Two parish presidents in Ascension and Jefferson are facing recall efforts for allegedly doing things that would make any good, church-going rotarian blush. Another president in Lafourche, meanwhile, is still reeling from a “no confidence” vote that was delivered by his council last week over perceived violations of the parish charter.
On the municipal level, the mayor of LeCompte is being sued by his district attorney for how taxpayer money is reportedly being spent and the mayor of New Roads is about to begin a trial related to charges on a city-issued credit card.
In the Louisiana Legislature, a state senator spent 38 hours in prison three weeks ago for domestic abuse battery. And in a little over a week, he’ll take his seat in the upper chamber for a special session where he will be voting “yes” and “no” on behalf of the fine people of his district.
While all of these instances give us a reason to momentarily envy even Texas politics, they also show how our most intriguing and shocking political stories in Louisiana aren’t necessarily developing on the statewide scene. Sometimes you have to dig deeper and go local — and sometimes, more often than anyone would care to admit these days, you won’t like what you find.
One of the most cringe-worthy storylines belongs to Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni, who is trying to survive revelations that he sent inappropriate text messages to a 17-year-old boy. While that would be enough to send most politicians to the pasture, Yenni is holding on, making appearances and foolishly believing he should be working on education policy.
The resulting recall effort is a monumental task — and should it succeed, those signatures will become one of the biggest political stories of 2017. Organizers are more than halfway through with their 180-day window to collect signatures to trigger a recall election. A staggering 90,000 names are needed, of which roughly 50 percent have been collected.
There’s a separate recall push underway for Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa, but it’s technically on hold right now. Everyone is instead waiting to get an update on a grand jury that was looking into the new parish president and his dealings.
Matassa has been the source of local speculation since the fall, when The Pelican Post published recordings of him and another man supposedly trying to bribe a candidate to drop out of a city council race. Ascension Parish is known for its jambalaya pots and cook-offs, but this drama with Matassa suggests that there’s more than rice in hot water over there.
In Lafourche, President Jimmy Cantrelle is watching as various loads of dirty laundry are being hung out to dry by his council. That government body recently took a procedural vote to express its opinion that Cantrelle is no longer fit to lead.
The official line from council members has something to do with perceived ethics violations and how parish employees are being treated. The parish council meeting that hosted the “no confidence” vote on Cantrelle, however, included much more pointed accusations about public contracts and missed phone calls.
Not to be outdone by their parish-level counterparts, at least two Louisiana mayors are looking at possible trial dates.
New Roads Mayor Robert Myer may be in a courtroom the soonest due to a 2016 indictment on nine counts of malfeasance in office. A lot of the chatter, gleaned from audits and investigative reports, involves a city-issued credit card that was allegedly used for a variety of things ranging from sexual favors to a cruise.
In other court action, Rapides Parish District Attorney Phillip Terrell has actually filed a lawsuit against Lecompte Mayor Robert Baxtor, along with his aldermen and town clerk. In question is how the town has spent certain tax revenue — money that was meant for garbage, fire and civil defense facilities, but may have been illegally transferred to the local police department.
Finally, there’s state Sen. Troy Brown, the only elected member of the Louisiana Legislature who has served prison time for a recent domestic battery charge. Officials across the state have called for Brown’s resignation, which he has refused. That means the matter may come down to a vote of the Senate to remove one of its own.
The earliest the Senate could do that is on Feb. 13, the first day of the upcoming special session. There doesn’t seem to be an organized drive to do that just yet, but many senators have expressed concern about Brown’s continued presence in the chamber. If it does boil down to a vote of the Senate, it’ll instantly become one of the most memorable votes of this generation in Louisiana politics.
Now that you’ve read about the horror stories, let’s try to put all of this into perspective. For every terrible story out there about a Louisiana politician, there are certainly a dozen more positive stories worth sharing. Those that fall into the latter category, though, rarely stay atop the headlines, which is unfortunate.
But the bad stories, the ones that remind of us of everything wrong with Louisiana politics, are worth revisiting every now and then. Otherwise, they would be ignored and go unfixed, which would be yet another embarrassment of note for this state. And no one wants that.