Gubernatorial Debate

Decision 2003: A Forum on the Future of Louisiana
Presented by The Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana

How it Came to Be

By Darnée Wambsgans, TBIPAC Assistant

Early this year, David Rivas, Jr., Director of Political Affairs, Jim Nickel and Bud Courson of Courson Nickel, the tribe's lobbyists in Baton Rouge , discussed the possibility of hosting a televised gubernatorial debate. Considering the success of the TBIPAC's Government to Government Series, the possibility was very real and within reach.

It was especially important to Chairman Earl J. Barbry, Sr. and the PAC to provide this opportunity to the Central Louisiana community. During any statewide election most candidates focus on 2 of the three major metropolitan areas, New Orleans, South Louisiana, which includes: Baton Rouge, Lafayette & Lake Charles and then North Louisiana: Shreveport & Monroe. This would be the only televised debate in the Central Louisiana area during the entire Primary election and most likely the entire race.

The wheels were put into motion, talking with Chairman Barbry, picking dates at the Mari Center , inviting the candidates. After brainstorming it was decided to approach Louisiana Public Broadcasting, LPB, and see if they would be interested in partnering with the Tribe in putting the debate on air. The Tribe has sponsored the LPB Louisiana Legends Gala for the past five years, so it seemed like a logical choice.

The first date we proposed was too early for them to commit to an air date. It was before qualifying and too far away from our initial talks. After another date was chosen and LPB was contacted it was learned that LPB had committed to a partnership with a Council for A Better Louisiana, CABL for a series of debates with the gubernatorial candidates.

After another round of brainstorming KALB-TV 5, the NBC affiliate in Alexandria , was the next choice. KALB saw the importance of the forum for the area and immediately showed an interest. David Rivas, the Tribe's Director of Political Affairs sat down for a meeting or two plus a few conference calls with Charles Neal, a media consultant with KALB. The initial amount it cost to produce and put the debate on air was unusually high. During an election season, which is usually right before holiday season, television stations can only charge political candidates the minimum amount for air time, so their prices rise significantly.

During negotiations a reasonable amount was agreed upon by both the Tribe and KALB. The agreement proved beneficial and KALB became the Tribe and PAC's partner in presenting the debate. KALB reaches a 17 parish region, parts of Texas and Mississippi , something that would attract candidates for state office.

The original date chosen for the debate was August 1, naturally the Tribe wanted to be the first televised debate. As said before during initial discussions with LPB it was suggested that the 1st was too early. Qualifying for the candidates to file with the Secretary of State's office was August 19-21, 2003 . August 28, was then chosen as the date.

Letters of invitation were sent to the major candidates that had already begun campaigning throughout the state. Two candidates called to say they were committed to another televised debate with LPB and CABL on the 28 th . Another date had to be chosen. The last and final date was Tuesday, September 16, 2003 .

Just when it looked as everything was falling into place, another obstacle presented itself. Another organization was hosting a debate in New Orleans that was going to be moderated by Governor Mike Foster. Some things working in the Tribe's favor was that some candidates did not want align themselves with the outgoing Governor and that particular debate was not being televised. However some candidates committed to the debate in New Orleans , which is such a prime political target for any campaign.

After many phone calls and one on one consultations with candidates, their campaign managers and schedulers, six of the seven major candidates changed their schedules and confirmed to attend the forum in Marksville, despite the fact that the other organization in New Orleans represented employers with over 2000+ employees. Those candidates realized that Central Louisiana is an area where votes can be earned, that were not necessarily considered significant in previous years. As I said before, most candidates look to New Orleans and one of the two other "major" areas of the state for their core votes.

We especially appreciate the help and time given to this event by Linda Bordelon, Director of Public Relations at Paragon Casino Resort. Ms. Bordelon and her staff, Mary Barbry and Sherrie Moras, were critical in helping with getting the message out about the debate in coordinating with media and handling some of the candidates the night of the debate.

A major highlight of the night was the incredible backdrop designed by Marie Warren in the Advertising department. The KALB staff that were manning the debate on location were extremely impressed by the outcome of the backdrop. They liked it so much that wound up using it for their election night coverage on October 4, 2003 , which was co-sponsored by the Tribe as well.

The Tribe and the PAC look forward to bringing more Government to Government series to Marksville and its surrounding area and providing tribal members and the other members of the voting public the opportunity to become a more informed electorate, so when they go into the voting booth they will be making the best decision possible.

*** At the time of press the outcome of the October 4, 2003 primary election had Republican Bobby Jindal and Democrat Kathleen Blanco facing a run-off on November 15, 2003 . The outcome was Kathleen Blanco 52% and Bobby Jindal 48%. Kathleen became the first woman elected Governor of Louisiana. ***