2020 Louisiana Ballot Guide: What You Need To Know To Vote On Senate, Congress And More

Oct 14, 2020
Originally published on October 14, 2020 11:51 am

Believe it or bewilderedly not, it's time to vote in the 2020 election.

You have, surely, read and heard quite a lot about the presidential election, wherein former Vice President Joe Biden is challenging President Donald Trump. (If not, allow us to direct you to NPR.) What we've got for you here is a guide to the Louisiana races, including congressional races in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas.

We'll be voting on a U.S. senator and, depending on where you live, maybe a congressional representative. Plus: there's a whole bushel of constitutional amendments to decide on.

And if you're in need of some help understanding when, where and how to vote in These Times™, head right this way.

Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins is vying to become the first Black senator to represent Louisiana since 1887, but the Democratic challenger — one of 15 candidates in the race — faces an uphill battle against Republican incumbent Bill Cassidy.

Perkins and Cassidy are the two most well-known and well-funded candidates. They’re the only two elected officials on the ballot and both have been boosted by key endorsements. President Donald Trump and the rest of the GOP establishment has backed Cassidy. Meanwhile, former President Barack Obama and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards endorsed Perkins and a Super PAC has been launched to support his bid.

Cassidy, a doctor from Baton Rouge, is hoping to win his second six-year term to the U.S. Senate. He’s raised more than $9 million and has started airing campaign ads on TV touting his work on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs committee. As both a senator and a physician, Cassidy has at times led GOP efforts on public health issues — and President Trump says he calls Cassidy when he has questions about health care policy. Earlier this year, Cassidy announced that he’d tested positive for the coronavirus — and has since recovered.

Perkins, who made a surprising last-minute entrance into the senate race, is one of five Democratic candidates on the ballot. Perkins has served as mayor of Shreveport since December 2018. He’s a former Army Ranger and graduated from Harvard Law, where he also served as student body president.

Other Democrats include Baton Rouge political activist and organizer Antoine Pierce, New Orleans educator Peter Wenstrup, restaurant manager David Drew Knight, and attorney and disability advocate Derrick Edwards.

There are several independents on the ballot: Beryl Billiot, Melinda Mary Price, Reno Jean Daret III, John Paul Bourgeois, Gregory E. Fitch, Xan John, Vinny Mendoza and Jamar Myers-Montgomery.

Louisiana’s 1st Congressional District is located in the southeastern part of the state and includes Plaquemines, St. Bernard and St. Tammany parishes as well as parts of Jefferson, Lafourche, Orleans, Tangipahoa and Terrebonne parishes.

House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, R-La, is up for reelection. Scalise was first elected to Congress in 2008 after serving in Louisiana’s State Legislature for 12 years. He rose to national prominence in 2017 after he was shot and seriously injured at a GOP baseball practice. In the years since, he has established a close working relationship with President Donald Trump.

Scalise faces two challengers: Democrat Lee Ann Dugas and Libertarian Howard Kearney. In 2018, Scalise was re-elected with 71 percent of the vote. Dugas and Kearney were also on the ballet and secured 7 percent and 1 percent of the vote respectively.

Scalise’s re-election campaign has raised more than $26 million, according to the Federal Election Commission. Dugas and Kearney have not filed any campaign finance reports.

Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District is a squiggly strip that runs from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, encompassing surrounding areas. It includes all of St. James Parish and portions of Ascension, Assumption, East Baton Rouge, Iberville, Jefferson, Orleans, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist and West Baton Rouge parishes in southern Louisiana.

Democratic Congressman Cedric Richmond is running for reelection in this Democratic-leaning district. Richmond has been a rising star in the national party and serves as the co-chairman of former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential election campaign. He’s held the seat since 2011, and he won handily in 2018 with 80.6 percent of the vote.

He’s being challenged by five other candidates, two of whom have set up websites for their campaigns:

Belden “Noonie Man” Batiste, a member of the Batiste family of musicians, is running as an Independent giving voice to regular New Orleanian families

Colby James, also running as an Independent, is a veteran and former felon running as a voice for the unheard, including minority voices.

The other candidates are Democrat Glenn Harris, Republican David Schilling and Republican Sheldon Vincent.

Louisiana's 6th Congressional District largely straddles the Mississippi River, covering most of Baton Rouge and its suburbs, and continuing south to Houma. It also includes the western borders of Lake Pontchartrain.

