Reigning in Washington

Baton Rougeans have chance to promote La. in D.C.

Nanette Noland invited her daughter, Laura Elisabeth Kelley, to dinner at Noland’s Baton Rouge home last year when she surprised Kelley by giving her a plastic tiara and a scepter.

Noland surprised her daughter, who “had no clue,” that she was offered the position of queen of the Mystick Krewe of Louisianians’ 2013 Washington Mardi Gras celebration.

Kelley, the 22-year-old daughter of Noland and 19th Judicial District Judge Tim Kelley, of Baton Rouge, said she was “very hesitant for a minute” because she had never attended Washington Mardi Gras and she did not know all that the position involved. But she quickly decided she had to jump on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“I knew I would never get another chance again,” Kelley said. “I learned it was way bigger than I ever thought it would be.”

The 2013 Washington Mardi Gras will culminate with the Saturday ball and have a decidedly Baton Rouge flair thanks to Kelley and the king, Baton Rouge businessman Martin Svendson.

The captain is U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., but the new chairman is U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, who is the primary person in charge of choosing the king and queen. Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden also will be on hand with the title of lieutenant-at-large.

The chairman position rotates by seniority among the Louisiana House delegation and Cassidy did not want to miss his chance. He said he is excited about the job.

“I’m just an encourager and enabler,” said Cassidy, who chose the theme of “La Bonne Terre,” which translates to, “The Good Land.”

Much of the multiple-day and multiple-party Washington Mardi Gras is about networking and pushing economic development opportunities for the state, Cassidy said.

“And I get a chance to interact with people from all over the state who, ordinarily, I wouldn’t,” he said.

As for choosing the king and queen, Cassidy said he was looking for “people who are enthusiastic about it.”

“You always have people in mind, but there’s no long, drawn-out process,” he said.

As for Svendson, he is a businessman and former commercial real estate broker who has recently become an Argentinean cattle ranch owner — he is splitting his time evenly between Baton Rouge and Argentina.

In 2008, Svendson became a Cassidy donor, fundraiser and volunteer when the congressman was making his first run for the U.S. House.

“We’ve just become close friends, good friends, along the way,” Svendson said, adding that it was a great honor to have the king position “bestowed” upon him.

“It’s a great opportunity and it’s been a lot of fun,” he said.

Svendson was inadvertently introduced to Washington Mardi Gras 33 years ago when his wife of less than a year, “Moo” Turner Svendson, was named the queen. Since then, their daughter and multiple nieces have served as princesses.

“I never imagined 33 years later I’d be tagging along in (the) footsteps as king,” he said.

Kelley also is a bit of a legacy. Her uncle, Willis Noland, was a former king.

As king and queen, Svendson and Kelley will share in the honor of laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider in Arlington National Cemetery during the changing of the guard. Both said they feel honored.

“I will probably be super emotional about it,” Kelley said. “I’m a huge history nerd.”

Kelley is a former softball star at the Dunham School who is taking a semester off before continuing her studies at LSU. In the meantime, she has a truck headed to Washington with all of her costumes, beads and other accessories for the Mardi Gras festivities.

She said she is eagerly anticipating a “whole bundle of fun.”

The only negative is that those celebrating Washington Mardi Gras will miss out on being in Louisiana for Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans one day later on Sunday, Feb. 3. There were scheduling issues, and the krewe was unable to move the ball up to Jan. 26.

“Obviously, it’s not ideal, but that’s the way it works,” Cassidy said.