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No one expected that the Lafayette Republican Party would be the point of the spear in Lafayette’s recent Mayoral race. That’s because their engagement was far and above what any local party has attained across the entire state of Louisiana in recent memory. During the contest, they raised and spent about $70,000 to help local Republicans get elected. That’s incredibly impressive to some, but can make others uneasy.
The local Democratic Party didn’t do much during the cycle. It was confusing that they even failed to coalesce behind their single candidate for Mayor, Carlos Harvin. Instead, the elected Democrats and local party champions embraced the no-party candidate for mayor, Carlee Alm-LaBar. However, the Democratic Party itself didn’t raise or spend a dime on any candidates. Instead, two PACs did their dirty work: Lafayette First PAC, run by Mark DeClouet, a close friend with Carlee and her husband Will LaBar, and United Ballot, run by Chris Williams.
Dirty politics at its worst
The campaigns for council and Mayor-President reached pretty low. A recent article by The Current (which didn’t disclose that it received $12,500 from the Carlee Alm-Labar and Mark DeClouet of Lafayette First PAC) laments the terrible state of mud slinging in local politics. However, instead of directing the reader to actual examples (of which there are many) they quickly change the subject (and direct the blame) to the Lafayette Republican Parish Executive Committee, or RPEC for short.
That The Current’s article didn’t name a single example isn’t surprising considering that we can’t find any real dirt coming from the RPEC either. Instead, Chris Williams’ United Ballot and Mark DeClouet’s Lafayette First PAC did most of that heavy lifting. Early on, they started by referring to Josh Guillory as a criminal defense attorney, who works to keep the worst of the worst out of jail. Another example was a mailer, also posted to Facebook, referring to him as the “jailhouse lawyer.” Then another a sponsored post calling him a flip-flopper.
Who funded and operated Lafayette First PAC?
According to the annual report filed with the Louisiana Board of Ethics, current Lafayette Parish Tax Assessor, Conrad Comeaux, donated $3,500, The Current donor and Acadiana Psychiatric Solutions owner Mark DeClouet contributed $4,000 in cash and another $1,090.19 in-kind, Fix the Charter and Carlee Campaign volunteer, Kevin Blanchard, contributed $5,000, and an address tracking back to the River Ranch business office (Kevin’s current and Carlee’s former employer) donated $10,000. A final major donor, contributing $5,000 to the cause was John Broussard, not to be confused with John Harold Broussard who ran against Conrad Comeaux for Lafayette Parish Assessor in the same cycle.
Spending for the PAC may also be interesting. Joey Durel’s brother was paid $5,821 to send out mailers. His is the same company Carlee used. PFlag (Pride Flag) President and Friend of Drag Queen Story Time, Matthew Humphrey, was paid $1,626 for “research.” A company named We Met In The Air, appearing on page eight of the campaign finance report, has an address that links back to Mary Patricia Wray, a political operative who worked on John Bel Edwards’ election campaign.
Now might also be a good time to pay special attention to who ran the Lafayette First PAC facebook page. At the top of any sponsored post, the reader will notice and should remember the name of John Stafford Barnett, as it will come up later. Also, as one of two initial page likes, Stafford Barnett is believed to be involved in the Check the PEC Facebook page, formerly called “Real Republicans of Lafayette Parish.” Stafford also shows up on page six the campaign finance report for Lafayette First PAC.
Team Carlee’s hostile takeover attempt of the Lafayette Republican Party
On January tenth, a throng of Carlee supporters rushed the Lafayette Clerk of Court’s office. Much like the anti-Republican Check the PEC Facebook page, they’re claiming to be the true voice of the Republican Party. However, if they openly opposed all Republican candidates running for Mayor-President, how can that possibly make them Republican?
We don’t know when it began, but several people who were approached to run against the sitting Republican Parish Executive Committee members were concerned enough to quietly talk about it. For fear of reprisals, they’ve asked that their names not be mentioned here. The names of callers we have so far include the following.
- Nicole Durel Hebert – Joey Durel’s daughter. Joey was an outspoken supporter of Fix the Charter and Carlee’s run for mayor. He was the first prominent former public official to announce his support for Carlee. Joey has been friends with Carlee and her husband for years. He also appears as a “Host” on a Carlee event, which reportedly costs $2,500.
- Terry Huval – the former director of LUS, who quickly retired soon after the LUS Fiber scandal broke. Terry was also a Carlee supporter and was early to endorse the campaign. He also appears as a “Host” on a Carlee event, which reportedly costs $2,500. Huval is currently under investigation for theft and destruction of public records. Since then, District Attorney Keith Stutes has also requested copies of all related documents.
- Carlee Alm-LaBar – this one was a bit of a shock. We had been under the impression that Carlee was working her way back into the private sector. The people she called have doubly-sworn that it did, indeed, take place.
- John David Mayer – who is an RPEC incumbent running for an at-large seat himself. His candidacy was surprising because, according to RPEC meeting minutes, he hasn’t attended in over nine months. However, he did finally show up at their last meeting (on March 9th) to profess his undying support for five new sales taxes created by the council without a vote of the people.
- Nathan Broussard – is the former Lafayette RPEC chairman, but is not running for re-election. He, likewise, hasn’t been sighted at a Lafayette RPEC meeting in many months. Nathan currently serves the Guillory administration as a municipal liaison.
- Justin Centanni – reportedly made phone calls to encourage others to run. He’s a sitting school board member who was recently unopposed for his seat. Both he and his wife have been closely connected with Carlee Alm-LaBar, her husband, and Lafayette First PAC creator, Mark DeClouet, for some time.
- Jay Castille – an outspoken supporter of Carlee. He also appears as a “Host” on a Carlee event, which reportedly costs $2,500. Jay was a lifelong Democrat but recently switched to No-Party, likely after the December elections.
Candidates Running for RPEC
Erick Knezek – running at large
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
During 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 – 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!
The final word?
While not all of the candidates we’ve talked with have taken a strong stand with Carlee for Mayor-President, several have openly called for the removal of Republican Party incumbents who supported her Republican opponents. We saw this early on with Beth Guidry’s stepping down as CAO after only five days on the job. We’re also seeing it unfold before us at the various events around town. At these events, several candidates for the RPEC have publicly expressed their disdain for the current RPEC members and their anti-tax positions.
In the words of Louisiana’s Attorney General, while every Conservative is a Republican, not every Republican is Conservative. If you want conservative policies furthered by the local Republican Party, there will be some due diligence required on your part.
Finally, I understand one of the reasons for yesterday’s RPEC meeting was to chat with Liz Webb-Hebert and Nanette Cook about those five new taxing districts. During the meeting, it wasn’t made clear how they were invited. Since then, however, I understand at least one councilwoman not only acknowledged the invitation but confirmed her attendance. However, neither were present for the meeting. I’ve also understood that upon leaving the RPEC meeting, at least one of the dissenting members immediately scurried away to attend a private meeting with one of those invited (but absent) councilwomen.
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The link to Erick Knezek’s FB post has an article link and pic with you in the front row, Michael. 🙂
Many thanks to you and CFNL for being present when the rest of us can’t!
Yep. Isn’t it glorious?