State House candidates Stephen Ortego and Julie Emerson share a few things in common. They’re both millennials raised in Carencro who returned to open businesses after completing graduate school.
That, however, might be where the commonalities end for the two candidates now vying to represent Louisiana House District 39. The district covers north Lafayette Parish, including Carencro, and south St. Landry Parish. The election is Oct. 24. Early voting started Saturday, and will begin again Monday and run through next Saturday.
Ortego is a 31-year-old Democrat who in 2011 won election to House District 39. As a Tulane School of Architecture graduate, he once helped Brad Pitt build houses in New Orleans’ 9th Ward.
“I feel like I learned a whole lot” in the first term, Ortego said in a recent interview. “… I really look forward to accomplishing more because I feel like I’m getting the hang of it.”
Emerson, 27, earned an MBA at the University of South Carolina and is a staunch Republican. She’s a member of the Louisiana Republican Central Committee and was asked to be on the lookout for a conservative to run against Ortego in District 39. She decided she would make a run for it herself.
“The most popular response that I receive when I knock on people’s doors right now is ‘Oh my gosh, is it that time again?’ ” Emerson said of election time. “For the most part, the people were just trying to figure out who I was and what I was about. I kind of came out of nowhere.”
Both candidates have money to spend on the election, with some fundraising coming from political action committees, according to reports on file with the Louisiana Ethics Board.
Ortego’s raised $34,000 between January and mid-September but began 2015 with almost $98,000 in his campaign war chest. As of Sept. 14, after expenditures this year, he had over $109,400 to spend. A total of $2,000 came from the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators, both organizations that contribute to Democrats.
Emerson began 2015 with nothing in her campaign account but picked up over $82,000 from January to mid-September. In October, the political action committee Louisiana Lawsuit Fairness contributed $2,500. Other Republican-leaning PACs also have contributed to Emerson’s campaign, including $11,500 from four PACs associated with the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, a lobbying group based in Baton Rouge.
Emerson’s campaign used some of her money to produce a television ad that reacquaints voters with a 2012 House floor debate. The debate was on a bill to allow Louisiana military veterans to pay in-state college tuition rates after being away from the state. In the video, Ortego questions the bill’s author, Rep. Nick Lorusso, on whether Louisiana is better off with military veterans living here.
Ortego last week admitted his exchange with Lorusso was awkward. But he said he was trying to set up a conversation about Louisiana’s lack of mental health care, including for veterans. He said the video was edited to leave out his statement that Louisiana needed more facilities to deal with veterans’ mental health care.
He also said he ended up co-authoring Lorusso’s bill.
According to the vote count, Ortego was among 103 of the 104 House members in adding his name to the legislation. One representative was absent during the vote.
Emerson and Ortego last week said the biggest challenge facing the next Legislature and governor will be the budget, and both expect the next governor to call a special session in January to deal with the 2015-16 budget that went into effect July 1.
After the session ended in June, “I told people that this was a six-month budget,” said Ortego, who voted against the legislation that authorized the budget.
Both Emerson and Ortego said they do not favor raising taxes going forward.
“I think we have to look at the giveaway programs that we have,” Ortego said, referring to the state’s tax exemptions and credits.
Emerson said she wants to find a way to “incentivize” government workers who see firsthand how taxpayer money is wasted or at least is inefficiently used.
“My overall philosophy on government is that we already have enough taxes, and we need to be a little more creative to figure out ways to do things more efficiently,” she said.