Hemelt: Politics, splash of fun dot River Region this week

Published 11:45 pm Friday, August 22, 2014

The River Parishes were full of news this past week that might not make the front pages of local newspapers but would certainly pique the interests of many residents.

Here is a rundown of some of those events.

• U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-Republican, has long made town-hall style forums a staple of his senatorial service.

He routinely hosts them in each parish in the state. After a few brief statements, he opens the floor to discussion and questions from the audience on whatever topics attendees deem important.

Vitter went through this process Wednesday morning in St. John the Baptist Parish, starting with some remarks explaining his position against the Affordable Care Act and his desire to increase the United States’ response to what he calls an illegal immigration crisis.

Comfortable and never rattled, Vitter delivered his points in casual flow, answered most questions in an easy-to-understand fashion and did his best to keep the meeting’s pace productive when discussion stalled.

However, he is a veteran politician with goals beyond his current seat — his plans to run for governor next year have already been announced — and his position as a Republican leads to interesting sidebars at each town hall.

Wednesday was no different.

When one attendee complimented Vitter’s staff for always responding to questions with specific answers and not canned responses, as the attendee said U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office is prone to do, Vitter couldn’t help but take a jab, saying “No offense to Mary, but that is a low bar to beat.”

The politics certainly didn’t end there. While Vitter also took a couple of jabs at U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, he also spent the entirety of the meeting being filmed by an attendee affiliated with the Democratic party, seemingly looking for a single sound bite or freeze frame that could be used against Vitter in his political future.

For better or worse (read: worse), politics will never be taken out of a politician.

• St. James Parish opened its second splash park Friday in the Paulina park.

An official groundbreaking is planned at a later date, but the venue is open and should provide a wonderful location for neighborhood children to play.

The Paulina splash park follows the launch of a similar one in Vacherie that has drawn rave reviews.

“So many people compliment it,” Parish President Timothy Roussel said. “It might seem so simple and small, but you see people on it everyday. We incorporated a little playground with it, and the kids go from the spray park to the playground, and the parents can sit underneath that little pavilion in the shade and keep a watch on the kids inside the fence. They’re safe. It’s good stuff.”

Ultimately, parish leaders hope to add a splash park to each district in St. James Parish.

• St. Charles Parish officials announced the parish has received a permit to complete construction of the Magnolia Ridge reach of the West Bank Hurricane Protection Levee.

Parish President V.J. St. Pierre Jr. said the levee project remains a top priority for the St. Charles Parish Council and himself, and both will continue working together to move it forward.

• Following the success of L’OBSERVATEUR’s Saturday, front-page feature “LOOKS BRIGHT,” a new, dedicated feature will premiere Wednesday called “Giving Back,” highlighting a different person or organization in the River Region that consistently gives back in an effort to improve our communities and better serve our neighbors.

The series kicks off next week with a profile of Raffeal Neal, founder of the St. John Heat and St. John Lady Heat youth sports teams and dedicated supporter of Special Olympics.

Those who would like to nominate a student or adult for inclusion in our Saturday “LOOKS BRIGHT” or Wednesday “Giving Back” features are welcome to give me a call at 985-652-9545 or email


Stephen Hemelt is general manager and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.