Sun | Oct 17, 2021

Former J’can decathlete Claston Bernard enters Congress race

Published:Sunday | March 7, 2021 | 12:17 AM

Claston Bernard
Claston Bernard


Voters thought they’d settled Louisiana’s congressional seats last fall, but only a few months later, they’re being asked to return to the polls for a sort of do-over.

A weeklong early voting period opened on Saturday in the March 20 special elections to fill two US House positions that opened again shortly after the fall elections wrapped up: the New Orleans-based seat that Democrat Cedric Richmond departed to work as a special adviser to President Joe Biden and the northeast Louisiana-based seat left unfilled when Republican Luke Letlow died of COVID-19 complications before he was sworn into office.

The vacancies have drawn crowded competitions.

In the southeastern part of the state, several high-profile contenders are jockeying for the New Orleans-based 2nd District seat, a majority-minority district whose footprint extends along the Mississippi River into Baton Rouge.

Among them is the Republican Party-backed candidate Claston Bernard, a Jamaica-born decathlete who won Commonwealth gold in 2002. The two-time Olympian and Munro College old boy lives in the Baton Rouge suburbs.

Also in the field are two Democratic state senators from New Orleans, Troy Carter and Karen Carter Peterson; and Gary Chambers Jr, a Baton Rouge Democrat, community activist and local publisher who gained prominence during protests of the 2016 shooting death of Alton Sterling by local police. So, too, is Desiree Ontiveros, a New Orleans Democrat who owns a balloon and party decor company.

Also on the ballot is a special election for a seat on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education representing northwestern Louisiana. That race has five candidates, including a former state senator and the wife of a current state House member.

Fifteen candidates are seeking Richmond’s old seat, while Letlow’s widow and 11 other contenders are vying for the seat Letlow won in December but never assumed.

Julia Letlow, a university administrator and Republican from the small town of Start in Richland Parish, is considered the front runner in the 5th District race, lining up the big-name endorsements quickly, including the backing of the last man to hold the seat, Ralph Abraham.

Julia Letlow is the only GOP contender in the race to get the state Republican Party’s endorsement. She faces several opponents her husband defeated, including last fall’s third-place finisher, Sandra ‘Candy’ Christophe, a social worker and Democrat from Alexandria.