Jeff Parish President Young enters lt. governor’s race

Jefferson Parish President John Young kicked off his campaign for lieutenant governor Tuesday with a campaign ad pledging to strengthen Louisiana.

With dramatic music and video of Young interspersed with shots of New Orleans landmarks, bayous, businesses and construction projects, the ad highlights the Republican parish president’s efforts on economic development and coastal issues.

The official start of Young’s campaign has been long anticipated in Jefferson political circles but comes more than a year before he will have to qualify for the 2015 race to succeed Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who is expected to run for governor.

“It’s a big state. There’s a lot of ground to cover,” Young said Tuesday.

He stressed the importance of economic development to the state, noting successes the parish has seen attracting businesses and industry such as the Dyno Nobel plant on the West Bank. He also emphasized his work fighting against flood insurance rate hikes that had been set to go into effect under federal law and his position as head of Parishes Against Coastal Erosion, a group of parish officials formed to advocate on flood insurance and other coastal issues.

While both of those issues are popular topics with voters, neither is within the lieutenant governor’s purview, which consists primarily of overseeing the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.

But Young said a collaborative partnership with the governor could allow for an expansion of the lieutenant governor’s role to include trying to bring more jobs to the state. He stressed the importance of programs such as motion picture production tax credits, noting that Jefferson set up its own tax credit system to supplement the one in place at the state level. That has attracted new productions to the area, he said.

Focusing the office’s efforts on economic development isn’t unheard of. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu touted the state’s “cultural economy” while he served in the state’s No. 2 position, and Dardenne also has stressed the impact of tourism on the economy.

Young said he wouldn’t give tourism short shrift, noting it amounts to a $10.7 billion industry for the state. Expanding that to more areas of the state and more types of tourism should be part of the next lieutenant governor’s goals, he said.

“Certainly, even though New Orleans is the magnet that attracts a lot of tourists to Louisiana, I think we can do a better job of spreading that to the rest of the state,” he said.

Young was first elected to the Jefferson Parish Council in 2003 after working as a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Office. After Parish President Aaron Broussard resigned in the middle of a corruption scandal in 2010, Young won a special election to finish out his term. A year later, he walked into his first full term unopposed.

Young joins several candidates who already have declared their intentions to run for Dardenne’s seat. Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, who lost to Dardenne in 2011, and state Sen. Elbert Guillory, of Opelousas, both Republicans, have said they plan to enter the race. Last week, Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden, a Democrat, threw his hat into the ring as well.

The makeup of the race suggests Young and Nungesser will likely slug it out for Republican and white votes before meeting Holden, who is black, in a runoff, political consultant Roy Fletcher said.

That likely will mean a rightward drift in the campaign, though one that is tempered so as to appeal to as broad a base of voters as possible, he said.

There are signs that Young could be preparing that kind of a strategy.

Though he is typically viewed a nonideological technocrat, Young began making appeals on social media to a more partisan base months before Tuesday’s announcement. Those appeals included tweets on hot-button national issues, including one asking his followers to support Hobby Lobby’s legal challenge to Obamacare.

An email sent to supporters in June referenced accusations that the IRS had improperly scrutinized filings from conservative groups, calling such activities “incomprehensible and un-American” before segueing into anti-corruption measures put in place in Jefferson in recent years, such as the creation of a whistleblower hotline and the establishment of an Inspector General’s Office.

Young brings some advantages to the fight. Fletcher noted he’s a fresh face in the race and, coming from the second-most populous parish in the state, has a significantly larger base than Nungesser.

Young and Nungesser each had almost $1.5 million on hand when they filed their most recent campaign finance reports, which cover last year. Nungesser’s total includes about $1 million he loaned himself.

And that could just be a fraction of the amount needed to win in 2015. Nungesser and Dardenne each burned through more than $3.3 million during their 2011 race, and next year’s campaign could be even more expensive.

Holden had about $64,500 on hand at the end of 2013, while Guillory ended the year with his campaign account more than $2,000 in debt.

With two high-profile Republicans from the southeast part of the state, there is also an opening for a new challenger from Acadiana or some other section to enter the contest, Fletcher said.

“Where there’s a space, someone’s going to try to fill it,” he said.

In Jefferson, Young’s decision to seek statewide office instead of running for another term as parish president is expected to set off a political scramble. Parish Councilman Chris Roberts and Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni are both seen as strong contenders for the seat, though both were noncommittal about their plans Tuesday.

Yenni, who was sworn in to his second term last month, noted that his grandfather and uncle both served as parish presidents. But, he said, there was time to consider his options before making “any decision on my public future.”

“Obviously, my family has a long history in leading Jefferson Parish, and someday I hope to lead our parish to its greatest heights,” Yenni said. “But for now, my focus is solely on being the most effective mayor that I can be and guiding progress in this city.”

Roberts, who has been seen as a likely candidate for parish president for years, stressed that “a lot of things can change” in the time between now and qualifying in September 2015.

“It’s a long time off, but we’re going to keep all options open,” Roberts said. But, assuming Young were to leave the parish president’s seat open, “then that’s something we’re going to give very serious consideration,” he said.

Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.