Viewpoint: The real action in Saturday’s election is on the Democratic committee ballots

Print More

Uptown Messenger file photo

Voting machines are rolled out of the warehouse in preparation for election day.

Democratic and Republican voters in Louisiana will have a chance to cast their ballot for their choice for president in the Saturday (March 23) election. But the real contest will be for seats on the parties’ State Central Committees and Parish Executive Committees — especially among Democrats. These often-overlooked votes choose the people who steer the political parties as they work to elect candidates, raise funds and educate voters. 

Here in Orleans Parish and elsewhere around the state, dozens of young and first-time Democratic contenders — including those who support progressive and LGBTQ+ issues — are running competitive races for seats on both the parish and state government bodies.

There is broad consensus that the once unbeatable Louisiana Democratic Party has lost its luster. Membership and fundraising are almost at a standstill. Statewide candidates consistently underperform due to a lack of preparedness, enthusiasm and resources. We have grown to expect our elected leaders to be rock stars, and few Democratic contenders meet those expectations.  

The blame for this historic change has been placed on the shoulders of the current state party chair, Katie Bernhardt, who, by most indicators, was probably ill-prepared for the job and its inherent politics. Really, it’s not all Bernhardt’s fault. The Democratic Party has shifted left. That’s fine for urban Democrats in New Orleans, yet it really doesn’t work for moderate Democrats in the rural parishes who feel the party has left them behind. Simply put, they identify with and are more comfortable voting for Republicans like newly elected Gov. Jeff Landry. This phenomenon is occurring not just in Louisiana but all over the South as conservative Republicans now lead previous Democratic strongholds.

There are a handful of organizations vying, each in its own way, to bring in the next generation of leaders. They include the Power Coalition, V.O.T.E, Step Up Louisiana, Students for a Democratic Society, Blue Reboot and Justice & Beyond. Blue Reboot leaders claim to have pledges from more than 100 candidates to unseat state party leaders. V.O.T.E. has become a consistent, strong voice. The Power Coalition is well funded.

In many State Central Committee races, voters will find an older incumbent who may or may not be an active party member facing a first-timer who is sending out text messages, posting on multiple social media sites. and even posting signs to support their candidacy. Some of the older incumbents could be the grandparents of the younger ones. 

Should all incumbents be tossed out like last year’s Mardi Gras beads? Of course not.  U.S. Rep. Troy Carter distributed ballots in all five City Council districts in New Orleans that include a mix of new and old faces. It was easy to add new faces because many incumbents chose not to run for re-election. 

Danaw Columbus

Pastor Gregory Manning addresses candidate forum at Justice & Beyond.

Justice & Beyond recently held a candidate forum with more than 40 candidates, each intent on distinguishing themselves from the competition. As the microphone was passed around the room, candidate after candidate talked about the importance of bringing young people into the party now through voter registration efforts aimed at high school students. College students should be added to the list as well. However, recruiting students is one thing — getting them to vote is entirely another matter.

Even with new leadership in Baton Rouge and many of the parishes, it will take years to rebuild and refinance the state party. That process will also require wooing back the moderates who are jumping into the waiting arms of the Republican Party. 

Approximately 10,000 New Orleanians cast their ballots during early voting last week. The vast majority were Black female Democrats. With the large number of seniors who traditionally vote early, those numbers might not bode well for the young challengers. Fortunately for them, it’s not too late. Races are usually won or lost on Election Day. 

The Democratic State Central Committee has 210 members, one man and one woman from each state House of Representatives district. There are several interesting Democratic State Central Committee races to watch.

Sample ballots are posted outside the Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters.

Michelle Anderson is trying to unseat long-time Uptown Democratic icon Diana Bajoie in DSCC 91st District Seat A, the seat held by a female. Transgender advocate Britain Forsyth is up against Odyssey House executive Ed Carlson, who recently ran unsuccessfully for the Louisiana Legislature, and former education leader Gregory Phillips in DSCC 91st District Seat B, held by a male.

Newly elected state Rep. Shaun Mena is being challenged by 26-year-old Jack “Big Okra” Sweeney and Jacob Germain in Mid-City’s new 23rd DSCC District Seat B. Former candidate Morgan Clevenger, Laurie Herbert Constantinou and Monique Green are competing for Seat A in District 23.

In Gentilly, Sandra Green Thomas, chief of staff for Councilmember Eugene Green, is up against Ziki Wiltz, a member of V.O.T.E., in DSCC 97th District Seat A. Green is running against first-time candidate “Kenn” Barnes and former Clerk of Criminal Court Arthur Morrell, who has held the DSCC 97th District Seat B for decades. 

First-time candidates Pamela Steeg and Emily Ratner and recent Attorney
General candidate Lindsey Cheek are taking on OPDEC member Caroline Fayard for DSCC 98th District, Seat A.

While Page Gleason is challenging state Rep. Candace Newell in DSCC 99th District, Seat A, Charles Bini and V.O.T.E. leader Norris Henderson are up against incumbent Adonis Expose for Seat B in that district. On the West Bank, state Rep. Delisha Boyd is defending her DSCC 102nd District seat against Anne Allen and Verlin Kohnman Dampeer. 

And state Sen. Royce Duplessis, who has been rumored as a potential candidate for mayor, is being challenged by Devin Davis in DSCC 93rd District, Seat B.

In the race for the 70 seats on the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee, there is a blend of old and new faces. Among the incumbents are School Board member Carlos Zervigon, Dr. Elizabeth Sangisetty, former legislator Renee Gill Pratt, Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee chair Lisa Diggs, Constable Ed Shorty, Leslie Bouie, state Rep. Matt Willard, First City Court Clerk Donna Glapion and state Rep. Jason Hughes, New faces include Belden “Noonie Man” Batiste, Lena Craig-Stewart, Dennis “Hot Rodd” Warren II, Mithun Kamath, David Flemings, Kristine Breithaupt, School Board member Olin Parker and Ally Conlay.

Saturday’s election is a closed primary; only voters registered as Republicans or Democrats may participate. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.  To view your ballot or find your polling place, go to the Secretary of State’s Geaux Vote site. Voters with questions can call 504-658-9000 for assistance. 


Former congressman and presidential insider Cedric Richmond will host a fundraiser Friday (March 22) for his friend state Sen. Cleo Fields. The event will be held at the home of Jimmie and Regina Woods from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. Tickets begin at $1,000. A former member of Congress, Fields is expected to be again elected to that body as the second Democratic member of the state’s Washington delegation.          

Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *