Battle for the heart of Lafayette’s Republican Party

   

On July 11, 2020, Lafayette Democrats and Republicans will go to the polls for the Presidential Preference Primary. In addition to selecting who will represent their party in the upcoming Presidential election, up for grabs is the heart and soul of the Lafayette Republican and Democratic Parties. While we may wade into the Democratic Party candidates in another article, the Republican race is turning out to be quite historic in nature.

First and foremost, it’s important to remember the recent, epic battle between the forces of conservatism and progressivism. Everyone assumes the conservatives won out simply because Carlee’s bid for Mayor-President of Lafayette was rejected. That’s only somewhat true, as several of the progressive persuasion made it back into the city council. Now, they effectively control a veto-proof majority of 4:1. At least two of those races were won by Republicans In Name Only candidates who have consistently voted to set up tax increases and unsustainable government spending. The result of their mismanagement of local resources has resulted in a $31 million budget deficit in the City of Lafayette’s general fund this year alone.

What’s an RPEC / DPEC?

The acronym stands for Republican (or Democratic) Parish Executive Committee. Technically speaking, the R/DPEC is the governing body of their respective political party inside the Parish of Lafayette. In all, there ought to be sixty-four (64) of these (in each party), one for every parish in Louisiana. However, there are parishes who do not have these committees. This is usually because there aren’t enough people interested or knowledgable enough to start one up. In Lafayette, these parties are already setup and operating.

Even though they are not running for public office, anyone interested in being on the parish executive committee must qualify. Qualification is simply filling out a little bit of paperwork and paying a small fee at their local clerk of court’s office. A portion of all qualifying fees goes to the party for which the candidate registered. The rules say none of that money can be used to promote a specific candidate. However, the party may choose to operate a separate Political Action Committee (or PAC), and raise and spend its own money for that purpose. This is exactly what the Lafayette RPEC did during the mayor’s race, and exactly why some of Carlee’s supporters now appear to be attempting a hostile takeover.

So, who’s running for the Lafayette Republican Parish Executive Committee, and where do they stand on Republican issues? Let’s dive in.

The Workers

I’ve talked to every one on this short list of conservatives, all of whom have said they supported all three Republican candidates for Mayor-President over Carlee. In fact, what’s most amazing about this group is that they didn’t just give it lip service. They raised and spent around $70,000 to try to get conservatives elected in several races. Some were wins, some were losses, but overall, it’s a feat that has never been performed by any other local party in any parish. According to Lafayette Republican Party officials, this is the list of those who participated in that effort.

Tim Breaux (at-large)

Tim Breaux currently serves as the Chairman of the Lafayette Republican Party. In 2015-16 he was the Deputy Director of the Louisiana Republican Party, and a liaison with the Trump campaign. When Tim took over as Chairman of the Lafayette Republican Party two years ago, he gave the role a new, distinctive presence. Meetings were a refreshing no-nonsense, get-it-done experience.

I talked to Tim back in March. He was mixed on some of the taxes, especially those around core government functions like fire protection and police services. He leaned into the fire tax, but explained he’d like to have seen a plan. His father being the former Sheriff (Don Breaux), he also initially supported the idea of the Sheriff’s tax. However, he said, the tax was complicated by it not being strictly dedicated to the Sheriff’s office. He went the other way on the Jail and Library taxes that also went down in defeat. Simply put, they weren’t able to justify additional taxes with substantial surpluses on the books.

Tim has also served on countless boards and commissions around town (and the state). Some that came to mind included Festival International, Drug-Policy board, Drug Free Schools Board, Boy Scouts, Optimist Club, Deputy Chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, Leadership Lafayette Board, and more.

Joyce Linde (at-large)

Joyce is an artist and a member of the State Republican Party. She recently ran for Lafayette City Council District 4 against Nanette Cook. As the leader of what was the local TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party, Joyce believes that the amount of taxes we currently pay should be sufficient for the needs of government. Nanette had voted multiple times to increase taxes, which drew ire from many in her district. Joyce is also the Legislative Chairwoman for the Louisiana Federation of Republican Women.

I reached out to Joyce a few months ago to ask about her position on some core conservative issues that have come up recently. She opposed all five of the taxes that Lafayette voters rejected, including the fire tax, school tax, sheriff tax, jail tax, and library tax. She also believes the local Republican Party should be taking a leadership position in identifying and helping candidates to get elected. Some fo the campaigns she’s worked on in the past included Jared Bellard, William Theriot, and Attorney General Jeff Landry.

When asked what the Republican Party could do better, she said she believes in the party platform of conservative values, the constitution, lower taxes, gun rights, etc. She said the party needs to hold elected officials who wear the Republican badge more accountable. “Too many RINOs get away with everything,” she said.

