Viewpoint: Fall elections are shaping up to be a spicy mix

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Uptown Messenger file photo

The primary election will be held Oct. 13. Early voting is Sept. 30 through Oct. 7 (excluding Sunday, Oct. 1).

Attorney General Jeff Landry made it official yesterday. He is one of 12 candidates already signed up for ballot’s top spot, with former LABI executive Steve Waguespack and state Rep. Richard Nelson expected to round out the field today. Landry, whose campaign is sitting on more than $9 million as well as a bucket full of endorsements and a giant lead in the polls, is planning a larger-than-life campaign kick-off in the coming days. It may be hard for any candidate to significantly narrow Landry’s lead. Landry is running a tight campaign. Don’t expect to greet him at your neighborhood coffee shop unless the event is well-scripted. 

Among the recently announced candidates in the race is Democrat Oscar “Omar” Dantzler Jr., a Hammond resident and small-business owner who drove a school bus for 30 years. In 2020, he qualified to run for the congressional seat won by U.S. Rep Julia Letlow, R-Monroe. Dantzler has decades of law enforcement and security experience and wants to peel off votes from fellow Democrat Shawn Wilson, who could face Landry in a runoff. 

Sonja Lady Dedais

Attorney General Jeff and Sharon Landry in Baton Rouge on Wednesday. Landry has made his run for governor official.

New Orleans native Frank Scurlock, who ran for mayor of New Orleans and later for U.S. president, has entered the race yesterday as an Independent. Scurlock intends to run a grassroots campaign. Other gubernatorial candidates readers probably have never heard of include Benjamin Barnes, Xavier Ellis, Jeffrey Istre, “Xan” John and St. Rose resident Patrick Henry “Dat” Barthel. 

Incumbent Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser has drawn three opponents so far, with Democrat Willie Jones expected to qualify today. If Nungesser does not win outright in the primary, he could once again find himself in a runoff with Jones, who garnered 31 percent of the vote in 2019. 

In the contest for Secretary of State, six candidates — five Republicans and Democrat Gwen Collins-Greenup — have already qualified. Voters will have a lot of choices. Collins-Greenup made the runoff four years ago and could replicate that success.  This race is wide open with several heavy-hitter Republicans — including Public Service Commissioner Mike Francis, former State Rep. Nancy Landry or House Speaker Clay Schexnayder — quite capable of leading the pack. New Orleans resident Thomas J. Kennedy III, also a Republican, threw his hat in the ring, as did Brandon Troxclair.   

Uptown Messenger

Leslie Cheek, right, with Traffic Court Judge Mark Shea and 4th Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Karen Herman. Cheek is running for state attorney general.

The race for attorney general moved to another level yesterday when New Orleans trial lawyer Lindsey Cheek, a Democrat, submitted her qualifying documents. Early on, it appeared that Republican Solicitor General Liz Baker Murrill had been anointed to replace her boss, Attorney General Jeff Landry. Republican state Rep. John Stafanski also emerged from the pack as a seasoned dealmaker. Now Cheek, who moved to New Orleans from Texas and is an expert in asbestos litigation, is going to give all the other contenders a run for their money. Cheek, whose name has been circulating as a potential candidate for months, will be well-funded by donations from other trial lawyers and through her own personal resources. Also in the race are Baton Rouge resident and previous AG candidate Marty Maley and Perry Walker Terrebonne, who qualified with a New Orleans address but appears to practice law in White Castle. 

Former Republican congressman and White House official Dr. John Fleming should easily lead the field in the race for state treasurer. Lake Charles businessman and Democrat Dustin Granger is working hard to catch up with Fleming, as is state Rep. Scott McKnight. Commission of Agriculture Mike Strain is poised to get a free ride to his fifth four-year term.  

Many of the Orleans Parish candidates for the legislature and the judiciary can count themselves lucky. Only a few of the incumbents have drawn opponents. Unless something unexpected occurs on Thursday afternoon (Aug. 10), state Sens. Royce Duplessis, Joe Bouie, Gary Carter and Jimmy Harris could automatically be re-elected along with state Reps. Aimee Adatto Freeman, Alonzo Knox, Matthew Willard, Delisha Boyd, Stephanie Hilferty and Jason Hughes. 