Republican incumbent Garret Graves is seeking his fourth term in congress. This GOP-leaning district has been represented by Republicans since 2009. Congressman Graves serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee — both deal with various Louisiana issues like flood protection and shipping. He’s also the top Republican on the House Select subcommittee on the Climate Crisis, where he had a memorable exchange with environmental activist Greta Thunberg

Democrat Dartanyon Williams, an entrepreneur, is running after abandoning an earlier bid this year for the U.S. Senate. He cites criminal justice reform and election security as top issues. He self-published a book this year detailing his rise and fall as a “young identity thief” before turning his life around. Shannon Sloan from Denham Springs is running on the Libertarian ticket. Independent Richard Torregano is also on the ballot.

Here’s the language you’ll see on the ballot:

“Do you support an amendment declaring that, to protect human life, a right to abortion and the funding of abortion shall not be found in the Louisiana Constitution?”

How would it work?

An article would be added to the Lousiana Constitution that says the Constitution will not include a right to abortion or the funding of abortion. There are no immediate effects, but there are potential effects down the road.

The fate of Roe v. Wade plays heavily into this debate, especially after the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her possible replacement by Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

Currently, abortion is legal in all 50 states. Were Roe v. Wade to be overturned, Louisiana has a trigger law that would take immediate effect banning all abortions in the state, except in cases whether the pregnant person is likely to die.

There would be no exceptions for fetal death in the womb, rape or incest victims, or serious harm — but not death — to the pregnant person.

Under that scenario, state constitutions would become the battlegrounds for reproductive rights, and this amendment would prevent any state-level challenge to the abortion ban, or any other anti-abortion law passed by politicians, effectively shutting down any legal avenue to overturn such laws.

Who’s for it and who’s against it?

Anti-abortion groups and politicians are pushing the amendment. It was passed in 2019 by the legislature and introduced by then representative, now Senator Katrina Jackson, a leading proponent of anti-abortion laws.

Anti-abortion groups worry that challenges to anti-abortion laws under the state constitution could result in a ruling similar state-level to Roe v. Wade at the Louisiana Supreme Court — which has happened in 13 states. They are pressing this amendment to prevent a right to abortion from being found in the state constitution, and to give sole power to Louisiana politicians to set abortion laws in the state.

Reproductive rights groups oppose the amendment. They argue the state Constitution should protect, not strip back, citizens’ rights, and that this amendment would unfairly disadvantage those with fewer means. They argue women have always, and will always, seek abortions, and only those who can’t afford to travel out of state will be prevented from obtaining one. They also argue that constitutional rights should not be in the hands of politicians.

Here’s the language you’ll see on the ballot:

“Do you support an amendment to permit the presence or production of oil or gas to be included in the methodology used to determine the fair market value of an oil or gas well for the purpose of property assessment?”

How would it work?

The goal of this amendment is to help local tax assessors more accurately determine the value of oil and gas wells for the purposes of property tax assessment.

Right now, the state constitution does not allow local tax assessors to consider the value of the oil and gas that comes from a given oil and gas well when determining its market value for the purposes of property taxes.

Tax assessors have been forced to assess value based on other criteria, like how much it would cost to build a replacement well. That means wells with identical equipment receive identical tax assessments, even if one of them is producing and the other is not.

Amendment 2 would allow parish tax assessors to consider how productive a well is when determining its value. If it passes, the Louisiana Tax Commission would then start the process of creating rules for how local tax assessors should factor a well’s productiveness into its tax assessment.

This could mean that, eventually, companies that own less productive wells would pay lower local taxes on those wells, but higher local taxes on more productive wells.

Who’s for it and who’s against it?

The amendment is supported by the Louisiana Assessors’ Association, which represents parish tax assessors. It’s also supported by the Louisiana Mid-continent Oil and Gas Association (LMOGA) and the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA), which represent the oil and gas industry.

This amendment came to the ballot via HB 360, legislation sponsored by Republican State Rep. Mike Huval. It passed with unanimous, bipartisan approval in both the House (98-0) and Senate (33-0).

No one spoke against HB 360 while the bill made its way through various House and Senate committees.

Here’s the language you’ll see on the ballot:

“Do you support an amendment to allow for the use of the Budget Stabilization Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund, for state costs associated with a disaster declared by the federal government?”

How would it work?

The Budget Stabilization Fund, or Rainy Day Fund, is a pot of money the state can use to fill budget holes when the state brings in less revenue than expected. The fund has been around since 1990, and the legislature has put a number of safeguards in place to make sure that it is only used for its intended purpose. State lawmakers are not allowed to take more than the projected deficit or more than one-third of the total fund balance, and they can only use the money if two-thirds of the House and Senate agree.

