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!


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