Championing redevelopment of north Lafayette is on the priority list for both men seeking the state House District 44 seat.
The incumbent, Vincent Pierre, a Democrat, said he’ll continue advocating for road projects and funding for the North Lafayette Redevelopment Authority. Challenging Pierre is Desmond Onezine, who recently retired from the U.S. Marine Corps. While in the military, Onezine said, he maintained a residence in Lafayette, and he wants to get more involved in community service.
“This area has given me the chance to be who I am,” said Onezine, who grew up in north Lafayette. “There are things I’d like to do and give back.”
Onezine, who describes himself as a political independent, said the needed changes aren’t happening fast enough to attract development in the area.
“It’s all about drugs and people getting shot,” he said. “I started looking at what local leaders are doing to influence that and didn’t see anything major. We talk about economic growth in that area, but who wants to invest in that area where there’s violence?”
If re-elected, Pierre said he’ll focus on the expansion of Medicaid, on efforts to lower the state’s high incarceration rate, on improving education and on securing funding for projects such as the I-49 Connector project and the North Lafayette Redevelopment Authority.
“We have over 200,000 people who are underinsured or uninsured,” Pierre said of his support of Medicaid expansion. “I think it’s important that we go back to Baton Rouge and fight for those issues.”
Tackling the state’s budget woes also will be a priority, Pierre said, and he touted his prior legislative experience and role as the chairman of the Legislature’s Acadiana delegation.
“The oil and gas industry has taken a hit,” he said. “We have to figure out ways to patch those holes to fill the budget. As chairman of the Acadiana delegation, I’ll work hard with all the members to work on ways to address the budget crisis that we’re in.”
The I-49 Connector is also an important project for the district, Pierre said.
“I think it would improve economic development throughout my district and the state,” he said. “We’ve got to come up with a solution to work on or complete this project. Hopefully, we can dialogue between now and the end of my term to pin down what we’re going to do for the I-49 corridor.”
Onezine said his military service has prepared him to represent the community. In his 18 years in the Marines, he served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Philippines, Thailand and U.S. bases in California and North Carolina. His first station was serving presidential guard duty during former President Bill Clinton’s administration.
Onezine described himself as “fiscally conservative” and said he is not accepting any campaign contributions.
If elected, Onezine said he’d go to Baton Rouge with a “mandate from the voters” — not his own agenda.
“I don’t want to go there with an agenda. Too often, politicians go in there with agendas. Your agenda may differ from what the voters want. I think you should go there with a mandate that they send me there with. The mandate is whatever the majority needs,” he said.
Onezine said community members tell him they want someone who will focus on improving education and ending violence in the community.
“If I could get more funding to hire more police officers for the city and even open up hubs or precincts within certain communities to make sure presence is there,” Onezine said. “I’d also organize communities to come together. Let’s do something and band together as a community.”
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.