State race gets interesting with varied field of candidates

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 1, 2007


Editor and Publisher

LAPLACE – When Nickie Monica considered his next political move after term limits ends his role as parish president in St. John, he liked the idea of stepping up to a state level.

Monica announced early in 2006 that he had set his sights on the Louisiana House of Representatives seat in District 57. For the well-known St. John parish president, it might have looked like an easy road to a new political career.

But now in 2007, with the election looming this fall, the House of Representatives race has become one of the most interesting around with a varied field of candidates that has made the election wide open.

The current field of five candidates has entries with experience in a multitude of arenas, giving Monica what appears to be a competitive race after it appeared the parish president might have an easy run to victory.

Confirming their entry in the House of Representatives primary set for October 20 are the following:

Geri Broussard-Baloney: A 28 year St. John attorney who has served on the board of the Pontchartrain Levee district and has extensive experience in an area of key interest after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Randal Gaines: Another attorney with over 25 years experience in tax law, serving as the city attorney for the City of New Orleans, and also a 28 year National Guard Reservist.

Gerald Keller: A lifelong educator who has gone from teaching to superintendent of St. John Parish, to the college level in education. He has served as a St. John School Board member for four terms.

Natalie Tatje: A lifelong LaPlace resident who has been an insurance agent for 22 years, and has key insight into the critical topic of insurance for the hurricane stricken state.

Here is an overview of the candidates now in the race:

Geri Broussard-Baloney

The longtime local attorney had one attempt at political office in the 2003 elections when she ran for St. John district attorney, and lost to John Crum, although she earned 43 percent of the vote in a late decision to enter the race.

&#8220I thought that was pretty good for a first time to run,” she said.

She decided to run for House of Representatives after being approached by &#8220prominent local officials” and feeling like she could make a positive impact in the public office.

&#8220I’ve got a lot of experience on the Levee District and that is vital right now, after Katrina,” she said.

Baloney is chairperson of the Legal and Legislative Committee for the Levee District, and believes her legal background will help her to understand the laws that are considered in Baton Rouge.

Top priorities are hurricane protection, affordable health and homeowners insurance, and economic development.

&#8220So much has changed after the hurricane, but I think I understand what we need to do because of my experience,” she noted. &#8220And I think the parish president has some problems. A lot of business has disappeared because of how we have reacted since Katrina.”

Baloney is married for 28 years with seven children and 15 grandchildren.

Randal Gaines

The only St. James Parish entry in the race, Gaines is an attorney with a vast amount of tax experience as an attorney.

Gaines said he always knew he wanted to run for public office, but finally saw what he considered to be the perfect opportunity with the state position.

Originally from Lutcher, he resides in St. James, although his primary practice is now in Gonzales. Besides working for the City of New Orleans, he went into full time private practice in 1995.

&#8220I was asked to run once for public office in the early 90s, but my kids were still young,” he said. &#8220But I have always been a leader, and always knew that I wanted to run for office one day.”

He began to consider the state position as long as eight years ago, and decided to run a year ago.

His top focus is &#8220being responsive to both the business community and the underserved. I don’t think we always give equal attention to both groups, and serving on a state level will allow me to impact things on a bigger level.”

Gaines retired as a 28 year veteran with the National Guard Reserve as a lieutenant colonel who served in Desert Storm.

&#8220I think my military training also gives me a lot of leadership to bring to the table,” he added.

Gaines is married with three children.

Gerald Keller

With four terms on the St. John School Board behind him, Keller sees a chance to serve at the state level as an opportunity to serve St. John in a broader sense.

A 66-year-old Democrat, he won election the last three times on the School Board without opposition, and has been School Board president in the last term.

Keller has 45 years of experience in education, and is presently a coordinator of field experience for pre-student teachers at Southeastern Louisiana University.

&#8220I want to focus on better education for our people, a more skilled work force, and have a chance to have a wider look at helping the state,” he explained. &#8220Things like the interstate exchange for us in Reserve just shouldn’t be taking so long. What’s the delay?”

He thinks his experience on the School Board will serve him well working in the state House.

&#8220I understand the political process and I know that can open doors for me in the House of Representatives,” he said. &#8220I’m not a lifetime politician and I don’t need this job. I just want to help to do more for this area. It’s an exciting era for the River Parishes and I think I can help lead us into it.”

Keller is married with four children and six grandchildren.

Nickie Monica

Monica began the race last year when he announced early and was clearly the front runner from the outset, due to his popularity as parish president.

But with such an experienced field now lining up to challenge him, Monica clearly has another tough political fight to show that he can win.

&#8220I feel very confident, no matter who else decides to run,” he said. &#8220I have proven that I serve black and white residents equally and just feel like I’m the best person for the position.”

Monica has a leg up on others in that he had $40,000 remaining in his campaign fund, and expects to raise a total of $100,000 for the campaign.

Monica is running on his record as parish president, which he believes includes a host of positive achievements, including the coming improvement of the water system, an upgraded sewer system recently approved, the War Veteran’s Retirement Home, bringing the National Guard Center here, and the St. John Community Center which opened last year.

&#8220My relationships in Washington, and in Baton Rouge, are what set me apart from the others,” he said. &#8220I have experience in government at the higher levels, and no one else does. That’s my edge.”

Monica is married with five children.

Natalie Tatje

Picking the House of Representatives seat as her first run at political office, Tatje sees the critical situation of insurance in Louisiana as something she can lead the way in addressing.

&#8220These times call for someone with my professional background to represent the people of St. John and St. James with a sound business perspective,” she said. &#8220Especially considering how insurance issues are a major concern. It’s time for the State of Louisiana to be run like a successful business.”

Owning Tatje Insurance and Financial Products in LaPlace, she has 22 years of experience in the business, while also serving as an active community volunteer for years.

She has worked with the American Heart Association, LaPlace Rotary Club and volunteered with a multitude of youth groups and school organizations over the years.

&#8220This is such a crucial time for Louisiana with the insurance situation, and also the levee protection we need. The House of Representatives is the place that issues come up to help consumers and I think I know a lot about that with my background,” she added.

Tatje is married with two children.