Jared Andrews at Denham Springs - Walker branch (Runoff)

Registrar of Voters Jared Andrews discusses the early voting process at the parish's new, satellite location.

There was a push in the primary election for people to early vote, due to the amount of events occurring on October 12 - LSU game, Saturday of the Livingston Parish Fair, and Southeastern's Homecoming... just to name a few.

And that push brought folks to the polls. 10,897 total voted early for the primary election in October, and the number has been toppled. 13.32% was the percentage turnout for the primary election, which was more than double the early voting turnout for the primary in 2015. According to outside news outlets, early voting has become a statewide trend.

The total turnout for October's primary was 45.1%.

But voters decided to push past that mark for the runoff election, with 13,379 citizens casting their ballot a week before the Nov. 16 runoff - 16.25%.

For reference, 5,505 voters hit the polls early on Nov. 24, 2015 for the last gubernatorial election.

Registrar of Voters Jared Andrews chalked up the increased participation in the early voting period to the satellite polling location at the Denham Springs - Walker branch of the library, offering a secondary voting location for residents on the western side of the parish.

Andrews also said that increased awareness in the early voting period's flexibility and ease drew out crowds. 

Livingston Parish will face four runoffs, of the potential six, during this voting cycle. Those include Brian Abels (R) v. 'Ernie Drake' (R) in the 21st Judicial District - Division D; Buddy Mincey Jr. (R) v. Lori Callais (D) in House District 71; Gerald McMorris (R) v. Derek Babcock (R) in parish council District 6; and Ronnie Morris (R) v. Gregory Spiers (R) for BESE District 6. Readers can learn about the races below.

Voters are urged to remember that they will be using digital voting machines for early voting, which function much like a tablet or smart phone. 

HOUSE DISTRICT 71

With a 44.6% turnout, or 11,500 voters on the dot, Republican Buddy Mincey Jr. took 5,230 votes, which was good for 45%.

But, in a crowded field of five - not good enough to avoid a runoff.

Instead, Mincey will face Democratic opponent Lori Callais in November. Callais, a former teacher, led Jonathan Davis from Walker by 31 votes - 1,736 to 1,705, both earning roughly 15%.

Ivy Graham came in fourth place, with Robert Poole last.

The race for District 71, unlike Senate District 13, was relatively calm and clean.

Mincey was the valedictorian of the 1987 class at Denham Springs High School, Mincey went on to graduate from Southeastern Louisiana University with a bachelor’s in industrial technology. Since 2007 he has served as the safety, health, environmental director at Volks Construction. Mincey has served 13 years on the School Board and says his “service and leadership reflect a a strong record of community accomplishments, problem solving, and collaboration.” He will be focused on education, infrastructure, and flood recovery his campaign materials said.

Callais, a first-time candidate and retired teacher, is a graduate of Southeastern Louisiana University with more than 25 years of experience as an educator. Callais’ campaign platform centers around education, upgrading the state’s deteriorating infrastructure, and expanding economic opportunity for Louisiana’s working families. Callais is president of the Denham Springs Pilot Club, a local civic organization, a member of the Louisiana Retired Teachers Association, and attends First United Methodist Church. When her daughter was adversely affected by an acne drug and her questions went unanswered, she successfully lobbied Congress to have the FDA issue a “Black Box Warning” label for the drug Accutane.

21st JDC - DIVISION D

While Brian Abels dominated the Livingston Parish polls for 21st Judicial Court Judge, Division D - Tangipahoa came out for ‘Ernie’ Drake, pushing the race into a runoff.

The 21st JDC comprises Livingston, Tangipahoa, and St. Helena.

With a 42.7% turnout for the race in Livingston Parish, Abels pulled 20,148 votes - good for 58%. Drake took 8,529, and the third runner - William Dykes - gathered 6,281.

However, participation in the parish to the east pushed those numbers much closer. District wide, Abels took 28,682 total votes (42%), while Drake took 24,793 (36%), and Dykes took 15,598 (23%).

“We have a long way to go,” Abels said. “We’re very happy and want to thank all the people who volunteered to work and support our campaign.”