If adopted by Louisiana voters, this amendment would allow state lawmakers to draw down the fund to swiftly respond to a federally declared disaster — before the state could receive disaster aid from the federal government. Once that federal relief money arrives, the state would have to replace whatever it took out of the fund. All of the other rules on withdrawal limits and legislative approval would still apply.

Who’s for it and who’s against it?

Louisiana experiences a lot of natural disasters. That simple fact is the basis for arguments for, and against, this amendment.

Supporters say this change would give the state the flexibility it needs to alleviate Louisianans’ suffering as quickly as possible when hurricanes strike or floodwaters rise.

Rep. Gary Carter (D-New Orleans) sponsored the amendment and companion legislation.

“It is to allow the state of Louisiana to stand itself up in a federally declared emergency and not wait for FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] or the federal government, or anyone else to bail us out,” Carter said.

But opponents point out that the federal government’s reimbursement process can be long and complicated, which could leave the state with a low rainy day fund balance in the interim. That could leave state services vulnerable in the event of a recession and could hurt the state’s bond rating, increasing the cost of long term construction projects.

Here’s the language you’ll see on the ballot:

“Do you support an amendment to limit the growth of the expenditure limit for the state general fund and dedicated funds and to remove the calculation of its growth factor from the Constitution?”

How would it work?

This one is a little tricky, because Louisiana already has a spending cap and the state constitution requires that the state have a balanced budget each year.

If approved, this amendment would do three things:

  1. Impose a hard 5 percent limit on spending growth each year, regardless of growth factor calculations.
  2. Replace the state’s current formula for calculating expenditure limits with a more complicated formula that averages changes in personal income, gross domestic product, the consumer price index and population.
  3. The legislature can make any on-the-fly changes to the expenditure limit with a two-thirds vote.

The intended effect is to limit the growth rate of the state budget. The amendment would take effect on June 30, 2022.

Who’s for it and who’s against it?

Do you spend a lot of time thinking about the economic statistics the state uses in its calculation of expenditure limits? Probably not.

Your decision on this amendment is going to have more to do with who supports it and who is opposed to it.

Amendment 4 was proposed by Rep. Beau Beaullieu (R-New Iberia) and has earned the support of the conservative Pelican Institute for Public Policy. They acknowledge that cutting the state budget is difficult, and instead propose limiting growth on the front end.

Critics, including Jan Moller of the Louisiana Budget Project, a left-leaning organization that lobbies for low- and middle-income families, calls the 5 percent cap on expenditure growth a “blunt instrument” that would slow the state's recovery from a recession. The Council for A Better Louisiana took no position on the proposal but said it was concerned that the cap could “constrain us in spending dollars we actually have on things we know we need.”

Here’s the language you’ll see on the ballot:

“Do you support an amendment to authorize local governments to enter into cooperative endeavor ad valorem tax exemption agreements with new or expanding manufacturing establishments for payments in lieu of taxes?”

How would it work?

It would allow for certain energy and manufacturing facilities to make direct payments to local governments instead of paying property taxes.

The payments can be used by local governments for a variety of purposes, including operations or to service bonds for public infrastructure projects. These arrangements would be completely voluntary.

Louisiana already has a tax incentive program to encourage economic development, called the Louisiana Industrial Ad Valorem Tax Exemption Program (ITEP,) which provides an 80 percent property tax abatement for an initial term of five years and the option to renew for five additional years at 80 percent property tax abatement. This amendment would create a new, optional tool for local governments to negotiate a more “front-loaded” funding schedule for local needs without having to wait out the eight- or 10-year ITEP period.

Who’s for it and who’s against it?

The Louisiana School Board Association, the Police Jury Association, the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association and multiple business organizations support this amendment.

According to the nonpartisan Public Affairs Research Council, assessors generally oppose the amendment because they worry it will be more generous than ITEP.

Community groups, such as Together Louisiana, a grassroots coalition of 250 religious congregations and civic organizations, also strongly oppose the amendment, saying it gives preference to private businesses and would result in less funding for education and infrastructure because it will allow local politicians to negotiate the terms of tax payments.

Critics argue that it may incentivize short-term gains over long-term planning for local municipalities. Local governments will receive less tax revenue, which could lead to spending cuts or an increase in taxes.

Here’s the language you’ll see on the ballot:

“Do you support an amendment to increase the maximum amount of income a person may receive and still qualify for the special assessment level for residential property receiving the homestead exemption?”

How would it work?

