20 LPSB candidates now racing for November

by Patrick Flanagan

With qualifying over, the start of campaign season is official, and for the Lafayette Parish School Board, the race toward Nov. 4 will pit 20 candidates in battles for all 9 of the district's available seats.

With qualifying now over, campaign season is official, and for the Lafayette Parish School Board the race toward Nov. 4 will pit 20 candidates in battles for all 9 of the district's available seats.

When the three days of qualifying ended Friday afternoon, 12 of the names on the school board's candidate list were expected, with some having issued campaign announcements as far back as last year. For the other eight, however, the announcement of their candidacies came with last week's sign-up, forcing four incumbents and one previously announced challenger into races that would have otherwise gone uncontested.

Three of the surprise candidates were netted in the final hours of qualifying, with the sign-up of Redell "Mama" Comeaux Miller and "Coach Don" Gagnard creating a three-person contest in District 1 against Mary Morrison, who announced early and up until Friday's deadline, appeared set to win by default in her bid for Mark Allen Babineaux's vacated seat.

This scenario almost played out for District 2 incumbent Tommy Angelle as well. For months leading up to last week's qualifying, as more challengers began issuing campaign announcements for various seats on the board, District 2 remained silent. But, with the start of qualifying came two candidates, with Simon Mahan signing-up earlier in the week, followed by James Chavis, one of Friday's last-day sign-ups.

The race in District 4 will also play differently than originally expected, as incumbent Tehmi Chassion won't be defending his seat from Joshua Broussard, despite the announcement of Broussard's candidacy back in February. Instead, Chassion will face Erica Williams who's bid for District 4 became known with her sign-up on Thursday. (The IND spoke with Broussard several weeks before qualifying, and at the time, he was unsure of his candidacy, saying he feared that a recent job promotion and changes in his schedule would prevent him from effectively serving the district. Our attempts to contact Broussard last week, however, proved unsuccessful.)

As was the case for Districts 1, 2 and 4, District 5 incumbent Kermit Bouillion entered the start of qualifying also uncertain of how he'd be spending his time in the months leading up to Nov. 4. But the possibility of an election without a campaign dissolved Wednesday with the sign-up of Britt Latiolais.

For candidate Kathleen Espinoza, the race for District 6 has also been in question for the last few months, with incumbent Greg Awbrey uncertain of his reelection plans and no noise from other potential challengers. A campaign announcement finally came the week before qualifying, but not from Awbrey, who opted against last week's sign-up. Espinoza will instead face-off against challenger Justin Centanni.

It wasn't until last week that District 7's Mark Cockerham knew where he stood in defending his seat, and like his fellow incumbents in Districts 4 and 5, he too will be spending the time between now and Nov. 4 in a campaign against Dawn Morris, another of this year's unexpected qualifiers.

Unlike the races for the first seven seats on the board, Districts 8 and 9 brought no surprises last week.

As expected, District 8 will see incumbent Hunter Beasley square off against previously announced challenger Erick Knezek in what will likely shape up to be a close one.

District 9 qualifying also shaped up as expected. Incumbent Rae Trahan was a no-show during qualifying, and will leave her seat up for grabs by either Jeremy Hidalgo (the candidate whose September 2013 announcement was the earliest), or Brian West, who also made his bid known back in January.

Stay tuned for more. And in the meantime, here's a breakdown of the candidates in each of the nine districts:

District 1
Mary Morrison
"Coach Don" Gagnard
Redell "Mama" Comeaux Miller

District 2
Tommy Angelle (incumbent)
Simon Mahan
James A. Chavis

District 3
Shelton Cobb (incumbent)
Elroy Broussard

District 4
Tehmi Chassion (incumbent)
Erica Williams
(Joshua Broussard announced but didn't file qualifying papers)

District 5
Kermit Bouillion (incumbent)
Britt Latiolais

District 6
Justin Centanni
Kathleen Schott Espinoza

District 7
Mark Cockerham (incumbent)
Dawn Morris

District 8
Hunter Beasley (incumbent)
Erick Knezek

District 9
Jeremy Hidalgo
Brian West