Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Anti-Oppression / Anti-Bullshit Voting Guide for New Orleans' Runoff Election, April 29, 2017

Oh goodness, is it time to vote again? Well you're in luck, because the Harm Reductionists of New Orleans have your April 29, 2017 election guide right here!

As you know, these guides have been produced lovingly and carefully since 2014 by a group of individuals who seek:
  • to confront the existing lack of accountability in the branches of Louisiana government, and in the election process more generally; and
  • to promote justice, wellness, and advancement for all marginalized people in our communities. 

Logistics

Depending on where you live, your ballot may differ from this guide. Visit voterportal.sos.la.gov or call 225-922-0900 to review your sample ballot and voting location. 
 
Be sure to bring your government-issued ID.

Early Voting
Saturday, April 15 - April 22, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm (not Sunday)

Pick any of these locations for Early Voting:
REGISTRAR’S OFFICE, CITY HALL 1300 Perdido St. Room 1W23
REGISTRAR’S OFFICE, ALGIERS COURTHOUSE, 225 Morgan St. Room 105
VOTING MACHINE WAREHOUSE, 8870 Chef Menteur Highway
LAKE VISTA COMMUNITY CENTER, 6500 Spanish Fort Blvd. 2nd floor meeting room

The Ballot

JUDGE CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, DIVISION B
Rachael Johnson (Democrat, Black, Female)
M. Suzanne "Suzy" Montero (Democrat, White, Female)

After some sensational antics in the low-turnout primary election, first-time campaigners Rachael Johnson and Suzy Montero are facing a runoff for the Civil District Court judgeship vacated by Regina Batholomew-Woods. This is the state-level court where people sue each other over civil disputes such as land-use, divorce, contracts, personal injury, and hurricane litigation.

Suzy Montero
Suzy Montero is a longtime litigator for Chip Forstall's personal injury firm (of television commercial fame). This type of law is a profit-driven consequence of our happy-go-lawsuit legal climate. Personal injury law firms invest heavily in lobbyists and campaigns of State legislators, who then return the favor. Though many issues (like car accidents and workplace injuries) are resolved through litigation, this practice is responsible for state-wide hikes in car insurance rates, cost of goods, and disincentives for raising low-wage salaries.

So why does a career personal injury lawyer vie for a seat on the City’s Civil District Court? In Montero’s words, her legal career has trained her “to serve our great city as a qualified, prepared, fair, and impartial judge.” Following Hurricane Katrina, she fought insurance companies who were trying to avoid paying out claims to displaced homeowners. She says that public servants have a duty to educate legislators about the “unintended consequences” of the laws they write, and the “real-life impact of...mass incarceration.” Having represented a diverse clientele in her 24 years of legal work, Montero says she is committed to offering a multilingual courtroom that treats people with “equal dignity” and “human decency.”

A queer woman, Montero is endorsed by the anti-discrimination PAC Forum for Equality and, curiously, the Orleans Parish Republican Executive Committee. Her campaign has accused Johnson's people of kicking Montero out of a recent event at St. Stephen's Church due to Montero’s support of LGBTQ rights, which is awfully wack. (That event honored church-member Rachael Johnson's mother, begging the question of why Montero was campaigning there in the first place.)

Rachael Johnson
As for Montero’s opponent, Rachael Johnson says her aim is to serve the public with “merit” and “distinguished hardworking leadership.” With 12 years of legal work experience - including a clerkship for then-Civil District Court Judge Nadine Ramsey - she now practices insurance-defense law for the Hartford Insurance Group. This affiliation presents another messy example of the power of the judicial system: Insurance-defense law curtails the excessive lawsuits that waste time and money, but it also limits the rights of private citizens to sue large corporations.

So do we trust this insurance attorney with our civic affairs? Let’s follow the campaign trail: Johnson has picked up a large number of endorsements from progressive politicians in the Greater New Orleans Area. A former social worker and Second Harvest volunteer, she is on the Board of the Pro Bono Project. Johnson was endorsed by the AFL-CIO Building Trades Council union, as well as several local civil rights attorneys (and Sheriff Marlin Gusman, just to keep things interesting). She is the daughter of Black History-making Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Judge Bernette Johnson.

Hashtag Wars
Shamefully, we’ve seen some real underhandedness in this election, coming from both sides: Each campaign has requested restraining orders against the other after Montero’s people sent out mailers mischaracterizing Johnson’s court attendance record, and Johnson’s people sent out mailers - with a stinging #MeritMatters tagline - distorting Montero’s tax payment record.

Montero’s campaign people post millenial-targeted, alarmist social media messages around the clock, while Cheron Brylski - a major force behind the charter school movement in New Orleans - does more traditional PR.

