RESERVE – Daniel Becnel Jr. did not want to run for The position of St. John the Baptist Parish President but the way he sees it, he doesn’t have much of a choice.
Becnel, one of the state’s and the nation’s most successful trial lawyers, officially qualified for St. John the Baptist Parish’s top elected spot last week .
“This is a crusade for me,” says Becnel.
For the past 48 years, he has been involved in in his own words: “pretty much every class action lawsuit that contained the letter ‘b’ as in billions of dollars.” From big tobacco to fen phen and the BP oil spill, Becnel has been very active in challenging some of the largest corporations in the world in court. He has also been active on the local level, filing a class action lawsuit against St. John the Baptist Parish itself last year after its water supply was found to be contaminated by a brain-eating amoeba.
A major selling point of Becnel’s campaign is money. He is refusing any campaign contributions and has vowed to donate all or most of his salary if elected. The salary for St. John the Baptist Parish President, Becnel pointed out, at around $150,000, is more than the mayor of New Orleans makes despite a 450,000 person population difference in New Orleans’ favor. And an overpaid parish president is just one of many issues that Becnel cites as being counter to effective management in the Parish.
“I don’t know why I want to do this damn job,” Becnel said. “I just want people to have jobs and have work and be healthy.”
According to Becnel, St. John the Baptist Parish is in a crisis of leadership and he’ll fix it if elected. Before announcing his candidacy, Becnel said he tried to get a number of qualified individuals to run for the office but when they all backed out or turned him down, he realized it was either going to be him or someone he feels is incompetent.
“I know what to do. I know how to do things. I know business. I know real estate,” Becnel said. “I haven’t needed to work for the past 20 years, but I’m still at my office at 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday. All I want to do is save the parish from itself.”
Becnel purports to be the largest individual taxpayer in the parish and says he is tired of seeing his and fellow citizens' tax money squandered by their leaders.
This is not Becnel’s first campaign. Becnel ran in the first election for St. John the Baptist Parish District Attorney in 1983. Becnel said the focus of his campaign was, “I’m either fixing everybody’s tickets or nobody’s tickets.” He lost by 300 votes. Most recently, in 2010, Becnel campaigned against incumbent Jude Gravois for a seat on Louisiana's Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Gravois won with 80 percent of the vote.
At the time, Becnel entered the Fifth Circuit race he was representing two clients suing to block the election. Becnel is no stranger to potential conflicts of interest. Becnel’s wife, Mary Hotard Becnel, is a judge on the 40th Judicial District Court and must recuse herself from any case in which her husband is involved. Likewise, if Becnel were to become Parish Council President, he would resign from his law firm entirely and relinquish all of his duties to the other attorneys in his firm—including active lawsuits against St. John the Baptist Parish.
At age 71, Mr. Becnel’s health is a potential concern for the campaign. He has suffered from Leukemia for the past 15 years and goes to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center once a month for chemotherapy treatment. But Becnel dismisses any concerns about his health.
“I’m the only person they’ve ever seen at MD Anderson walk in there for treatment, walk out of there after treatment, and then try a case the next day," he said.
The election will be held on Oct. 24.