Ascension Parish President race starting to take shape

Still more than a year from qualifying, the 2015 election to succeed four-term Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez is starting to gather some momentum.

Parish Council Chairman Chris Loar plans a news conference Tuesday in Gonzales, where he will announce his candidacy for the top executive post in parish government.

Gonzales-area surveyor Clint Cointment already said he’s running, others are toeing the political waters, and the wild card is Martinez. The parish president insists he will not seek re-election, but others are not so sure he won’t make some type of run for public office.

Loar, a two-term councilman from Prairieville, issued a news release Friday announcing the news conference. He declined further comment about the specifics of the event, but spokesman Randy Hayden said Loar will be announcing his candidacy.

The election is Oct. 24, 2015, during the gubernatorial primary. Qualifying is Sept. 8-10, 2015.

Cointment, who has been a critic of parish government as a resident but is a newcomer as a political candidate, announced a few months ago he was running for parish president.

Cointment is running as a change agent and appears to be challenging a status quo that includes Martinez and Loar.

“Every candidate knows the issues, and Ascension Parish citizens know the problems,” Cointment says on his website. “I would like to take a different approach to solving our issues.”

Loar’s expected candidacy has been rumored for more than a year. Cointment has said he has been working with the expectation that Loar would run. Both men are Republicans.

Parish Council Vice Chairman Benny Johnson, with whom Loar generally sides on divided council issues, said Loar is a young guy with aspirations to help people.

“I don’t think there’s any surprise in the fact that Chris could potentially do something like this,” Johnson said.

“I wish him luck. If he does get elected, I think he’ll do a good job,” added Johnson, who said he is happy with seeking another term next year for his council seat.

Fellow Parish Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee, who has clashed with Loar over a variety of issues, has had a Cointment sign in his front yard in Prairieville since late March.

Satterlee was accused, and recently cleared of, state open meetings law violations stemming from a council agenda fight with Loar.

But Satterlee said Loar sent him and the rest of the council an email invitation to the Tuesday announcement, saying Loar would be “honored” to have them attend.

“I find it kind of shocking,” Satterlee said of his receiving an invitation so soon after he had been accused of committing wrongdoing.

The race, however, may not be a two-man contest.

Longtime Gonzales City Councilman Kenny Matassa said Friday he is mulling a run for parish president after several people came to him in the past few weeks asking him to consider it.

“I’m definitely thinking seriously about it,” said Matassa, who has been on the City Council for 18 years.

Matassa, a former Democrat who recently switched to the Independent Party, also has been a parish employee for 20 years and is parish health director and assistant public works director.

Ascension businessman Nicky Prejean, who keeps a toe in the currents of parish politics and has been outspoken in his wish to have Martinez run again, said there could be 10 candidates for parish president if Martinez does not run. But Prejean is confident Martinez will seek another term.

Prejean said Loar and Cointment are bright but Martinez and Sheriff Jeff Wiley have the people skills to run their respective parts of parish government well.

Since early 2012, when Martinez began his fourth term after handily defeating community activist Kathryn Goppelt the prior fall, Martinez has said this four-year term would be his last. Martinez reiterated that Friday.

“I’m not running for parish president,” he said.

He added he hopes to end this last term on a high note, but he also has not precluded a run for other office, repeating his oft-stated but cryptic answer to that question — that he is “continuing to assess my future.”

Editor’s note: This story was corrected July 19, 2014, at 10 a.m. to show that Kenny Matassa now belongs to the Independent Party.