Johnson uses the same media liaison as Marlin Gusman (and, somehow, an anti-David Duke outfit), and rarely responds to inquiries. Yet she found the time to circulate a mean-spirited and gravely offensive attack ad featuring a decontextualized "inmate booking information" photo of the third candidate in the primary race. Montero’s campaign then reblogged the photo, a cheap excuse to play with their own #IntegrityMatters hashtag.

First Merit, now Integrity: We’re missing a few things that matter here, kids.

The Issues at Stake
So how to choose, dear Voter? What can we know about our candidates beyond the bland websites and attack ads? We need to see real improvements in the way our state’s powerful Judiciary interacts with the public it serves.

Montero wants to invest in courtroom technology, expand resources for non-English speakers, and create more accessible facilities for folks with physical mobility differences.

Johnson is well-regarded by members of the progressive political establishment as well as by grassroots community advocates, though her campaign has been more reserved about communicating specific visions for the Judgeship.

Civil District Court has long been regarded as a launchpad for career ascension to Appeals Court, where civil and criminal cases are heard. Let’s make sure we send the best people to the bench.

VOTE: So far, undecided. Expect updates as we continue to do research and interview the candidates. Feel free to submit your intel and opinions!


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Anti-Oppression / Anti-Bullshit Voting Guide for New Orleans' Elections, March 25, 2017

Greetings, neighbors! We hope you have been doing well since the last time we voted, just a slick three months ago!

New Orleans gets another Election Day, on March 25th. Check GeauxVote for your polling location and sample ballot. Note: This guide may differ somewhat from the ballot you see on Election Day.

Be sure to bring your government-issued ID, and Vote Early if you can:

When: Saturday, March 11- March 18, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm (not Sunday)

Where:
REGISTRAR’S OFFICE, CITY HALL 1300 Perdido St. Room 1W23
REGISTRAR’S OFFICE, ALGIERS COURTHOUSE, 225 Morgan St. Room 105
VOTING MACHINE WAREHOUSE, 8870 Chef Menteur Highway
LAKE VISTA COMMUNITY CENTER, 6500 Spanish Fort Blvd. 2nd floor meeting room

If you are registered and don’t care, please find someone who is currently incarcerated, on parole, or otherwise disenfranchised from voting, but wants their opinions heard. You can vote for their interests. Contact our hardworking friends at VOTE to learn more about access to voting rights.

These guides have been produced lovingly and carefully since 2014 by a group of individuals who wish to confront the existing lack of accountability in the branches of Louisiana government, and in the election process more generally. We did a lot of research and talked with our neighbors, friends, and allies. We agreed on the following guidelines to make—or in some cases, decline to make—our recommendations:

• Commit to a social justice (anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-classist, anti-hateful, etc) agenda;

•Promote justice and advancement for people of color, poor people, queer people, immigrants, youth, people most affected by environmental degradation, and other marginalized populations in our communities; prioritize the needs of these people above others.

•Favor the judicial candidates least destructive to the lives of the poor and others caught in the dragnet of our punitive legal system.

•Be strategic about New Orleanians' specific needs getting adequately addressed on the state and federal levels, especially with regard to environmental, economic, and healthcare concerns.

•Reject the influence of post-Katrina opportunism at all levels of government. Many New Orleanians have not yet come home, due to lack of resources. For those who have returned, they find the city expensive, and meaningful employment unobtainable. Healthcare has been slashed, as have other vital social services. The charterization of public schools has thoroughly devalued community input. We do not reward the public officials or business folks who dismantle public works and civic life.

We approach this work with a harm reduction ethos—that is, we understand we cannot easily nor quickly move the mountains of inequality, prejudice, (bureaucracy!), and oppression that keep people down. We consider the view that deliberating on “Who is going to harm us?” is actually not a form of harm reduction at all. Ultimately, we believe we can work to ease the suffering and trauma that exist in our communities. In this way, we advance towards a visionary society in which everyone's needs are met, and our values are reflected in our system of governance.

These guides usually start as working drafts, so expect updates as we continue to do research. Feel free to submit your contributions!

* * * * * *
Firstly, your Harm Reduction Voter Guides would like to commend 18-year-old William Boartfield, Jr, for trying to run for Mayor of Gretna this election. Though ultimately disqualified, Boartfield - who is also the co-chair of the Louisiana Green Party - told the New Orleans Advocate that "I ran mostly because no one was running against an administration that isn't being held accountable… I still will fight for what I believe in."

He pledged to push for law enforcement reform through grassroots organizing. We respect you, Boartfield, for acknowledging the power of local office to effect positive change.

Indeed, Boartfield is among many this year to turn away from complacency and step into political activism: New Orleans’ turnout for the J20 protest and Women’s March has not been matched in recent memory!

