Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 21, 2010

By David Vitrano


RESERVE – The pictures on Renee Lapeyrolerie’s Facebook page tell a story, the story of a girl from a small town with big dreams.

And that dichotomy has come to define the Reserve native as she has made her mark on the national stage while remaining true to her roots.

“Renee is my little politician,” said mother Dionne Lapeyrolerie. “She just loves that kind of work.”

Lapeyrolerie’s academic life somewhat mirrors her growth, from a child growing up on a small street in Reserve to the current executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party, a post she assumed at the end of June.

She graduated from St. Peter School and attended East St. John High School for two years before moving on to the Louisiana School for Math Science and the Arts, a selective-admission boarding school in Natchitoches.

“It was a great experience. I met people from all over the state,” she said. “I wish every public high school in Louisiana could be structured this way.”

After graduation, she attended Loyola University in New Orleans, where she studied communications.

Said Lapeyrolerie, “I pursued my real passion (photography) while I was there.”

Also while there, she set out on a path that would eventually lead to the top office of the LDP.

Lapeyrolerie became active in student government at Loyola and in time volunteered to work for a congressional campaign. While on that assignment, Lapeyrolerie said she became fascinated with the behind-the-scenes workings of political campaigns.

“From there on I almost exclusively did campaigns,” she noted.

Her first professional foray into the field was a stint working on a campaign for former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial. Since then she made a name for herself working behind the scenes for the likes of Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlon Gusman, Buddy Leach, Kathleen Blanco, Sen. Mary Landrieu and presidential candidates Al Gore and John Kerry.

Although her career in politics started during her college years, in reality the foundation for her interest in politics was laid many years before.

“I was born and raised a Democrat,” she said.

Her grandfather, Frank Lapeyrolerie, was a driving force behind a number of political movements in the area during the mid-19th century.

“My grandfather was involved in the civil rights movement and unionizing,” said Lapeyrolerie.

Even though he died when she was just 8 years old, members of the Lapeyrolerie family say she inherited his spark.

“Even now when I come home, that’s what they say,” said Lapeyrolerie.

She apparently inherited many of his values as well. Her grandfather was instrumental in creating housing for many of the less fortunate residents of St. John the Baptist Parish, and his work with the senior population was so extensive, the senior center in Reserve bears his name.

“I feel strongly about our Democratic values,” said Lapeyrolerie.

She described those values as fighting for the middle class and a concern for the less fortunate.

“There are scores of Louisianians who share those values,” she added.

Now, as executive director of the LDP, Lapeyrolerie is able to share her passion across a wide spectrum and exert more influence than ever before.

“I’m in communication with all of these Democrat elected officials,” she said.

But while she is able to use her position to influence those in the upper echelons, much of her focus still remains on the common citizen, specifically the voter.

“The biggest challenge facing the party is probably voter apathy,” she said, adding her strategy to combat this is to highlight the good things that have been accomplished by Democratic elected officials.

“There are many accomplishments we can be proud of,” she said.

She realized she may be facing an uphill battle in an increasingly Republican-leaning state, but it is a battle Lapeyrolerie thinks she can win.

“In Louisiana we have become accustomed to being entertained by politicians,” she said. “It’s time to tune in and take our role as voters seriously.”