Abels believes he has the edge in the runoff, however, citing his 22 years of litigation experience and it’s benefit for an aspiring judge.

Abels is a partner in the law firm of Boyer, Hebert, Abels & Angelle, LLC in Denham Springs. He currently serves as magistrate judge for the Mayor’s Courts in both Springfield and Killian. He is also the town attorney for Springfield and his firm is counsel for the Livingston Parish School Board.

Abels is licensed to practice in all Louisiana state district and appellate courts. He is also licensed to practice in all federal courts in Louisiana and he is admitted to the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court. Abels is a member of the Louisiana State Bar Association, the Baton Rouge Bar Association, and the 21st Judicial District Court Bar Association.

Drake graduated from LSU with a bachelor of science degree, earned his juris doctorate from Loyola Law School, and began his law career in 2008.

In addition to maintaining his private practice, Ernie serves his community as magistrate for Ponchatoula Mayor’s Court for the last seven years, attorney for Ponchatoula Area Recreational District, and member of the South Tangipahoa Parish Port Commission.

Drake might face consequences from campaign finance - specifically the supreme court for judges - due to his committee structure for fund raising and campaign management early in the election cycle.

According to the Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 7, Part A, Item 6, “a judge or judicial candidate shall refrain from inappropriate political and campaign activity, to the extent permitted by these canons.”

Item 6 reads - Personally solicit or personally accept campaign contributions.

Drake is listed as his campaign committee chair on his 30-day finance report, but that was changed on his 10-day report to reflect that his wife was head of the committee.

Judge’s races usually employ a committee to do their fund raising for them, to avoid issues with the Code of Judicial Conduct item represented above. A member of the Baton Rouge judiciary submitted a complaint, against Drake’s campaign, to the Ethics Board re: campaign finance.

PARISH COUNCIL - DISTRICT 6

Only 137 votes separated Gerald McMorris and Derek Babcock, and now the two candidates are heading for a runoff after a 42.9% turnout.

Parish Council District 6 will vote again in November after McMorris led the way with 1,307 votes (32%) followed by Babcock with 1,170 (29%).

“It feels really good. This is what we expected,” Babcock said about the runoff.

“It seems like we’re been campaigning a long time and at the end, you wish you had a long little more time. Now we have another five weeks.

“We’re looking forward it.”

The race itself remained relatively clean, a sentiment McMorris echoed.

“This is the first time I’ve run for political office,” said Gerald McMorris. He complimented the other candidates running for the District 6 seat.

“Our district ran a clean campaign. (Derek) Babock, Mrs. Muriel (Laws), and Steve (McDaniel). There wasn’t the dirty politics you see in some places. We said we’re doing this for us our district.”

Babcock and McMorris communicated via phone Saturday night, which McMorris said was amicable. Both candidates said that, should the other win, they will support the district.

McMorris is 49, a Republican, and was appointed to the Livingston Parish Recreation Board by Sonya Collins in the early 2010s. He dealt with the parish council on several occasions working through the board. McMorris is a site manager for Triad Electric at the Shell Norco Refinery and oversees all of the electrical maintenance at the site, managing five supervisors and 45 employees.

During his time on the recreation board, McMorris worked with parish leaders to host recreation events at the Colyell Ball Parks, while overseeing nearly $300,000 in annual revenue which was split between both Colyell and Livingston on a yearly basis. McMorris also worked with FEMA to attract $750,000 in grant money through the council to upgrade the Colyell Ball Parks.

When asked about issues in District 6, McMorris pointed to two familiar problems - roads and drainage. McMorris said that the roads in his district, and the parish, continue to fall apart and expressed that the parish council should hold engineers and builders accountable. McMorris also said that more attention must be paid to drainage, at the subdivision, small waterway, and large river level - most importantly cleaning and dredging.

Babcock, 46, is an independent business owner and currently on the Republican State Central Committee, and the Livingston Parish Executive Committee.