It is an exciting thing to see so many folks showing up in solidarity with their Brown, Black, immigrant, femme, and gender-nonconforming neighbors: listening to each other, learning, and trying to get smarter about stuff. We hope to see this energy not only sustain itself, but grow and grow and grow.

A great time to get involved is during elections, and also between elections. There are some amazing and brave movements in this town, and we encourage you to get your friends together and get involved. Check out the Black Workers Organize NOLA Timeline for some motivational political history lessons about New Orleans.
 
In the meantime, we’ve got our local government to hold accountable, and we’re voting this month for two judges to replace (1) a retired judge and (2) Regina Bartholomew-Woods, who ascended to the Court of Appeals after November’s 2016 election.

These offices are important because they're high enough to be directly accountable to state government, and low enough to influence policy on the ground in New Orleans (law enforcement, drug criminalization, etc). The best candidates will be those who already have demonstrated a commitment to the public good: through community involvement and accountability of government.


You may find it refreshing that all the candidates are Black women, except a white lady who is queer.

JUDGE CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, DIVISION B 
Rachael Johnson
M. Suzanne "Suzy" Montero
Marie Williams

For this one, let’s brush up on some Black herstory: In the 1990s, the Louisiana Supreme Court was tasked with racial reconciliation, as part of the settlement of a federal voting rights lawsuit. Through that process, an additional judge joined the state’s highest bench, and she - Judge Bernette Johnson - is a Black woman. Having ascended to longest-serving member on the court in 2012, Judge Johnson expected (as per convention) to become Chief Justice. But it took a damn hard court battle and the advocacy of civil rights supporters to protect the law and Johnson’s rightful role. (Fun Fact: New Orleans’ Justice & Beyond Coalition was born from this effort.)

Now, Bernette Johnson’s daughter Rachael Johnson is a first-time campaigner going after this Civil Court judgeship. After years of experience as a lawyer and as law clerk for then-Civil District Court Judge Nadine Ramsey, Johnson says she aims to serve the public. A former social worker and Second Harvest volunteer, she is on the Board of the Pro Bono Project and was endorsed by the AFL-CIO Building Trades Council union. However, she's made some nasty - and highly personal - campaign attacks on her opponents, which only paints Johnson as underhanded and, well, typical.

Also campaigning are first-time candidate Suzy "Everyone in the legal community knows I am gay, but I am not running as a gay candidate" Montero and veteran electioneer Marie Williams.

Montero is a longtime litigator for Chip Forstall's personal injury firm, daughter of local criminal defense attorney Wilson Montero, and former partner of the late super-lawyer Jack Martzell. She is endorsed by the Forum for Equality, an anti-discrimination PAC. While she hasn't made her personal life part of the campaign, Montero's campaign has accused Rachael Johnson's campaign of getting Montero kicked out of a recent event at St. Stephen's Church due to her support of LGBTQ rights. (That event was honoring Rachael Johnson's mother, begging the question of why Montero was campaigning there in the first place.) Montero posts "anti-trafficking" messages (wherein survivors become helpless "victims") on her Facebook page, and her PR is done by Cheron Brylski, who represents several New Orleans area charter schools.

A repeat political candidate never earning more than a quarter of the votes, Williams ran for a Civil District Court seat in 2004, Juvenile Court in 2010, Second City Court in 2012, and Criminal Court in 2014 and 2016, when she was disqualified for failing to file her taxes. Her Facebook page is full of Christian affirmations, which is maybe the least interesting part of her media presence: In 2014, she made videos of then-Judge and election competitor Frank Marullo trying to convince her to drop out of the race. The FBI later investigated these videos as evidence of Marullo committing campaign fraud.

Williams, who has a good resume of volunteer work and community activism in New Orleans, has said that "New Orleans will have a safer community when the criminal justice system reduces the number of people behind bars and increases the treatment of mental illness and addiction, which are seen as primary root causes of crime." Her campaign promises are to “Reduce Violence in Prison by Improving Prison Accountability and Leadership," "Support Alternatives-to-Arrest and -Incarceration Programs," and "Support Public Defender Offices and Other Organizations that Fight for Equality in the Criminal Justice system.”

VOTE: Undecided. Since Johnson and Montero are new candidates for public office, there isn’t much information about these candidates’ stances on relevant issues. Johnson and Williams do seem the most committed to the public good, but we don't like Johnson's (and now Montero's) dirty campaign tactics. Williams has been the most persistently and visibly community-minded of the bunch.

