Sept. 29, 2010 06:00
20100929-news-0101
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A closer look at the five candidates most likely to make the runoff for lieutenant governor. By Jeremy Alford

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A closer look at the five candidates most likely to make the runoff for lieutenant governor. By Jeremy Alford

HOMETOWN BOY
Name: Sammy Kershaw
Age: 52
Party: Republican
Residence: Lafayette
Experience: Country music singer; member of the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame
Family: Divorced with five children
Religion: Catholic

The Hook:
Without a doubt, Kershaw is the local name on the Oct. 2 ballot for lieutenant governor. He lives not far from River Ranch and plays golf at LeTriomphe and the Abbeville Country Club. He grew up in Kaplan and regularly attends the Gueydan Duck Festival without fanfare. He has roots in the region, too. His third cousin is Cajun fiddler Doug Kershaw, who made his own run for lieutenant governor some time ago but lost.

Sam - he prefers it, urging, "Just Sam" - says he knows what's best for his hometown. "When we talk about Lafayette, we need to talk about Louisiana as a whole. We have so many different cultures here," Sam says. "It's not all Cajun music or Creole food. It's all different, and that's something we can do a better job of promoting. I also think Lafayette can be marketed as a more intimate New Orleans."

Bonafides:
With a constant crease in his jeans and boots to match even formal wear, Sam says he has become a master of earned media, also known as free media, which is basically news coverage that isn't purchased - interviews, profiles, photographs, headlines and the like. "I have the ability, because of my career, to call any radio station in the country and get an interview with them," Sam says. "I can go to another state and while I'm there go and get on TV and promote Louisiana. They would take the interview."

Idea:
Possibly the most unique plank in his platform involves "reinvigorating the spirit of volunteerism." Sam says the state has already seen the power of volunteerism following the 2005 hurricane season and that there are countless studies touting its benefit. He says that Volunteer Louisiana, while often placed as an aside in the lieutenant governor's office, needs to become a focal point. If elected, he says he would volunteer his time each month to a worthwhile effort in Louisiana and push a tax break for companies that have an 80 percent or greater participation rate for volunteer programs. "They ought to have a little tax break. It doesn't have to be huge," he says.

The Rub:
If you remember the tabloid reports of 2007, then you already know that personal finance is an issue for Sam. That's when he filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy for an amount ranging from $100,001 to $1 million, since court documents only specify broad ranges. The debts are primarily business-related, linked to the Sammy Kershaw Fan Club, Samuel P. Kershaw Foundation of Acadiana, SJB Inc., and Hotchickens.com, a restaurant business that went bust and a website that contains the following message: "Your account has been suspended for non-payment or over usage."

Lagniappe:
Hire only Louisiana residents to work in the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism
Develop a "Branson-like city" that merges entertainment, tourism and economic development, but without the benefit of taxpayer dollars


THE PEPSI CANDIDATE
Name: Caroline Fayard
Age: 32
Party: Democrat
Residence: New Orleans
Experience: Private attorney; former U.S. District Court, congressional and White House staffer
Family: Single
Religion: Catholic

The Hook:
To hear Fayard tell it, she's the choice of a new generation. "I looked at the field and I didn't see anyone who represented myself and my generation," she says. "I just saw a lot of the same old people and the same names."

Fayard adds that the biggest difference between her generation and those represented on the ballot has to do with an "expansive worldview" and the general process of getting things done. "I think we grew up in a generation that demands things faster. We got our news from TV and then the Internet, instead of newspapers," she says. "There's a new model of doing business now. I have friends running multi-million dollar companies with three computers and a phone line. Frankly, if you look at politics nationwide, there's a groundswell of younger people taking over. And it's time for new blood to take over here."

Looking Local:
Her vision for Lafayette is lofty. The region should be included in the ongoing discussion about high speed rail running between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, an initiative that is in the conceptual stages. Fayard, who recently cut a commercial in French, also wants the region to become more territorial. "The French culture is one of the most charming, if not most important, things Louisiana has to share with the world," she says. "We need to make sure it isn't cannibalized. You're not going to get a true Acadiana experience walking down Bourbon Street. I think other parts of the state have tried to grab at it, and we need to protect against that."   

Bonafides:
From a political perspective, Fayard became a heavy hitter on the Democratic side of the race earlier this month following a New York City meet-and-greet hosted by former President Bill Clinton. Campaign finance records show Fayard has dumped $300,000 of personal cash into her campaign, but they reveal another $200,000 in individual contributions collected so far this year as well - not including the Clinton fundraiser.

Lagniappe:
Meld coastal restoration activities and ecotourism offerings
Increase transparency and accountability


FRONTRUNNER DU JOUR
Name: Jay Dardenne
Age: 56
Party: Republican
Residence: Baton Rouge
Experience: Private attorney; former state senator; current secretary of state
Family: Married with two sons
Religion: Jewish

The Hook:
Dardenne is a history buff, to put it mildly, which is why the secretary of state job is seemingly a perfect fit, since the position is charged with administering Louisiana's archives, historic sites, elections and major museums. "We are literally the pivotal state in the growth of young America," he says. "There's more history within a doubloon's throw of Jackson Square than anywhere else in America."

Approach:
If elected lieutenant governor, Dardenne says he would continue to place a spotlight on New Orleans, even though other parts of the state often complain they're being overlooked in the state's marketing plans. "I don't think there's any question that New Orleans is the gateway to Louisiana. It's a key asset to marketing Louisiana nationally," he says. "But I think I can do a better job of molding all parts of the state in a way that helps dissolve some of the tension that sometimes exists between New Orleans and the rest of the state."
But tourism professionals in Acadiana can rest assured that Dardenne will consult directly with them, and he points to the endorsement of the Louisiana Travel Political Action Committee as proof. "My intentions are to run this office intelligently and with the input of the travel industry," says Dardenne. "I know that the industry has been impacted by both the economy and the oil spill and will be dealing with the aftermath of both situations for quite some time. I am ready to take on the responsibility of helping the industry overcome those obstacles and aggressively seek solutions."