Jeremiah Supple (at-large)

Jeremiah is involved in local issues, and is an incumbent member of the Lafayette Republican Party. He’s known for standing his ground and insisting the government does its job, because no one else can. When I caught up with him, he said he opposed all five of the new taxes or tax renewals that Lafayette rejected at the ballot. He also opposed Fix the Charter. Not because it was necessarily a good or bad idea, but because it was done in secret, in a hurry, and with the headline “fix” but no real definition of what it was supposed to be fixing.

As a business man, Jeremiah talked about the duty of government. It’s not their job to decide who succeeds and who fails – it’s their job to remove barriers so everyone can be more successful. Too often, the local government wants to compete with the private sector instead of supporting it. That’s a huge issue that needs addressing both state-wide and locally. He said the government shouldn’t be creating barriers to competition or doling out waivers or government-mandated monopolies that only benefit a few. Acadian Ambulance came comes to mind as one example because, by parish ordinance, no other ambulance company is permitted to operate in Lafayette Parish. How does an arrangement like that benefit residents?

Jeremiah was also strongly opposed to the Downtown Development Authority bypassing voters to create a penny-tax for its own benefit. It wasn’t so much that the tax itself is a bad idea, he said, it’s just that the DDA didn’t even bother to have a conversation about it. “If you can’t convince the voters that it’s a good idea, then you just shouldn’t do it.”

Charlie Buckels (at-large)

Charlie Buckles is also a member of the State Republican Party, and tells me he’s met with Donald Trump twice. He’s been on the front-lines of making closed primaries a reality in Louisiana. Closed primaries would allow each political party to hold a “closed” election for the person they want representing them in the main election. Saturday’s Presidential Preference Primary is the only “closed” election Louisiana has. Republicans will vote for the Republican candidate for President of the United States, and the Democrats for the Democratic candidate, etc. Charlie believes that Louisiana should have this same system for our Governor’s election as well.

During the recent regular session, Charlie worked with legislators to pass SCR55. That Senate Concurrent Resolution creates a task force to design a closed primary system for the state of Louisiana. The group will meet and create recommendations for the legislature to adopt in an upcoming session.

W. Ross Little, Jr. (at-large)

Ross Little currently serves as parliamentarian on the Lafayette RPEC. He’s a strong conservative who also serves on the State Republican Party Executive Committee and National Republican Party as the Republican National Committeeman for the entire state of Louisiana. It’s a position he’s held for over a decade. Ross has also been an advocate for smaller government, lower taxes, and home school for decades. He’s also a board member of Citizens for a New Louisiana.

I talked to Ross a few months ago about what he believes are the responsibilities of the local Republican Party. As the governing authority of the Lafayette Republican Party, he said the RPEC should take a leadership position on issues and candidates. We should start policy discussions on the idea that the government has become too big and has taxed the people too much. It’s also important that the party thoroughly vet and endorse candidates who wish to run under the party’s moniker. He opposed the taxpayer funding of Drag Queen Story Time and fully supports the second amendment.

Ross also believes that the battles for the heart and soul of our community never end. He decided to run again when he realized that several current members of the local RPEC supported raising taxes. He also believes that people who are willing to work to stop bad policies should run until they can find a decent replacement.

Denice Skinner (District 1)

Denice Skinner currently serves at the Treasurer of the Lafayette RPEC. She’s been a party volunteer for twenty-four years, and has been credited with being a work-horse during the election victory of Josh Guillory. When we spoke, and the question of taxes came up, she had the most memorable response: “They keep saying things like, ‘it’s only a penny,’ but there are only 100 pennies in every dollar. We’re always trying to save money at home and in business. The government should do the same.”

Denice also said that the local Republican Party can only be as successful as the workers. Before the current executive committee was elected (about two years ago) the local party didn’t do all that much. However, what a change when the leadership changed! Under their direction, the party raised and spent $70,000 to promote good, conservative candidates for office. Nothing like that had ever been done before – at least, not that anyone can remember.

Denice expressed her disappointment with the current Republican city council members who used loopholes in state law to create five new taxing districts without a vote of the people. She said, voting on tax increases “is a fundamental part of our Home Rule Charter. [Raising taxes without a vote of the people] is not my America. We’re going to have to work hard to correct that.” She finished by saying that she’s not anti-tax – she just thinks the people should be told, in detail, what they’re planning to spend the money on BEFORE they’re given the money. Then, the people should decide at the ballot box if it’s a good idea or not.