Judge, Court of Appeal 4th Circuit, 1st District, Division C
Paula Brown
Tiffany Gautier Chase

Two colleagues from Civil Court vie for this seat in Court of Appeals. Their experiences in Civil Court are about equal in duration, and they both have the charmingly cultivated public personas you might expect from local politicians. Both have quality backgrounds: Brown’s mentor is Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, for whom she served as clerk, and Chase snapped a selfie at the Women’s March with her former law professor and esteemed civil rights attorney Bill Quigley. Both candidates were endorsed by the AFL-CIO's Building Trades Council union.

Originally from Ocean Springs, Mississippi, Brown came to New Orleans via a Tulane basketball scholarship in 1982. She graduated from Tulane’s Freeman School of Business, then received her J.D. from Southern University Law Center. Her 24-year career has included being a staff attorney with the Orleans Indigent Defender Program and an adjunct professor at Southern University. A breast cancer survivor, Brown is active in the Susan G. Komen Foundation, as well as Covenant House's annual "Sleep Out to Support Homeless Youth." Brown officiated Louisiana's first same-sex marriage in 2015, earning an endorsement from the Forum for Equalit.

Chase's Facebook page is filled with photos of the candidate with prominent community leaders like Helena Moreno and J.P. Morrell. Lauded for her work on improving technology in the Court, Chase established the Self Help Desk at Civil District Court, which allows people to meet with volunteer lawyers to explore legal options. Chase was the judge for the Canal Place development suit that went nutty, and her decision was overruled in appeals. Her campaign is also run by the charter-boosting Brylski Company.

VOTE: We're tempted to defer to our shero Bernette Johnson on this one, and choose her disciple Paula Brown. Some sources say Chase is a bit more straightforward and personable than Brown. Either way, both seem like they'd be good for the job.

Additional Resources: Judge Paula Brown announces a run for Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, Division C - The New Orleans Agenda; Judge Profiles - Louisiana Judicial Council; Chase wins Civil District Court judgeship race - Nola.com THE RACE IS ON! FOUR WOMEN QUALIFY FOR TWO JUDGESHIPS - Uptown Messenger; Qualifying for March 25 election draws plenty of incumbents - The Advocate; Is this the first ad of the 2017 New Orleans mayor's race? - Nola.com BROWN ENDORSED BY LABOR; MONTERO KICKS OFF CAMPAIGN - Uptown Messenger Johnson, Montero and Williams campaign for empty CDC seat - The Louisiana Weekly; Election 2017: Chase vs. Brown for La. Appellate Court seat - The Louisiana Weekly

While New Orleanians wait until the Fall to vote on Mayor and Councilmembers, some Greater New Orleans area elections include the following:

State Representative 92nd Representative District (Kenner)
Gisela Chevalier, Republican, White, Female
"Joe" Stagni, Republican, White, Male
"Chuck" Toney, Democrat, Black, Male

Forum for Equality has endorsed Joe Stagni.

Alderman District 1, Town of Basile
LaToya Howze, Democrat, Black, Female
Darrell Reed, Democrat, Black, Male

Alderman District 5, Town of Delcambre
Bryan Glatter, Republican, White, Male
Stacey "T-Mom" Trim, No Party, White, Female

Mayor City of Westwego
Ted J. Munch, Democrat, White, Male (Ran against Incumbent last election)
Joe Peoples, Democrat, White, Male
John I. "Johnny" Shaddinger Jr., Democrat, White, Male (Incumbent)

Council Member District 2, City of Westwego
Joshua Melford, Democrat, White, Male
Johnny Nobles Jr., Democrat, White, Male (Incumbent)

Council Member District 3, City of Westwego
Norman J. Fonseca, Democrat, White, Male (Incumbent)
Michael J. "Mike" Hymel, Republican White, Male
Lisa Valence, , Republican White, Female

Council Member District 4, City of Westwego
Matthew J. Rivere, Republican White, Male
Garrison "Gary" Toups Sr., Republican White, Male (Incumbent)

Council Member District 5, City of Westwego
Robert "Rob" Heffker, Republican White, Male
Courtney Watts Reyes, No Party, White, Female
Johnnie Lynn Thibodeaux, Republican White, Female

Seat vacated by Councilman Larry Warino.

Councilman at Large, City of Covington
W. T. "Trey" Blackall III, Republican, White, Male
Jerry Coner, No Party, Black, Male
Patrick McMath, Republican, White, Male

Vying for the seat that became vacant with the Oct. 28 death of longtime member Lee Alexius are District B Councilman Jerry Coner, former Councilman Trey Blackall and businessman Patrick McMath. Coner has experience of 20 years on the City Council, Blackall is a commercial plumbing contractor and part owner of health food store in downtown Covington, who served on City Council from 1999 to 2007 and in an at-large seat from 2007 to 2011, while McMath is vice president of a local, family-owned contracting business and a former assistant St. Tammany district attorney.