In The News › All I.Q. initials taken off ballots

Mar 28, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

All I.Q. initials taken off ballots

All ‘I.Q.’ initials taken off ballots
Court ruling applied to all assessor races
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
By Bruce Eggler
Staff writer

In the wake of court decisions stripping the initials “I.Q.” from the ballot listings of two candidates
for separate Orleans Parish assessor districts, Louisiana Secretary of State Al Ater has removed
the label from the listings of five other assessor candidates on the “I Quit” ticket.

The state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal last week upheld rulings by two district judges that
candidates Chase Jones and Ron Mazier could not include “I.Q.” as a nickname on their listings
for the April 22 election, and the state Supreme Court refused Friday to hear an appeal from that
ruling.

Although state law permits the use of nicknames on the ballot, it prohibits “designations,” and the
courts ruled that listing “I.Q.,” which Jones and Mazier admitted they had never used as a
nickname before agreeing to join the “I.Q.” ticket, therefore was illegal.

With no public announcement, Ater’s office then stripped the term from the ballot listings of the five
other candidates, although no legal challenges had been filed against them.

Action called ‘arbitrary’

Ater spokeswoman Jennifer Marusak said that even though only two “I.Q.” labels were formally
challenged in court, Ater decided the rulings rejecting the label in those cases also applied to the
other five races.

“We agreed with the judges’ ruling,” she said. “We felt from the beginning that it (“I.Q.”) was a title
or a designation and that it shouldn’t be appearing on the ballot.”

But Errol George, an “I.Q.” candidate whose label had not been challenged, said he was “highly
upset” and called Ater’s action “arbitrary.”

“I think he’s exceeding his authority,” George said.

The “I Quit” ticket qualified candidates against the incumbents in all seven New Orleans assessor
races, and all included “I.Q.” in their names. If elected, all seven have pledged to forgo their
annual salary and use the money to hire a professional appraisal firm to handle property
valuations. Their ultimate goal is to consolidate the seven assessor offices into one, a move that
would require state legislation and voter approval, and they have promised to step down if such
legislation is approved.

The candidacies of Jones, who hopes to oust 4th District Assessor Betty Jefferson, and Mazier,
who is opposing 5th District Assessor Tom Arnold, were challenged by residents of the districts in
which they are running. Attorneys for Jones and Mazier said the challenges were filed at the
behest of the incumbents.

The other five “I.Q.” candidates are Maria Elliott in the 1st District, Jackie Farnsworth Shreves in
the 2nd District, George in the 3rd District, Nancy Marshall in the 6th District and Charlie Bosworth
in the 7th District.

Ballots being printed

Marusak said that before the court challenges to Jones and Mazier, Ater’s office had requested an
opinion on the nicknames from Attorney General Charles Foti’s office. The request became moot
when the matter went to court, she said.

Marusak said she thinks it’s too late for Ater’s action to be challenged because the printing of
ballots has begun.

Shaun Rafferty, a lawyer working with the “I.Q.” ticket, said that before its candidates qualified,
“we asked both the secretary of state’s office and the Orleans criminal court clerk’s office in
advance whether the ‘I.Q.’ nicknames could appear on the ballot, and both told us they could.
However, at this point I do not believe we have any options but to abide by the apparent judgment
of the secretary. Ballots have to be printed, and we certainly do not want this issue to throw that
process off schedule.”

Candidate George noted that neither Ater nor any Orleans Parish resident had challenged his
candidacy or ballot listing by the deadline specified by law, and said no legal evidence had been
produced that “I.Q.” was not his real nickname.

He said Ater told him the burden of proof was on the candidate to prove the nickname is
legitimate, not on Ater’s office to show the opposite.

“I don’t think this is right,” George said, although he admitted no one ever called him “I.Q.” until he
decided to run on that ticket. “He needs to write down the criteria so we can have some assurance
he’s not pulling these rules out of his a — .”

Free speech concerns

In their appeals to the appellate court, attorneys for Jones and Mazier tried to shift the argument
from whether the initials constitute a genuine nickname to whether the law prohibiting a
“designation” amounts to an unconstitutional restriction on candidates’ free speech.

But the 4th Circuit refused to consider that issue, saying it had not been raised in the trial courts
and therefore was not reviewable.

“Not having the nicknames on the ballots simply means we will have to work a little harder,”
Rafferty said. “Every indication we have suggests the voters approve our plan to consolidate the
assessors’ offices. We will just have to make sure they have the information necessary to connect
the names of our candidates with the ‘I.Q.’ plan.”

The Bureau of Governmental Research, a nonpartisan watchdog organization, last week issued a
report condemning the city’s seven-assessor system, which it said is prone to corruption and
inefficiency, and recommending consolidation of the offices.

“The push to consolidate the seven-assessor system in Orleans Parish . . . will end an Orleans-only
exception to statewide organization of assessors, allow for the redirection of wasted public
dollars and focus public scrutiny on a single administration,” the organization said.
. . . . . . .
Staff writer Gordon Russell contributed to this report.
Bruce Eggler can be reached at beggler@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3320.

Mar 28, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

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