Surprise candidate disqualified in mayor-president race

Priscilla Gonzalez outside of parish courthouse Aug. 18, 2023
Disqualified from running for mayor-president by a district judge in Lafayette, Priscilla Gonzalez has vowed to continue campaigning and says she will appeal the ruling. Photo by Travis Gauthier

UPDATE: Gonzalez's appeal of the disqualification ruling, filed an hour after Monday's noon deadline, was rejected by the court. Read more here.

Priscilla Gonzalez, who entered the race for Lafayette mayor-president as a Democrat on the final day of qualifying last week, was disqualified by a district court judge in Lafayette late Friday afternoon.

The lawsuit challenging Gonzalez’s candidacy for the Oct. 14 election, filed by a local good government activist, argued that she failed to meet the residency requirements of Lafayette’s Home Rule Charter and that she falsely certified she had filed federal and state income tax returns over the past five years.

Before a crowded courtroom, 15th Judicial District Court Judge Valerie Gotch Garrett found that Gonzalez was unable to show that she was a “qualified elector,” as is required, when she went to the parish courthouse Aug. 10, evidenced by questions left unanswered in her qualifying form, including the parish, ward and precinct where she lived. “It was blank,” the judge said, noting Gonzalez testified that she had never voted in Lafayette Parish.

Gonzalez confirmed in court that she delayed her voter registration because she was undecided about whether she would return to Corpus Christi or remain in Lafayette. The 39-year-old ran for mayor of Corpus Christi in November 2020, the last time records show her voting in that state and the same month she says she moved to Lafayette to care for her mother and stepfather who live in Lafayette.

Gonzalez was also unable to prove that she had filed federal and state tax returns for the past five years. A lawyer for the Louisiana Department of Revenue testified that five days after Gonzalez declared on qualifying papers to have filed federal and state tax returns she was still not in the state’s system. The documents Gonzalez provided to the court “did not rise to the level of evidentiary proof of filing,” Garrett said. “Further, the purported filing was on Aug. 17, 2023, seven days after filing.”

Gonzalez said she will appeal. “I’m not going to give up my campaign. I’m going to go through an appeals process,” she said after the hearing.

Mayor-President Josh Guillory is seeking re-election and faces two Republican challengers, Monique Blanco Boulet and Jan Swift.

Citing precedent, the suit asserted that domicile consists of two elements: actual residence and the intent to remain in that place. Lafayette’s Home Rule Charter has a one-year residency and domiciliary requirement, which provides that candidates have been “legally domiciled within the parish for at least one (1) year immediately preceding the time established by law for qualifying for office.”

Garrett seemed to seize on Gonzalez’s comments on a local podcast this week, using her own words against her. Gonzales said in that interview that her decision to remain in Lafayette was not “set in stone” until July of this year, Garrett said in her ruling, when she got power of attorney over her stepfather.

“After a review of Louisiana jurisprudence, this court agrees with others in that it is imperative to limit candidacy for political office to citizens who are vested in the district they aspire to represent,” the judge said. “Due to Ms. Gonzalez not having been domiciled in this parish for the requisite one year prior to qualification, she is not qualified to be a candidate in this election.”

When Gonzalez first arrived at the courthouse to qualify on Aug. 10, she was not registered to vote in Louisiana and did not have a valid Louisiana driver’s license. According to the lawsuit, her driver’s license and vehicle were still registered to Texas at that time.

Gonzalez left the courthouse and obtained a Louisiana ID (not a driver’s license), registered to vote and returned to the parish courthouse to qualify.

attorney gary mcgoffin after priscilla gonzalez hearing
Attorney Gary McGoffin successfully represented Aimee Boyd Robinson in her challenge to Priscilla Gonzalez's candidacy for mayor-president of Lafayette. Background right, Gonzalez departs the Lafayette Parish Courthouse after a district judge disqualified her late Friday afternoon.

The challenge to Gonzalez’s candidacy was the second for Aimee Boyd Robinson, who filed a complaint to then-District Attorney Keith Stutes in 2020, challenging disgraced City Marshal Brian Pope’s candidacy. Pope was disqualified on the grounds that he was not a registered voter.

Robinson is an elected member of the Louisiana Democratic State Central Committee; the committee is not involved in the litigation against Gonzalez. Robinson was represented in the case by attorney Gary McGoffin, and this time the courtroom was packed with citizens, reporters, district court judges Royale Colbert and David Blanchet, Assistant District Attorney James Klock and City-Parish Attorney Greg Logan.

Disclosure: Gary McGoffin represents Straight News Online in public records cases. McGoffin says he supports Monique Blanco Boulet for mayor-president.

In a deposition hours before the court hearing, Gonzalez refused to comply with a subpoena to produce various documents, including her vehicle registration and proof of auto insurance, Social Security card, birth certificate, bank statements and credit cards statements, McGofffin told the judge. Gonzalez acknowledged that her vehicle still has Texas license plates and has never had a Louisiana inspection sticker.

Gonzalez’s surprise entry is reminiscent of the M-P race four years ago, when Carlos Harvin entered the race at the 11th hour as the only Democrat in a field of Republicans and one no-party candidate. Harvin appeared at campaign events and in campaign materials with Guillory; upon Guillory’s election, he created a new position, chief of minority affairs, and appointed Harvin to the post.

Gonzalez denied to Straight News Online and to The Acadiana Advocate the existence of any such quid pro quo this time around and says no candidate in the race sought her out to run as a Democrat.