With the election only seven weeks away, incumbent Matthew Jewell of Luling will soon face Dwayne LaGrange of Hahnville for St. Charles Parish’s top job, the parish president’s office.
Jewell, 34, seeks reelection as a Republican after leading St. Charles Parish through the dual challenges of Hurricane Ida and the COVID-19 pandemic. The Luling native is a former district director for Congressman and Republican Whip Steve Scalise, and spent time working at the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C. as a legislative advisor. Before taking the parish president’s seat, Jewell previously served on the Louisiana Board of Regents, a state agency that coordinates all public higher education in Louisiana.
“We’re running on a lot of the same issues that we ran on [in the first election],” Jewell said of his reelection campaign’s platform. “I feel we’ve been delivering on those issues, things like improving our infrastructure, whether that’s water or sewer or drainage; attacking the drainage issues and flooding.”
Following what many St. Charles Parish residents felt were oppressively high flood insurance rate increases brought on by FEMA’s rollout of Risk Rating 2.0, Jewell commented on the decisive legal action his team took this year.
“We’ve also been very aggressive on levee flood protection – and even more importantly than that – stopping Risk Rating 2.0; that is a central tenant of my reelection campaign,” Jewell said, referencing a lawsuit his administration initiated in the spring against FEMA, leading the way as one of the first Louisiana parishes to file flood insurance related litigation against the federal agency.
Jewell pointed out his administration has navigated several unprecedented challenges in his first term in office, issues such as the pandemic, increased tornado activity, parish flooding and Hurricane Ida, all of which he says did not slow his administration’s progress.
“In 2020, we had the most active hurricane season on record; those were partially defining obstacles for my first term in office,” Jewell said. “But I’m happy to say that even through that, we’ve been able to still deliver on the things that I’ve ran for.”
The parish president counted repairs made to dozens of lift stations, additional generators added throughout the parish, water treatment upgrades, various infrastructure, drainage and road improvement projects among some of his administration’s most recent accomplishments.
Hahnville candidate LaGrange, 55, seeks the parish’s highest elected position after serving around 28 years in local law enforcement, working his way through the ranks before retiring as an Assistant Commander. Known to many as “Officer D,” LaGrange served for years as a D.A.R.E. program instructor, guiding local youth within the St. Charles Parish Public School System to avoid drugs and alcohol. LaGrange, who is running as an Independent candidate, is a longtime United Way board member. He previously worked on the executive staff of a prior St. Charles Parish administration.
If elected, LaGrange said he would seek to help improve St. Charles Parish’s Waterworks department, a department that has faced public scrutiny over the last year from billing and staffing issues. St. Charles Parish residents have turned to social media in recent months, sharing concerns regarding what some believe have been inconsistent water billing practices.
“We want to make sure we address [Waterworks] efficiently and with transparency – we think there could be some issues there,” LaGrange commented. “Folks are going through significant amounts of stress with inflation and everything else – the last thing we want to do is add more stress to them with higher water bills.”
After many in the parish have faced flooding in recent years, infrastructure and drainage were two other important topics LaGrange said he would focus on if elected.
“We want to make sure that our pump stations are up to par, our lift stations, sewer lines, water treatment plants – all these [facilities] upgraded and maintained,” LaGrange said. “Preventative maintenance is key.”
As a former civil service employee himself, civil service compensation was another area LaGrange said he’d explore further if elected parish president.
“We’ve got to make sure that our civil service employees [are] working for better pay; we need to make sure we connect with our civil service board to offer competitive salaries, benefits and [ensure they] enjoy their working environments.”
A believer in open government and transparency, LaGrange said he would aim to get more public input as well as work to improve customer service levels across all St. Charles Parish Government services.