This amendment would expand access to the state’s Homestead Exemption, which freezes property tax rates for people 65 and older whose income is no greater than $77,030 per year. The exemption is only applied to an individual's primary residence. The homestead exemption has been in the Louisiana constitution since 1998 with an initial household income cap of $50,000. The cap has been adjusted annually to account for inflation.

If approved, this amendment would raise the income cap to $100,000. Annual inflation adjustments would resume in 2026.

Who’s for it and who’s against it?

The proposed amendment was sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Hilferty (R-Metairie), a commercial real estate agent by trade. She notes that many people are working well beyond the age of 65 and that dual incomes are increasingly common among older couples.

The Public Affairs Research Council and Council For A Better Louisiana took no position on this proposed amendment, but generally oppose adding tax breaks to the state’s already convoluted constitution.

Here’s the language you’ll see on the ballot:

“Do you support an amendment to create the Louisiana Unclaimed Property Permanent Trust Fund to preserve the money that remains unclaimed by its owner or owners?”

How would it work?

This proposed amendment is the result of a compromise between Gov. John Bel Edwards and State Treasurer John Schroder. Edwards and Schroder spent the better part of a year arguing over what to do with money left over in the state’s unclaimed property fund.

When paychecks aren’t cashed, when utility deposits are forgotten, and when bank accounts lie dormant for too long, that money is eventually turned over to the state treasurer through a process called escheat (NPR’s Planet Money devoted a whole show to the practice earlier this year). The state treasurer is then tasked with getting that money, or “unclaimed property,” back to its rightful owners. Each year the state collects more unclaimed property from businesses than it is able to return to citizens, so the excess is typically made available to the legislature.

State lawmakers have felt so secure in that revenue source that in 2011 they decided to dedicate $15 million of unclaimed property each year for bond payments on the expansion of Interstate 49.

But since taking office in 2017, Schroder has made a big push to get more of that unclaimed property back to its owners. He created a website and hired additional staff. In 2018 and 2020, he had to temporarily pause refunds because transferring tens of millions of dollars to the legislature left him with too little money at the end of the program year.

This amendment would avoid that by creating the Unclaimed Property Permanent Fund. The state’s annual collections from businesses would be placed in an escrow account and used to pay refunds for the year. Anything leftover would be transferred to the new Unclaimed Property Permanent Fund. The treasurer would invest that money, keeping enough on hand to pay claims should they ever exhaust the funds in the escrow account. Any investment earnings or interest generated by the fund could be spent on state services.

Who’s for it and who’s against it?

After years of acrimonious debate, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and Republican State Treasurer John Schroder struck this deal. The proposed amendment sailed through the legislature this summer with bipartisan support.

Here’s the language you’ll see on the ballot:

“Shall sports wagering activities and operations be permitted in the parish of _______?”

How would it work?

Voters will decide parish-by-parish if they would like to legalize sports betting. But even if a majority of voters in your parish vote to legalize sports betting, it will not happen right away. State lawmakers and the Gaming Control Board still have to set up the regulatory framework and tax structure for any sports betting in the state.

Lawmakers will have to decide whether to allow betting on college games, or just professional contests, and determine how and where people can place bets. Previous efforts to legalize sports betting would have limited the practice to designated areas within casinos. In other states, people can place bets online. Lawmakers, gaming lobbyists and religious organizations all have strong opinions about these issues, and there is no guarantee that the legislature sorts everything out when they meet for the 2021 Regular Session this spring.

This vote-first-regulate-later approach was the same one used back in 2018 to legalize daily fantasy sports in 47 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes. It took lawmakers longer than expected to set up the regulatory framework and tax structure for daily fantasy sports but they finally got it done this summer.

Who’s for it and who’s against it?

If you have watched football this fall, you have probably seen ads from Louisiana Wins, a political action committee bankrolled by big casinos, urging you to vote for sports betting.

They, and many state lawmakers, see sports betting as a way to quickly increase state revenue. The gambling industry estimates that the state could collect $330 million in tax revenues each year — that’s money that could be funneled into schools, early childhood education, and the state’s aging infrastructure. They argue that Louisianans are either crossing state lines to place bets in Mississippi or Arkansas, and the state might as well recoup some of that tax revenue.

The state’s land-based, riverboat and racetrack casinos all support the effort to legalize sports betting, especially if it is only allowed under their roofs. They see it as a way to draw in a younger crowd of potential gamblers.

For the same reasons, evangelical groups are opposed. They see sports betting as a gateway to gambling addiction.

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