State Rep. Mandie Landry has drawn two Democratic opponents, both first-time candidates — Madison O’Malley, a former health care technician who later founded Capital Disaster Services to assist hurricane victims, and health care leader Ed Carlson, CEO of Odyssey House, the state’s largest nonprofit addiction treatment provider. O’Malley says she is a coalition builder who is tired of politicians who promise progress and fall short. Carlson says that crime is inseparably linked with addiction and that crime reduction initiatives must address addiction. 

Plaquemine Parish-based state Rep. Mack Cormier, who represents a sliver of Orleans Parish on the West Bank, has drawn two opponents, Jacob Braud and Joanna Cappiello-Leopold who ran unsuccessfully against Cormier four years ago. State Rep. Candace Newell is being challenged by Rev. Richard Bell Sr., who claims not to be a politician. Bell says he is running to help the community, especially the elderly and low-income people. He retired after 35 years at Avondale Shipyards and spent 37 years in the Army National Guard. He is a member of the nonprofit A Community Voice.

Office of Clerk, Criminal District Court

Mary Anne Mushatt qualified to run against incumbent state Sen. Cameron Henry.

Uptown volunteer activist Mary Anne Mushatt, a Democrat, qualified against Republican state Sen. Cameron Henry Jr. A first-time candidate and member of the League of Women Voters, Mushatt said she is running to represent New Orleans families. “I’m sick and tired of our kids’ schools and our family’s health care being in last place under Cameron Henry’s leadership,” Mushatt said in a prepared statement.  Henry, a popular elected official, is a likely candidate for state Senate president next year. 

Four candidates have now qualified for the new House District 23 legislative seat.  In addition to attorney Shaun Mena and retired Air Force officer Tammy Savoie, who have been campaigning for months, attorney Bryan Jefferson and reproductive rights advocate Pearl Rick have joined the race.

In the judicial races, it is highly possible that First City Court Judge Veronica Henry will face no competition for position of Civil District Court Division G. Civil District Court Judge Monique Barial, who has a domestic docket, may be elected unopposed for Civil District Court Division D, where she will oversee a broader docket. Zulu President Elroy James also may sail into First City Court, Section B, without an expensive campaign. James is celebrating his birthday tonight (Thursday, Aug. 10) with a party and fundraiser at Dooky Chase from 6 until 8 p.m. Donations are not necessary to attend. 

Office of Clerk, Criminal District Court

Defense attorney Leon Roche, second from right, is joined by family members after qualifying to run for Criminal District Court judge.

A highly competitive judicial race for Criminal District Court, Section I, could pit two former candidates against each other – criminal defense attorney Leon Roche, who recently lost to Judge Simone Levine, and former prosecutor Melanie Talia, who is currently CEO of the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation and lost to Judge Darryl Derbigny in 2014. Some believe Roche, who spent 13 years as a public defender, lost to Levine because an unpopular tax initiative from Sheriff Susan Hutson also on the ballot brought out disgruntled voters who viewed Roche in a negative light. Talia was a top notch prosecutor under former District Attorney Harry Connick who has worked with a broad base of stakeholders to strategically address New Orleans’ crime problems. This election will create fresh dialogue on various aspects of criminal justice reform.      

Office of Clerk, Criminal District Court

Former prosecutor Melanie Talia qualifies to run for Criminal District Court judge.

Finally, Sharon Letten Clark, the principal of Sophie Wright High School, and educator and administrator Eric “Doc” Jones are competing to fill the District 2 vacancy on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Clark said she believes that every child, regardless of circumstances, must have a quality education that will transform their present circumstances and expand their future opportunities. Jones has said that guidance, leadership and advocacy are needed to improve the quality of education for the children of District 2 and that he can best respond to those needs.  

During the coming weeks I will profile candidates in the elections still on the ballot after qualifying ends so that citizens are able to make better informed decision on Election Day, Oct. 14.

Qualifying ends today at 4:30 p.m. The Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee is hosting a free mixer with candidates beginning at 5 p.m. Thursday (Aug. 10) at the Cannery, 3803 Toulouse.  The public is invited to attend.         

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 former District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, former 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

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