Dustin Arnaud (District 2)

You won’t see Dustin on the ballot, because he was unopposed in his district. I sat down with Dustin a while back and we talked about taxes and other issues. He said he didn’t support any of the new taxes proposed by LCG. He was an early supporter of Josh, and spoke of his hard work getting Jan-Scott Richard elected as the first Republican Mayor of Scott.

He also took a strong position against taxpayer funding of Drag Queen events for toddlers. He added that the Democratic Party even lost Lafayette councilman over that very issue. We also chatted a little about transgender athletes competing against biological women. Dustin pointed out the UFC. He said, “can you imagine Conor McGregor waking up one morning and wanting to fight Ronda Rousey or Holly Holm?”

Dustin served on the LCG Transition Committee, and currently serves as the Lafayette Republican Party designee on the Board of Election Supervisors.

Landon Boudreaux (District 3)

Landon is from the Youngsville area. His father is Rickey Boudreaux, Youngsville’s Chief of Police. When I caught up with Landon, he told me that he didn’t support any of the five taxes we’ve previously mentioned in this article. He believes that the Lafayette Republican Party has a duty to elect strong conservative leadership, and said he’s worked hard for quite a number of campaigns; some successful and some not. Those included his father, Simone Champagne, Josh Carlson, Brandon Decou (Broussard’s Chief of Police), and several others.

Landon opposes using tax dollars on non-core functions of government. He’d like to bring the local Republican Party closer to the community through outreach and events. He said he’d like to help by recommending and organizing town halls, debates, and other events to inform and engage the public.

“Betsy” Arabie (District 4)

Betsy Arabie currently serves as Secretary of the Lafayette RPEC. She also did not support any of the recent new taxes that were voted on by a majority of City-Parish council members – many of whom wear the Republican moniker at election time.  We talked about the Fire tax, the School tax, the Sheriff tax, the Jail tax, and the Library tax. She also believes it’s the party’s duty to take up important issues and make recommendation to voters. She thought having a Drag Queen event for toddlers at taxpayer expense was a terrible decision by the Library Board. She added that it’s wrong for biological males to be allowed to compete in female-only sporting events.

Betsie closed up our interview by saying that the conservatives in the party represent how she was raised. She believes waste is bad and taxes are already high enough. These aren’t new ideas; they’re just plain common sense.

Jason Cullins (District 5)

Jason is relatively new to the political sphere. He owns a small business in the transportation sector, and also does some security work. He’s passionate about reducing burdensome regulations and leveling the playing field for all small businesses. He’s well informed on local, state-wide, and national politics. He thought it was a travesty for the Downtown Development Authorities to manipulate loopholes in state law in order to raise taxes without a vote of the people.

A staunch supporter of law enforcement and the second amendment, Jason even graced the headlines a few years ago when he, unarmed, broke up a burglary and attempted murder by an armed assailant. According to the article by KATC, Jason received a law enforcement service award from the Janesville Police Department on March 3, 2018, for taking a gun away from a suspect and potentially saving lives.”


Team Carlee

We’ve previously written about Team Carlee’s Revenge?, in which people who would like to get onto the Lafayette Republican Parish Executive Committee were unabashed Carlee supporters. The reader will remember that Carlee did not run as a Republican, but “no-party.” The local Republicans tell me that with all the great options out there for Republican candidates, they didn’t understand why anyone on a Republican executive committee would support someone who’s not even in the party. The committee members also told me that Carlee never reached out to ask for their support.

Here’s a quick reference for those candidates and an excerpt from the original article.

Erick Knezek – running at large

Erick Knezek

Erick Knezek endorses Carlee Alm-LaBar over the Republican candidates

Touting his “lifelong Republican” status and his service as a veteran, former school board member who didn’t seek re-election, Erick Knezek, is supposedly running to make the Republican Party more conservative. However, Erick was quick to endorse Carlee Alm-LaBar over all three Republican candidates in the recent Lafayette Mayor-President’s race.

Erick also voted to levy the unnecessary $238 million school tax, even though the “overcrowding” problem was created by the school board’s own policies! After the tax failed, School Board President, Dawn Morris, noted that the school board was “overcrowding schools voluntarily” due to the school board’s own policies! She said, “It’s crazy that we put all those commercials on TV about those kids running from the temporary buildings in the rain… but we’re sending those kids to those schools voluntarily. It’s not even their zoned schools.”

An article on the Current (seventh paragraph) suggests that Erick is running to further special rights for the LGBT lifestyle in Lafayette. He was proud enough of the article to post it with a long comment on his facebook page. One of his last actions as a school board member (item 4.1) was to author a new school board policy creating a special, protected classification for LGBT youth, including transgenders.

