We expected the Baton Rouge mayors race would touch off some early fireworks, particularly with the last-minute entry of former state representative Steve Carter into the contest just before qualifying ended. With Carter’s entry, there are six major candidates in the race – interestingly enough, three of them are white male Republicans (Carter, Metro Councilman Matt Watson and local businessman Jordan Piazza) and the other three are black female Democrats (the incumbent Sharon Weston Broome, state representative Denise Marcelle and Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker), and the expectation is that one of each group will fill a runoff slot against the other.
The expectation was that the black female Democrat lane would be the most chaotic, but so far that hasn’t been the case. Not when Piazza’s camp, and specifically his political consultant Adam Hensgens, filed suit earlier this week attempting to take Watson out of the race. The 29-page complaint offers a litany of allegations about Watson failing to file campaign finance and personal finance disclosures with the state Board of Ethics and owing fines and late fees to the state.
By the letter of the law, a candidate is disqualified if that candidate doesn’t have a clean bill of health from the state Board of Ethics. In practice, situations like this are usually resolved by candidates remedying the deficiencies in their paperwork and account balances. Which is what Watson did, paying some $7,000 in fines and late fees. Hensgens then dropped the suit, but not before laying down a blistering attack on Watson’s character in a press release…
Today, I have directed my attorneys to withdraw the lawsuit I have filed against Matt Watson relative to his flagrant, consistent, and long term failure to adhere to and comply with both the campaign finance and income disclosure laws of the State of Louisiana.
For well over 600 days, Watson ignored repeated warnings by the State Ethics Commission to file the required reports and pay the fines which were the result of his failure to report. He consistently ignored these legal warnings issued during this time. His behavior was callous, gross, and flagrant. He chose to keep the public uninformed.
Only on the last day of qualifying for Mayor-President, as Watson sought to run for another elective office in his quest to further his political career, did Watson face the music of his actions and only because the appropriate governmental body would have disqualified his candidacy. Watson was forced to pay over $7,000 in order to be a political candidate; otherwise, he would not have been allowed to run.
In short, his motivation was not good government. His motivation was for himself and his political career. I make this decision because Watson’s outrageous behavior has been clearly demonstrated for every citizen in East Baton Rouge Parish to see and I feel my point has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Finally, as we go through the Mayor-President’s election, voters must ask if they want someone who is so cavalier about the requirements of the law to be anywhere near the power of being Mayor-President. It is obvious to me this would be a dangerous situation for our citizens.
My point is proven. I will follow my lawyer’s request. While the lawsuit has ended in the court of law, Matt Watson’s transgressions will be tried in the court of public opinion.
Meanwhile, Watson’s camp wasn’t just sitting still. A video was circulated of a February podcast interview Piazza did with Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church pastor Fred Jeff Smith, who has been quite active in the far-left Together Baton Rouge organization (he’s a member of its Executive Committee), the contents of which would serve to make Piazza less than desirable as a candidate for Republican voters to get behind. You can watch the video for yourself here – it’s some 71 minutes long, but there are some things in it to look for.
At just before the 16-minute mark, Piazza talks about why he’s a Republican. He doesn’t really explain why, but what he does say is that he voted for Kip Holden every time Holden ran for mayor, that he voted for Broome, and that he voted for Barack Obama. He talks about being fiscally conservative, and he also says he’d think about running as an independent but an independent can’t win.
It doesn’t quite give one the impression that he’s fully grounded in the fundamentals of American politics or has really thought hard about who he is and what kind of political figure he would be. And he also sounds an awful lot like he’s apologizing for being a Republican to Smith. That’s a bad look, as it indicates as mayor he would blow in the wind at the first sign of discord or trouble.
He also can’t answer a question about what it means to be a Republican, other than to say “pro-business.” If you’re a Republican and you mean it, when you’re asked that question you’re going to mention something about individual freedom, being pro-life, supporting capitalism and free enterprise, defending traditional American values, limiting the size and scope of government. It takes him several minutes to say he’s pro-life, and when Smith mentions that John Bel Edwards is pro-life Piazza then says he knows, likes and supports Edwards.
Then he says you can’t be real as a Republican and raise money.
And he says he doesn’t plan on engaging in dirty politics or mudslinging, but five months later his consultant was firebombing Watson with the lawsuit and the broadside on its way out. Perhaps that’s the evolution of a political candidate.
Around the one-hour mark, Piazza talks about the city-parish form of government and the city of St. George, and he’s probably not going to win too many converts among the pro-St. George people for what he says. Piazza starts off saying that St. George came about because the folks there wanted an independent school district, and Smith then goads him with a question about what it says that people would form a city just to have a school district. Piazza says it’s because education is important, but he doesn’t say that the East Baton Rouge school district is a mess and people are trying to escape it – and while most people, black and white, are doing so by moving to Ascension and Livingston Parish the St. George folks have decided to stay and fight.
Smith then asks why not participate in bettering the East Baton Rouge schools as a unified entity. It’s an opportunity for Piazza to state the obvious, which is that the deck is stacked against reformers and if that was still thought possible you wouldn’t see the current exodus. But he doesn’t go there. And he finishes talking about St. George by saying it could have been avoided if Broome had done a better job of politicking against it.
And then finally, there’s a discussion of ITEP, which Piazza doesn’t know much of anything about. He lets Smith lecture him about which local government entities are involved in approving or denying ITEP projects, and then talks about finding a happy medium somewhere in an answer which shows he has no idea what his position is.
The whole interview is pretty disqualifying, as it shows Piazza isn’t anything close to ready for the job of mayor-president. It’s also five months old; presumably he’s learned a great deal since then and probably cringes at what he said in the interview. But it’s pretty clear that Watson’s camp will recycle the “I voted for Sharon Broome and Barack Obama” quotes again and again – there are already Watson folks on social media spreading the story that he’s a Together Baton Rouge plant whose aim is to siphon off Republican votes from both Watson and Tara Wicker and therefore muddy the runoff picture.
Of course, with Carter in the race it’s less certain such a gambit would do more good than harm.
We’re expecting to see this back-and-forth between Watson and Piazza only intensify. The effect of it, though, isn’t likely to produce a winner between the two. Carter can just sit back and say “You’re both right.”