No one benefited more from redistricting than District 5 incumbent

New District 5 map in blue

11 Ascension Parish Council seats are scheduled to be contested on October 14, with some districts having seen major changes to accommodate wildly shifting demographic patterns reflected in the most recent decennial census.  Our analysis of those district-by-district shifts, with an assessment of potential changes to the electoral dynamic, focuses on District 5 today.  (See above for map going into effect for Election Day, adopted during a Special Meeting of the Council on December 29).

Incumbent Dempsey Lambert, in the last year of his fifth consecutive term in office (more than any other council member since voters adopted Home Rule in July of 1993 though his namesake, Todd Lambert, served five non-consecutive terms), seems ripe for the picking.  Lambert barely survived the last minute challenge of political neophyte Cheryl Malbrough in 2019, a razor thin…

39-vote margin.  By far the most populous according to the 2020 decennial census, District 5 had to lose population when the Council considered a new map at four Redistricting Workshops last year.

If there is one thing Dempsey Lambert understands about local politics, it is optimization of his electoral chances as evidenced by his lengthy tenure.  The grandson of District 5’s first ever council representative (the first elections post-Home Rule Charter adoption occurred in 1995 when Gilbert Buratt won in a runoff), the seat has been in Lambert’s family for all but four years.  Donnell Nickens bested Dempsey Lambert’s paw-paw in a 1999 runoff election.

Lambert first won the seat in 2003, garnering 57% in the runoff against Chris Gonzales with a baby-faced Brandon Trosclair on the outside looking in.  Lambert was unopposed in 2007; beat Tiffany Poche with 56% in 2011; unopposed again in 2015.  Leading up to 2019’s Election Day the consensus was that Lambert’s time was up but the individual expected to dethrone him (Brandon Golson) pulled out of the race late.  Cheryl Malbrough was the last minute fill-in who could not quite close the gap.

But she got very close which, according to certain of Lambert’s colleagues, shook up the five-termer.  Is his time up in 2023?

We heard from three separate individuals, all longtime residents of District 5 who expressed the intention to oppose Dempsey Lambert on October 14, 2023.  A couple of others were weighing their options.  Then he, supposedly unilaterally as Chairman of East Ascension Drainage Commission, sent the September 23, 2021 letter to Parish President Clint Cointment…

providing that “all authority granted to (Cointment) shall expire upon 60 days from the date.”  It was the culmination of a plot hatched by six council members (Ex Officio EA Drainage Commissioners), designed to divest Cointment’s authority over the biggest pot of money in Ascension Parish.

Rarely have we witnessed the fury unleashed among the citizenry.  Inexplicably, Lambert sent the termination letter as negotiations between Cointment and the failed junta seemed to have progressed toward, if not amicable, begrudging resolution.

It was not the first time Dempsey Lambert participated in the ouster of a parish president from EA Drainage operations.  On December 21, 2006 his was one of nine Drainage Board votes to terminate then President Ronnie Hughes’ administration of EA Drainage in favor of Bill Roux as the District’s General Manager.  The arrangement did not outlast Hughes’ presidency for long because incoming President Tommy Martinez was on the same page as the sitting commissioners when it came to expenditures, and that was when the “total budget for the drainage works will be $11,925,000” (it is significantly more than that a decade-and-a-half later).

Dempsey Lambert and his colleagues prevailed in 2006, but not in 2021 and the repercussions were immediate…and profound.  With Chairman Dempsey Lambert right in the middle of it, he rightly came in for his share of the blame.  And a petition seeking his recall, along with five other members who voted to strip President Cointment’s drainage duties, ensued…and a few frustrated constituents made their minds up to challenge Dempsey Lambert in 2023.

But Lambert has not been around for two decades without picking up a few pointers in political intrigue.  One-by-one, as the redistricting process unfolded with four separate untelevised council workshops, potential challengers were systematically drawn out of the District 5.  Nobody will ever accuse him of being a dynamic council member, but Lambert knows politics.

On November 10, 2021 the first Redistricting Workshop was hosted by demographer, Mike Hefner who proposed necessary changes prior to convening the Council.  Hefner’s map took no account of the effect his proposed map might have on the reelection chances of 11 council members.  It underwent drastic changes once Lambert and a few of his brethren began pencil-whipping the districts into a reelection-friendly shape.  And one of Lambert’s potential opponents became a future constituent of the next District 11 representative.

Mike Hefner’s initial recommendation would have sliced off the easternmost voting precinct in District 5, adding Precinct 76 to District 6.  Instead, the changes shifted west and Precinct 12 was shifted to District 11.  Two more workshops, two more challengers suffered the same fate.  When the Council completed its business at a Special Meeting on December 29 each individual who had expressed an interest in challenging Lambert had been shifted to a different district.

Not to worry, though.  For all of you who want to see Dempsey Lambert forcibly retired from Ascension’s Parish Council on October 14, we have been led to believe a challenger will be announcing his candidacy in the near future.