The Bottom Line:
All of the polling made public thus far in the race has Dardenne leading, but that statistical victory has been largely overshadowed by the volume of survey participants who had no idea who they were going to support. An August poll by Clarus Research Group of Washington, D.C., for WWL-TV had the undecided factor at 47 percent. A recent survey by Southern Media and Opinion Research of Baton Rouge pegged it at 40 percent. Both polls suggested the same top two vote-getters: Dardenne, who polled in the mid-20s, and Kershaw, who held at about 15 percent in each poll.   
Dardenne, however, has strength in other areas as well, beginning with the $747,000 he has in his campaign war chest, according to the Louisiana Board of Ethics. He has the backing of the parish executive committees from Ascension, East Baton Rouge and Orleans. The Greater New Orleans Republicans and the Southeastern Louisiana University College Republicans have signed on, too.

Lagniappe:
Develop a comprehensive program to celebrate Louisiana's bicentennial and leverage its appeal
Assisting the state's ports in luring more cruise ships

THE CHAIRMAN
Name: Roger Villere
Age: 61
Party: Republican
Residence: Metairie
Experience: Private attorney; former state senator; current chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party
Family: Married with three sons
Religion: Catholic

The Hook:
Villere is in a unique position. Since 2004, he has helped hordes of Republicans get elected to office in the state, but now it's his name on the ballot for the position of lieutenant governor.

But unlike his opponents, a sprinkling of attorneys and a couple of lifelong politicians, he doesn't have what one might call a traditional background in public service. Instead, his résumé touts a small business venture: Villere's Florist in Metairie. "I worked as a florist during the Easter of 1965, and I really needed a job at the time. It just took," Villere says. "I liked flowers and I liked plants. I've grown orchids since I was 11 and was the youngest member of the New Orleans Orchid Society."

Today, he operates one of the largest floral businesses in Louisiana and once chaired the national FTD Convention.

The Rub:
While some party faithfuls have lined up behind Villere, others are crying foul and alleging there's a conflict of interest. Detractors contend the party chairman should be helping raise money for Republican candidates and working to get them elected, not challenging them. Villere would also be at an advantage when and if he seeks the official endorsement of the state party. "It's not something I'm pushing for right now. We have multiple Republican candidates in the race," Villere says. "But I'm not saying I won't at some point."

Goals:
If elected lieutenant governor, Villere says one of his top priorities would be to use his business experience to promote economic development. "In order for Louisiana to grow and prosper, we must create jobs," he says. "I'm not a career politician, and I don't believe higher taxes and more regulation are the answer. We need to get government out of the way and unleash the entrepreneurial spirit that made this the greatest country in the world."
As for tourism, Villere says he would explore marketing plans for communities like Lafayette that rely on heavy advertising inside the state. But he doesn't want to limit outreach efforts. "I look forward to working with tourism leaders to come up with solutions and ideas to always be on the cutting edge in promoting our state to visitors from around the country and around the world," he says.

Lagniappe:
Work more closely with the governor
Protect the constitution, oppose all tax increases and limit the scope of government

A GULF COAST CANDIDATE
Name: Butch Gautreaux
Age: 63
Party: Democrat
Residence: Morgan City
Experience: Former director of St. Mary Parish Chamber of Commerce; former state representative; currently state senator and chairman of Senate Retirement Committee
Family: Married with two sons
Religion: Catholic

The Hook:
For Gautreaux, there is only one issue worth mounting a campaign for the lieutenant governor's post. While others in the race certainly agree that it's important, few have placed as much significance on the recent oil spill than Gautreaux.

In fact, he was among the first candidates for lieutenant governor to go on television - and he focused chiefly on BP, which operated the deepwater rig that exploded April 20 and sent millions of barrels of oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. The TV spot picks up one of his main plans: forcing BP to create a marketing fund to "repair the damage to Louisiana's image" caused by the oil spill.

Gautreaux says holding BP accountable for repairing the state's image strikes at the heart of the lieutenant governor's role in tourism. He adds that the $100 million or so that BP has spent on repairing its own image shows the oil giant has the cash to pony up. "If they can spend millions on propaganda, they can pay to fix the problem they created," Gautreaux says. "We need to stand up for our state and put Louisiana first."

Bona fides:
As a state lawmaker, Gautreaux has worked to open new commercial fisheries, fought for programs to clean up polluted oilfields and pushed measures to give the Legislature more independence from the executive branch. These days, Gautreaux's most substantial public policy work comes through on the Senate Retirement Committee, which he chairs.
During the most recent regular session of the Louisiana Legislature, though, Gautreaux grabbed headlines statewide for authoring a new law making texting while driving a primary offense. Over the past decade or so, he has been recognized for legislative achievements by the Louisiana Wildlife Federation, State Troopers Association, Tobacco-Free Living and others.

Backers:
As for political support, he has a few well-known backers. Earlier this month, he benefitted from a fundraiser at White Oak Plantation co-hosted by Chef John Folse, former Gov. Kathleen Blanco and others. The AFL-CIO threw its support behind Gautreaux early on, and he recently scored endorsements from the parish party organizations in Orleans and Jefferson. The state Senate leadership has signed on as well, including Senate President Joel Chaisson, D-Destrehan, and Senate President Pro Tem Sharon Weston Broome, D-Baton Rouge.

Lagniappe:
Help the state become a major destination for retirees
Move into post-production movie services, building off Louisiana's success as a place to film

Jeremy Alford can be reached at jeremy@jeremyalford.com.

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