Babcock is not new to the process of public policy - as vice chairman of the Louisiana Family Forum, Babcock has spent the past 15 years working with our state Legislature to promote, defend and often write legislation that protects our faith and family values. As a board member and chairman of the Citizens for Highways and Infrastructure in Livingston Parish (CHILP) from 2007 – 2012, Babcock was influential in helping to bring local elected officials, our congressman and DOTD together to get the Juban Road interchange built. CHILP was also influential in other projects such as rebuilding the Buddy Ellis bridge, and the public road petition that forced the council to adopt the current road ordinances for taking in roads in Livingston Parish.

Babcock shares concerns with McMorris, stating that roads and drainage must be a priority in the district. Babcock said that while canvassing the district for political season he came across several subdivisions wherein the roads were basically gravel because of deterioration.

BESE - DISTRICT 6

“Ronnie” Morris will face Gregory Spiers, both Republicans, for BESE District 6. Morris is of Baton Rouge, while Spiers resides in Springfield. Both men are anti-Common Core, and dislike state superintendent John White.

Morris said he went to college at age 32 and after graduation taught high school calculus and physics for a year. He also volunteers in public schools, at one time bringing Junior Achievement into schools – Istrouma, Dunham, and Catholic High.

“I appreciate the cultures of different schools.”

“Teaching is a profession, and teachers should be treated as professionals and compensated as a professional,” he said.

Morris said he supports early childhood education.

“Seventy-five percent of eighth-graders aren’t proficient in language skills,” he said. “We need to teach kids to read. They should be literate by third grade.”

Spiers also recounted his own educational experience after serving four years as a SEAL in the U.S. Navy, going from substitute teacher to full-time teacher at Ponchatoula High for two years, where he taught juniors and seniors who were not going to college.

“Only 19 percent of students graduate with four-year degrees; the other 81 percent go into the workforce,” Spiers said. “We are not preparing them.”

BESE needs to focus on teacher attrition, getting rid of Common Core, and “give more authority back to local school districts," Spiers said.

Education reform

“Education reform has been a complete failure,” Spiers said. “Common Core was to standardize every student in the nation.

“We were 48th in math. After 10 years, we’re still 48th,” he said. “Our superintendent is the third highest-paid superintendent, more than double the governor.”

Morris said some reforms are working with the state’s graduation rate at 81 percent, its highest level.

Better transparency for parents to make choices in schools is needed, he said, along with improving the relationship between White, BESE and local districts.

“I am pro-school choice,” Morris said. "Every kid is different.”

Charter schools originally were supposed to bring innovative approaches to education.

“It hasn’t turned out that way. Every child should have an opportunity and parents the opportunity to make that choice – public, private, charter, home school, the Internet," Morris said.

“All four of us care about education,” Spiers said about himself and the other candidates. The BESE seat is “not as easy office to hold,” he said.

Spiers called himself a Republican that cares about teachers, school administrators, and students.

“There’s too much decisiveness with Democrats and Republicans, teachers union and lobbies. I am pro-business, but I love our children and they are our most important commodity.”

What is BESE doing well and what needs changing?

 “I don’t think they are doing much well,” Spiers said, citing a refusal to address Common Core.

“We’re confusing our children by teaching Common Core standards,” he said, which require an eighth-grader to take 3 minutes to do a math problem that can be done in 15 seconds.

Type 2 charter schools that are being turned down by school districts are going to the BESE, which approves them, he said.

“That’s not the job of BESE, in my opinion,” Spiers said. “If the community wants them, I’m OK. If they reject them, then they are not in business.”

BESE is not doing a good job of communicating to the public, according to Morris.

“Eighty percent of the people ask: 'What is BESE?',” he said.

The board should tell people what it does and its expectations, he added.

”We’ve got to have a relationship between the superintendent, BESE, local districts and teachers. That’s not in place today,” Morris said.

Teaching as a career

Spiers said with the situation facing educators now, “Teachers are missionaries. They go to work in adverse environments.”

Teachers should be evaluated on creativity, professionalism, knowledge and delivery of content, not test scores, he said.

“We’ve got to create an environment to help teachers to teach, children read to learn.

He recalled being with a group of engineers tutoring second-graders and after helping one girl with her math homework, she told him, "Mr. Ronnie, I never studied with an old guy before. This was fun.”

“If (a teacher) needs that one-on-one reinforcement, the system reeds to be there for the student.”

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