He pursued this policy even though the national transgender student movement has all but obliterated girls’ sports. In fact, Selina Soule, who has been struggling to compete with biological males entering her sport, has a Life Site News petition with over 185,000 signatures. It calls for legislation to prevent this travesty from ever happening to another girl in the United States. Republican Louisiana State Senator Beth Mizell has answered that call by introducing legislation to prevent this from happening to girls in our local school systems.

Erick was very gracious and met with me quickly after announcing his intention to run for RPEC.

Jaci Russo – running at large

Touting her “lifelong Republican” status as a badge of honor, Jaci openly supported Carlee Alm-LaBar for Mayor-President over every Republican Candidate.

A few years ago Jaci was also involved in a dust-up with Fatima over their school’s teacher morality policy. It suggested that while not all of their teachers need be Catholic by faith, they should at least maintain a moral character that’s consistent with the Church. Jaci is also the only candidate for RPEC with the distinction of having been nominated by Bruce Conque to serve on a board.

Due to her uncanny silence, it’s unclear whether or not Jaci supported raising five new sales taxes without a vote of the people (as required by the charter’s Section 2-17 D). However, we do know that Mayor-President Josh Guillory and the current Lafayette RPEC do not support this method of taxation. Jaci has also not been seen at any of the local Republican club meetings until the one held yesterday, March 9th. It may prove an interesting exercise to observe who “liked” her post about attending: Beth Guidry, Tom Angers, Stafford Barnett, Nicole Durel Hebert, and the DDA’s Anita Begnaud, who directly benefits from one of the five new taxing districts.

As with the Concerned Citizens for Good Government meeting a week earlier, she was silent and left early. Among others, Jaci sat at the table with two dissenting members of the Lafayette RPEC who also support the five new taxes.

One was Tom Angers, who has been disrupting the last several RPEC meetings by repeatedly demanding copies of the organization’s financials. Jaci’s push card makes a similar demand, stating that the RPEC needs to encourage “transparent financials.”  These similar arguments can’t be coincidence. Despite her card’s call for “well-researched, fact-based evaluation and discussion,” she (and Tom) are apparently oblivious that all of the RPEC’s financials have been publicly available on the Louisiana Board of Ethics website since December of last year.

Jaci’s table also contained Beth Guidry, the former CAO of Lafayette Consolidated Government whose friends “want to change the culture of the Republican party in Lafayette Parish,” by replacing those who played pivotal roles in her former boss’ election success. Ms. Guidry said it was her association with insurgent activists (like the ones at Jaci’s table) that cost her the number-two job at LCG.

Although he hadn’t attended any meetings in nearly a year, John David Mayer was also present: seated at Jaci’s table. John joined Tom Angers in hand-delivering a “financial transparency” demand letter to chairman Tim Breaux, asking for the same documents that have been publicly available on the Louisiana Board of Ethics website since December of last year. He also caused a little stir by enthusiastically supporting all five new taxes. This position is at odds with a previous and unanimous vote of the RPEC and the current stance of Mayor-President Josh Guillory, a Republican who John says he worked to get elected.

A reporter from the Daily Advertiser was also present, sitting next to Beth Guidry, and across from Jaci.

Through her assistant, we’ve tried to catch up with Jaci multiple times for an interview without success.

“Mike” Davis – at large

Mike Davis supports CarleeDuring the Mayor-President campaign, Mike Davis was running for Parish Council district 3 against Jeremy Hidalgo and Josh Carlson. Josh Carlson eventually won that seat in a runoff, in which Mike threw his support behind Jeremy Hidalgo. While Mike hasn’t taken a position on the five new tax districts, the reader would do well to remember that Jeremy enthusiastically promoted the $238 million school tax way back in 2016.

Mike was complimentary of Carlee during his election campaign by noting the family with her sign in their yard “clearly has good taste.”

Mike Davis never responded to our requests to chat about his policy beliefs or clarify his complimentary statement on Carlee.

Justin Centanni Facebook PageJustin Centanni – district 4

Sitting school board member, Justin Centanni, reportedly made phone calls to encourage others to run. Like other candidates running for the RPEC, he has a selfie with Carlee on his Facebook profile. He also supported her work on Fix the Charter and was even sighted at the election-night victory party. Justin also voted to levy the unnecessary $238 million school tax, even though the “overcrowding” problem was created by the school board’s own policies!

He and his wife appear to have been closely connected with Carlee Alm-LaBar for some time. A photograph from Facebook shows Justin’s wife Marie alongside Carlee’s husband, Will LaBar, and Lafayette First PAC’s Mark DeClouet. Justin also appears to be pretty tight with Lafayette First PAC’s Facebook page manager, Stafford Barnett. At some point, Justin and Stafford even attended a New Orleans Saints game together with Liz Webb-Hebert and her husband.

