran four years ago during the African-American sweep of elected offices in Algiers. Jackie Clarkson, who had lost her previously solid black Algiers base, also fell during that sweep to Councilmember Nadine Ramsey.

A strong pro-life advocate and faith-based leader, Ellison was expected to run against Moran again, but this time for the open state house seat being vacated by term-limited Jeff Arnold. Heitmeier is also said to have attended a recent fundraiser for Ellison. Unlike Clarkson, Heitmeier is still well-respected in the African-American community. He has already secured the endorsement of Congressman Cedric Richmond, is expected to be endorsed by the remaining African-American elected officials in Algiers and has close to a $1 Million campaign war chest. With significantly fewer dollars, Ellison will run a grass-roots campaign in the churches and door to door. She may find that running for State Senate is very different that running for the school board.

Governmental affairs professional Jason Hughes has jumped In the race to replace term-limited state rep Austin Badon. Hughes comes out of the IDEA organization of young African-American professionals headed by Brian Egana. He formerly worked for Gov. Kathleen Blanco, Sen. Mary Landrieu and the City’s federal outreach. New Orleans East community activist, realtor and former candidate Alicia Plummer is also expected to announce shortly. She is a leader of the Justice & Beyond coalition.

Lawyer Jimmy Harris, Congressman Cedric Richmond’s community outreach liaison, will soon make it official for the state house seat being vacated by Wesley Bishop. Harris, who has served as a lobbyist for two New Orleans mayors, has been networking with key community leaders for months in anticipation for the race. Jonathan Rhodes, president of the St. Claude Main Street board of directors, is also said to be seeking the seat.

State Rep. Wesley Bishop is the man to beat for the state senate seat being vacated by Ed Murray. A lawyer and seasoned legislator, Bishop brings a great track record on education and economic development to the race and is known to be a coalition builder who easily works across party lines. Bishop was named Legislator of the Year by the Alliance for Good Government.

New Orleans newcomer Erich Caulfield, an MIT graduate who came to New Orleans on an internship two years ago, is smart and personable yet unknown to many in the district. After leaving City Hall, Caulfield has been building a consulting business. He lacks long-time ties to the community and community issues, and may not yet have the financial resources to really compete with Bishop, who has hired Teddlie Stuart Media Partners.

Also considering the race is former state representative Juan LaFonta, well-known in some parts of the district. Cedric Richmond defeated LaFonta for the Congressional seat during which much of the dialogue centered around LaFonta’s voting and attendance record at the legislature. After his defeat by Richmond, his attendance only got worse. LaFonta was asked by fellow African-American legislators to resign as chair of the Black Caucus.

Those issues could come up again if LaFonta, a civil lawyer who has been advertising his law practice heavily perhaps in anticipation of this race, chooses to run again. Also to his benefit, LaFonta has been active in human rights issues that predate the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in favor of gay marriage nationwide.

All 144 legislative seats are up this year, but many legislators are not expected to draw strong opponents. An open New Orleans East seat on the Orleans Parish School Board will also be filled this fall.


How many among us really believe that Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast is actually selling body parts? In these days when high quality video can be recorded on a watch or cell phone, it’s no surprise that a “secret” video exists during which the apparently legal donation of tissue was discussed. But that’s a far stretch from Jindal’s accusation that PPGC might be harvesting and trafficking human body parts.

Licensing — and perhaps even construction — of PPGC’s new $4 million clinic on South Claiborne may be slowed while this “investigation” goes on. Thankfully, no other presidential candidate has yet to follow Jindal’s lead on this issue. With $9 million raised predominately through his PAC, Jindal is poised to make a decent showing in the early primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire. Surely he will keep pounding on this issue on national television and at forums.

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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