March 23, 2018

Know Your Candidates, Then Geaux Vote!

Tomorrow, March 24, is the primary election to fill the spots of: Sheriff, Mayor of Kenner, Councilman at Large Divisions A & B, City Council Districts 1 through 5, Constable Fifth Justice Court, Chief of Police in Kenner and Member of School Board, District 3. The most controversial race tomorrow is the race for Sheriff of Jefferson Parish. Retired Col. John Fortunato is running against interim Sheriff Joe Lopinto III (who stepped in for Newell Normand when he retired in August) for the spot. Prior to filling Normand’s seat, Lopinto was chief deputy. This is the first Sheriff election in Jefferson Parish in more than two decades, which gives us ample opportunity to voice our priorities and elect someone that will accurately represent our need for criminal justice reform in Louisiana.

There are currently no re-entry services in all of Jefferson Parish, further emphasizing the need for a Sheriff that is committed to reform. While some people return to Jefferson Parish after months or years in prison many more though, spend days, weeks, or months in the parish jail awaiting trial. Once they appear in court, individuals are either sentenced to prison, released on time served, or released because their charges have been dropped. It only takes about 10 days, however, before a person barely making it will lose it all. We need resources for people so they can successfully return to society, and the power to make that happen lies in the hands of the Sheriff.

In Kenner, interim-mayor Ben Zahn is running for full-term mayor against Al Morella and Dona Reynaud. Kenner also has several races for City Council. Councilwoman Maria DeFrancesch and Kristi McKinney (At-Large District A); Jackie Brown-Cockerham, Councilman Gregory Carroll and David Weathersby (District 1); Glenn Hayes and Randall Paul (District 3); George Branigan and Councilman Leonard Cline Jr. (District 4). Also, Allen Leone Jr. is running against Jack Rizzuto for Jefferson’s Constable in 5th Justice Court. With a lot of the races in Jefferson Parish uncontested, it is even more essential that we think long term about how to ensure a diverse array of voices reflects the population of the parish.

A large section of our community is currently denied the right to vote. Six-thousand people are barred from voting in Jefferson Parish, and seven-thousand more are denied in Orleans Parish, as they are under the supervision of probation or parole. Taken together, that’s 13,000 ballots, guaranteed to be blank, once the polls close tomorrow. Jefferson and Orleans Parishes constitute almost 20 percent% of the 70,000 people who are unable to vote throughout all of Louisiana. This comes at a time when many elected officials are talking about rehabilitation, reentry, stopping cycles of incarceration, and reinvesting savings in supportive programs. Yet many of these elected officials can not even bring themselves to ensure the most basic right of citizenship.

Know Your Vote serves to focus elections on criminal justice issues, which inefficiently consumes a high percentage of our tax dollars, has no statistical relationship to public safety and employs a large labor force that must be held accountable. In this election, Royce Duplessis, Ellen Hazeur, and John Fortunato have emerged as candidates that appear prepared for the long road ahead.

Without the votes of our disenfranchised brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, election outcomes likely won’t reflect the issues our city and state needs to truly focus upon. We need to uplift the voices of disenfranchised people and ensure their opinions are not forgotten. It is imperative that we vote tomorrow, and that we encourage our friends, families, neighbors, and colleagues to vote as well.

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