Justin came by my office the day he qualified, but our office hasn’t been able to catch up with him since then.

Other candidates with ties to the Carlee camp

Alan Hebert, who is running at-large was an original member of the charter commission, which consolidated Lafayette’s city and parish governments back in the 1990s. He’s also Liz Webb-Hebert’s father-in-law. He has taken calls from Citizens, but only to say he’s not interested in talking with us. We do know that Liz voted to create all five new taxing districts in Lafayette. We also know that Liz is well connected with Justin Centanni and Stafford Barnett, of Lafayette First PAC, who may have officiated Liz Webb-Hebert’s wedding. Liz was also present for one of Stafford Barnett’s major life events. She was invited to, but did not attend, the Lafayette RPEC meeting of March 9th, specifically called to address the taxing districts.

John Bienvenu, who is running in District 5, lives directly across the street from Jaci Russo. Although his push card says he “promotes transparency throughout local government,” like Jaci, John has been reluctant to talk to us – the only organization in town focused on local government transparency. During his speech at the Concerned Citizens for Good Government meeting last week, he did talk about his support for non-Republican Carlee for Mayor-President.

Tommy Angelle, who is running for District 1, is the former Democrat Mayor of Carencro. His entry into the race rounds out the Lafayette School Board contingent. Tommy met with us very recently to talk about his political background and reasons for running for RPEC. Formerly a lifelong Democrat, Tommy has only recently changed to the Republican party. He says he’s not voted for a Democrat candidate in recent memory. His time as a School Board Member can’t help but closely align him with the two other RPEC candidates (and friends of Carlee) with the same background: Erick Knezek and Justin Centanni. Like Knezek, he touts his status as a veteran. He also self-identifies with Republican values, and as a conservative. Tommy also voted to levy the unnecessary $238 million school tax, even though the “overcrowding” problem was created by the school board’s own policies!


Other Candidates

Finally, there are a few candidates who are also running who didn’t appear to be involved in the Mayor-President’s race.

Tom Angers (at-large), has been mentioned in our Team Carlee’s Revenge? article, which is repeated above. Although Tom tells us he didn’t support Carlee for Mayor-President, he did vehemently support Carlee’s “progressive” Fix the Charter campaign. During that debate, Tom invited Joey Durel and others to speak at the RPEC in favor of the effort. When the RPEC voted to take a position opposed to Fix the Charter, Tom wanted to bring Joey Durel back to re-explain everything again.

John David Mayer (at-large), is also mentioned the Team Carlee’s Revenge? article, repeated above. At the same RPEC meeting, he stood up and defended the city’s “right” to use loopholes in state law to avoid the Home Rule Charter’s rules forbidding the levy of taxes without a vote of the people. In fact, he got a little feisty about it. I’ve also heard from several sources that he was actively trying to recruit people to run against The Workers list above.

Brian Pope (at-large), should require no introduction.

Donna Greco (District 3), is a long-time and well-known conservative who’s a member of at least one Republican Women’s club. Recently, she’s been active in the legal battle to leave the Mouton Statue right where it is.

“Jeff” Delahoussaye (District 3), is a City Councilman in Broussard. My office was not successful in reaching him for an interview. All we know is he endorsed former tax-and-spend school board member, Jeremy Hidalgo (who’s also the Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Broussard) for the district 3 seat on the Lafayette Parish Council. Hidalgo had something of a dustup with the RPEC, who endorsed Carlson in the primary but not Hidalgo. Through some arm-twisting, the RPEC eventually endorsed both candidates in the runoff. However, Hidalgo was ultimately defeated by Joshua Carlson.

Homer Fouquier (District 4), is a regular attender to the Lafayette Republican Parish Executive Committee meetings. He has a long history of activity in the political realm in another parish, and even served as a councilman. His strong history of leadership and a keen understanding of process suggests he would make an excellent RPEC member (in the least) and is certainly qualified for higher office.

When I met with him a few months ago, Homer reminded me of the movie “The Natural” with Robert Redford. It’s a tale of a highly talented, but unassuming baseball player who was overlooked for years. One afternoon at batting practice he was riding the bench (as he always did) when the coach became frustrated with another player. In that moment, the coach motioned for him take the other’s place. The coach nearly fell over when every pitch was belted right back and into the stands. For his hitting ability, the coach reluctantly put him in the lineup as an outfielder, never realizing he was also an incredibly talented pitcher. That player was Ty Cobb, who never said a word.

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