Southeastern student finds fulfillment in parish politics
Contact: Rene Abadie
Date: February 20, 2013
SERVING THE PEOPLE – Michael Wright, a recent graduate of Southeastern Louisiana University, is the youngest individual to serve on the St. John the Baptist Parish Council, where he answers to 6,000 constituents.
HAMMOND – Most students attending college carry part-time jobs while running to and from
class, but few must answer to 6,000 "bosses" while doing so.
That's the case for Michael Wright of LaPlace who, at the age of 22, serves on the St. John the Baptist Parish Council, the youngest person in parish history to serve on the government body.
A 2012 Southeastern management graduate who is preparing to enter the university's MBA program, Wright began on the political path in 2009 when he started work as an assistant in the Public Information Office of the parish.
His studies at Southeastern, he said, helped prepare him for the challenges he faced.
"With my degree and experience in business, I feel my time at Southeastern was a great step forward in preparing me for this position, as well as for the future," he said.
"I had always considered getting involved in politics and even running for office one day," Wright said. "I ended up making my decision on the last day to qualify in the fall 2011 election. I went to the courthouse in the last 15 minutes and signed my name."
Despite his late start in the campaign process, Wright collected 43 percent of the vote in the primary election. He then beat his opponent with 70 percent of the support in the runoff to win the seat for District V, representing approximately 6,000 constituents.
His responsibilities run the spectrum, from making laws to balancing the budget. However, his learning curve intensified and his role changed dramatically when Hurricane Isaac slammed the area last year.
"Leading up to the storm, we started making preparations," said Wright. "I went through my district to make sure the parish had picked up tree limbs, debris, any last minute things. When the storm hit, I woke up that morning, checked my emails, and found out we were evacuating River Forest, which is my neighborhood."
Wright began several long days of rescue and recovery efforts, literally in his own backyard.
"When you're walking waist deep against a current in your own neighborhood, it's pretty scary," he said. "You don't understand until you actually go through it. We pulled people from their homes. Only boats could get to people in the back of neighborhoods."
In addition to the damage, Wright said the acts of kindness and heroism from the people of LaPlace surprised him most.
"I'll never forget a little house on the corner that was raised up high, and we pulled around 60 or 70 people out, because it was the only dry spot in the area," he said.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac, Wright is back to serving as a liaison between his constituents and the agencies that can assist them.
"There's a lot of complicated information out there, so it's our job to understand that information and disseminate it to our constituents," said Wright.
Wright said St. John the Baptist Parish leaders are pushing now, more than ever, for a hurricane protection levee. They also want people to stay and rebuild, and help cultivate the expansion of St. John the Baptist Parish.
Despite all of the challenges in his first year in office, Wright considers himself blessed.
"I was baptized by fire," he said. "Of course, as human beings, we never stop learning, no matter our age. I think I was extremely fortunate, both professionally and personally, to be given the opportunity at 22 to serve in this capacity."
Wright will be eligible to run for reelection in the fall of 2015. As for future political plans, Wright said he's open to the idea of climbing the ranks, but will stick with the LaPlace community for the near future.
"I've always loved making a difference, and I've always been a huge advocate of public and community service," said Wright. "I try to do the best that I can in the time that I'm given."