It was almost exactly a year ago that Donna Byrne and I met to catch up over lunch. We covered the usual agenda: summer vacation, kids going back to school, life, business ... and politics, which is something Donna knows quite a bit about. The North Louisiana native has reigned over South Louisiana for almost a decade as the regional director for AT&T. In the midst then of the 2014 elections, the talk turned to the big ballot awaiting voters in 2015. “You know what I miss?” she said. “I miss those good old-fashioned stump speeches — when the candidates would come to the parish courthouse square and campaign, face to face.” Reflecting on her childhood memories in Caddo Parish, she added: “You do events. If you could pull something like that together, I think it would be a great public service that we could help sponsor.”
Fast forward to the launch of Project Front Yard last fall. The foundation for City-Parish President Joey Durel’s antilitter initiative was a cooperative buy-in from all the media. He hosted a meeting of the top managers of every radio, TV, billboard and newspaper company in town and asked for united support. “For this to work,” he said, “our community’s culture must change. And that requires all the media working together to help get the message out that cleaning up our region is important for our future.” He credited Advertiser Publisher Judi Terzotis with planting the seed for the campaign. Privately, he encouraged us as media to work together on other projects that could have broad community impact.
What could be a better example of that than the fall elections? With the retirement of Sheriff Mike Neustrom and the term-limitations on Durel, two of the most important parish-wide offices are up for grabs. Almost every council seat is already in contest, and qualifying is two months away. Voters have some very important decisions to make at a critical time in the development of our city and parish; it’s important that they be educated, informed and engaged.
In this day and age, the closest thing to the town square of old is the weekly Farmers and Artisans Market at The Horse Farm, or Lafayette Central Park. On Saturday, Sept. 26, from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., local news organizations will jointly host a community-wide campaign event called The Stump Speech at The Horse Farm. Candidates for sheriff, city-parish president and LCG Council have been invited to the forum. It will be an opportunity for voters to meet the candidates, hear their messages and volunteer for campaigns. The League of Women Voters of Lafayette will also host a voter registration drive.
IberiaBank is the presenting sponsor for The Stump Speech. Event information will be posted soon on the partnering local media websites, including The Advertiser, The Advocate, KATC, KLFY, Fox 15, 96.5 KPEL, AOC and ABiz’s sister publication, The Independent. Lafayette Central Park, along with the farmer’s market at The Horse Farm, is the venue of choice, and it’s important to note this is a non-partisan event. The focus is on a better community. We hope you’ll join us.