Ascension school board, judicial and Sorrento races promise an interesting election season

C.J. Martin, a machinist and U.S. Navy veteran, is one of three candidates seeking to replace convicted former Sorrento police Chief Earl Theriot Jr. on Nov. 4.

But Martin, who qualified Friday and has no law enforcement experience, said that if elected, he will resign as chief if voters also decide separately to do away with the town’s Police Department and position of elected chief.

“If they want a chief, then I will do my best. If they don’t, then I’ll resign,” Martin, a Republican, said.

The police chief’s race is one of several in Ascension this fall: seven of the 11 seats on the School Board are up for grabs, two more than in the 2010 election. And with one district judge elected without opposition to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal and another retiring, there are two races for district judge.

But perhaps the most interesting twist is in Sorrento, where voters on Nov. 4 face a dual choice: pick Theriot’s replacement and at the same time decide if they even want an elected chief and Police Department in the first place.

Martin’s promise to resign is significant. Special legislation, Act 605, which allowed the Police Department and chief proposition to be placed on the ballot, says that if voters approve abolishing the chief’s office, “the office shall be abolished upon the end of the term of the chief of police in office at the time or when a vacancy occurs in the office, whichever occurs first.”

Theriot’s term ends June 30, 2017.

The town has been without a chief since early February, and the Sheriff’s Office has been providing protection since late November.

The resignation promise from Martin, 42, stakes out a position different from his two election opponents.

Fern Barnett, 71, a retired assistant town and Police Department clerk and a Democrat, and Jerry P. LeBlanc, a former St. Bernard Parish sheriff’s deputy and retired chemical plant security superintendent and site manager, said they are running to be chief and turn the department around.

“I think Sorrento needs a Police Department,” said LeBlanc, 63, a longtime volunteer town firefighter who is listed as having no political party.

LeBlanc said the Police Department was mishandled at the top. He said he would like to reorganize and put in guidelines to restore confidence and pursue insurance coverage again.

“If you don’t have guidelines and don’t follow them, the people are not going to have trust in the employees of Police Department,” LeBlanc said.

With Theriot’s conviction, the loss of the department’s liability insurance last fall and a series of lawsuits over former officers’ alleged behavior, town officials pushed for the ballot proposition and to have the Sheriff’s Office take over protection permanently.

Some lucky candidates were elected to office without opposition by the end of qualifying Friday. Judge Guy Holdridge, who has held a seat with the 23rd Judicial District Court for nearly 24 years, was among them, elected to the Louisiana 1st Circuit Court of Appeal. The Republican replaces retiring Circuit Judge Randolph “Randy” Parro, a Democrat from Thibodaux. Holdridge, who lives in Gonzales, will be leaving the three-parish judicial district and become the only Ascension Parish resident on the appellate court.

“I’m very humbled and very appreciative, hopefully, to find out that some of the people think I did a good job as a trial court judge,” Holdridge said Friday evening after winning the 10-year term.

Two-person races have developed to fill Holdridge’s and retiring Judge Ralph Tureau’s seats, but the other three judges in the 23rd JDC, Alvin Turner Jr., Tom Kliebert and Jessie M. LeBlanc, and District Attorney Ricky Babin each coasted to new six-year terms when no one opposed them.

And on Friday four people won election without opposition to the School Board, including a new member who is also a familiar face in Ascension public schools.

Former schools demographics analyst Scott Duplechein, a St. Amant resident who has no political party, won the District 2 seat when no one opposed him to replace Thomas “Moose” Pearce, a longtime Democrat from Donaldsonville. Pearce, a former police juror and parish councilman who works for parish government, did not seek re-election.

That comes in marked contrast to races for the District 1 and 3 seats being left by members Catherine Davis and Richard “Coach” Brown.

The District 1 race has five candidates while the District 3 race has three.

The hotly contested Common Core standards, which have stirred parents in Ascension, appear to be a factor in at least one School Board challenge.

First-term School Board member Lorraine Wimberly, board vice-president and a critic of the schools’ implementation of the standards, has drawn a challenger, Denise Bruno, 28, of the Gonzales area.

Bruno, a Libertarian, said she has been trying to find a positive side to Common Core but has not been able to and believes parents’ ideas have been put on the back burner by school officials.

“Mostly, I want to be a voice for the parents,” she said.

Wimberly, who is a Republican, said she has been that voice over Common Core and other issues and will run a determined race.

“I’m not a quitter. It just fires me up even more,” she said.