If trying to compete with other putative candidates for governor next year, Republican Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser would do well not to publicize half-baked ideas.
GOP Treas. John Schroder already has announced he seeks the state’s top job, and Republican Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry seems poised to do the same. Schroder occasionally in the activities of his office can publicize policy credentials transferable to being governor, such as aligning with similar officers in other states to oppose viewpoint discrimination, and for Landry the far left policies pursued and overreach of government power to pursue these committed by Democrat Pres. Joe Biden is the gift that keeps on giving, presenting him many chances to take Biden Administration policies the bear directly on governance to court, among the latest being stopping the sidestepping of environmental regulatory law.
It’s tough to stand out against all that, especially with a day job of overseeing parks and museums and begging tourists of all types to visit the state. So, Nungesser may have thought himself clever when he attempted to leverage public safety concerns to his limited and largely inconsequential official duties to concoct an issue on which to gain publicity.
Recently, on the back of disappointing crime news during Carnival, he announced he would advocate for as-yet unfiled legislation in this year’s upcoming regular session to “separate” the Vieux Carré from New Orleans and have his department take it over as a state park with rangers providing law enforcement. He contended his plan was “kind of like how they did in San Diego with the Gaslamp District,” and had been ready to go last year but, he hinted, met with sabotage by murky forces. (Reviewing last year’s regular session bills, none appear to address this issue, so he may have been speaking about a concept, not a real filing.)
This idea has more holes in it than you find in a typical lesser-traveled New Orleans street, but let’s start with the Gaslamp citation that, upon further investigation, is more like gaslighting. This 16.5 block area, about an eighth of the size of the French Quarter, doesn’t at all exist separately from the city, and the only independent management of the area has to do with tourist and commercial interests run by a nonprofit. It is nothing like a state park, it isn’t run by a government agency much less separately from San Diego, it doesn’t have any law enforcement duties and hardly any powers at all, and has responsibility over a much smaller area much less residential in character than the Quarter. The two notions are apples and oranges.
Nungesser also seems to forget, or doesn’t know, that two independent security districts already exist there. The French Quarter Management District was founded a few years ago as a political subdivision of the state, until the end of fiscal year 2028, primarily as a means to control crime. It gathers funds from a special levy on hotels within its boundaries for that purpose, has help with overall operational expenses from the city’s tourism agency, and solicits donations as means of funding. Additionally, city voters last year opted to create another special district for this purpose and fund it with a quarter-cent sales tax hike within its boundaries (minus hotels, already subject to the older tax, although questionably excluded legally). Although fraught with infighting between the two, for this year a projected $2.3 million will be available for these purposes from the new garnishment, with the emphasis on using certified law enforcement officers.
No doubt park rangers have law enforcement skills. But having Peace Officer Standards and Training graduates undoubtedly with experience and training in urban environments provide potentially higher quality policing in the Quarter. And even if Louisiana State Police patrols that occasionally have descended upon the area undoubtedly helped (at additional state taxpayer expense), residents remained somewhat wary of having a state rather than local policing presence – to say nothing about what bureaucracy they would have to navigate in their daily lives if they found themselves living in a state park separate from or overlapping with New Orleans.
The infrastructure appears in place for New Orleans to handle crime concerns in the area, with perhaps some modifications, while Nungesser proposes something untested and, on paper, unwieldy with less ability to fight crime. Unless he wants to acquire a reputation as a gasbag grasping for policy straws on which to build a campaign resumé, this idea needs a radical overhaul or abandonment altogether.