For the past month, the candidates still in the running for parish and statewide offices have been pulling out all the stops to encourage voters to cast their ballots in Saturday’s (Nov. 18) elections. Only 11,140 Orleans Parish voters took part in early voting last week, the vast majority in person. Orleans Parish ranked sixth overall in early voting turnout behind Jefferson, St. Tammany, Lafayette, East Baton Rouge and Caddo parishes, where more local races on the ballot. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin has predicted a turnout of 15% to 19% statewide, which could dip even lower in Orleans Parish with only one major local race still undecided.
Yet those grim statistics haven’t slowed down the enthusiasm of either Tammy Savoie or Shaun Mena, the two runoff candidates competing for the new Orleans Parish legislative seat, House District 23.
Mena, a lawyer who was born in the district, is touting his significant knowledge of the area and its needs. “He’s one of us,” exclaimed more than one voter. Mena’s social media team has produced a steady stream of timely posts – the latest explaining his deep sadness about the rise in violent crime. Mena is pumped up going into Saturday’s election.
“As a proud son of Honduran immigrants who moved to Mid-City in 1980, a proud graduate of Thurgood Marshall and Warren Easton, and now a proud husband and father of a family on Rendon Street, District 23 is my home,” Mena said. “Our district deserves a leader who has a vested interest in the community they plan to serve.” Mena said he is the only candidate who will not need the help of a realtor to find a home in the district on Sunday morning if they win. “District 23 is my home, and I’m ready to fight for my community.”
Mena reported $5,700 cash on hand 10 days before the election with several thousand dollars raised since then. He loaned his campaign $25,000. Among Mena’s biggest donors is long-time supporter U.S. Rep. Troy Carter.
Savoie rarely misses a beat. She is quick to point out that Louisiana law does not require that a candidate be an existing resident of a new house district but must move into the district within one year. She has benefitted from a highly efficient all-female consulting team which has recently been providing services pro-bono. Savoie reported almost $16,000 cash on hand at the 10-day until election mark and lent her campaign $10,000. “Being a fourth-generation New Orleanian, an Air Force lieutenant colonel, a clinical psychologist and a mom, I feel I have a unique set of qualifications to serve as a state legislator,” said Savoie. Her daughter is bi-racial.
Savoie describes the campaign as “rewarding,” even as she knocked on doors in the summer heat. Meeting voters at coffee shops and community events has also reinforced her resolve to work hard for constituents as their state legislator. “As I’ve spoken with voters, I’ve found it’s really about the issues: infrastructure, home insurance, neighborhood safety and economic equality. So I’ve developed specific plans for those and other priorities for the district,” Savoie said. With her military background and attention to detail, supporters say District 23 residents could count on Savoie to carefully read every piece of legislation that crosses her desk before taking a stand.
Savoie expressed her concerned that voters don’t realize the importance of this election. “Hopefully, they will come out and vote for the Democratic candidates for attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer in order to balance state government,” she said. “Mid-City residents especially need to get out and vote on the Mid-City Security District proposition so apartment complexes and commercial properties pay their fair share.”
The three remaining statewide races on the ballot — attorney general, secretary of state and state treasurer — are merely a blip on the minds of many New Orleanians. In each contest, the Democratic hopeful is facing a far better-financed Republican.
It’s easy to see why Liz Murrill is the run-away favorite in the AG’s race. As Jeff Landry’s solicitor general, she has made her mark in courtrooms across America. His endorsement has helped Murrill raise millions, and she also enjoys financial support from political action committees. Murrill reported $745,000 cash on hand in her personal campaign account 10 days out from the election. Murrill says she will have a strong partnership with Landry. Together, the possibilities would be endless.
Although Democratic candidate Lindsey Cheek entered the race at the last minute, she quickly positioned herself in contrast to the Landry-Murrill philosophy and style. A personal injury attorney who moved here from Texas, Cheek has spent enough years in Louisiana to understand the plight of the state’s underserved citizens, and she advocates for traditional Democratic values. A former New Orleans resident who moved across Lake Pontchartrain, Cheek reported $35,000 cash on hand in the final days leading up to the election. She previously loaned her campaign $100,000.
Secretary of state candidate Gwen Collins-Greenup has done an amazing job with very little funding. In her third run for the position, she was able to advance to the runoff by largely relying on the grassroots network she built around the state during the last few years. An attorney, accountant and small business owner, Collins-Greenup reported spending less than $2,000 in the primary. That means Collins-Greenup had no robocalls, text messages, billboards, expensive mailings or paid social media. She recently reported $3,922 cash on hand going into election day. Collins-Greenup loaned her campaign approximately $1,700. If Collins-Greenup was somehow able to run first this Saturday, her victory would suggest that grassroots campaigning is still a powerful election tool. Marjorie Esman, former executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, is one of Collins-Greenup’s biggest donors.
Nancy Landry is not a household name in Louisiana, but some voters remember her from the Louisiana Legislature where she represented voters in Lafayette Parish. Others might assume she is related to incoming governor Jeff Landry. As first assistant to current Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, Landry has positioned herself as the most knowledgeable and experienced candidate in the race. She can count on support from many voters who are still registered as Democrats but frequently vote for GOP candidates. Landry reported $230,000 cash on hand and raised almost $30,000 since then.
John Fleming has enjoyed a diverse career as a physician, businessman, military veteran, four-term Republican member of Congress, senior adviser to President Trump and now as the presumed leader in the race for state treasurer. Fleming says he has the right experience and the right endorsements in the race including Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Mike Johnson and dozens of other Louisiana Republican elected officials. He reported $203,000 cash on hand 10 days out from the election and raised an additional $7,000 since that time. Fleming also loaned his campaign $150,000.
Democratic candidate Dustin Granger, a financial adviser, is based in the western part of the state but knows his fate is tied to turnout in metro New Orleans. That’s why he has spent significant time in the area raising funds and building a strong base. Granger has been helped in that effort by his campaign manager Drew Prestridge, who has worked as LaToya Cantrell’s fundraising consultant and for other candidates. Granger reported $95,314 cash on hand in his 10-day prior fundraising report. Granger loaned his campaign $7,000. Since that report, he has taken in more than $10,000. Among Granger’s largest donors is Dottie Belletto owner of New Orleans Convention Company. Granger, who will hold his election night gathering at the Sidecar Patio & Oyster Bar, 1114 Constance Street, is urging his supporters to “Geaux Vote first!” before coming to the party.
The decrease in voter turnout is relatively easy to understand. Many people who voted regularly feel that going to the polls is now a waste of time. They are disappointed in the current crop of elected officials and don’t see any better leaders emerging. Voters are crying out for major change, for a better quality of life. Our elected officials are partially to blame for voter apathy. They have failed to articulate whatever possible impact they have made in people’s lives whether in infrastructure, education, housing or medical care. It’s a shame they cannot claim progress in any areas.
Voters frequently ask their elected officials what they have done for them recently. The responses often leave much to be desired. The majority of Louisiana voters supported Jeff Landry because they were hungry for new energy and vision. They believed the Republican attorney general would make a difference, especially in the area of crime. Don’t expect to see Louisiana citizens rushing to the voting booth until candidates can do a better job of delivering what the people want.
There are also four constitutional amendments on the ballot that should be reviewed before entering the voting booth. The Public Affairs Research Council is a good source of unbiased information on the amendments.
Opinion columnist Danae Columbus has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations. 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 email@example.com.