Two Lafayette Republicans who began campaigning for the state House District 45 seat over two years ago are entering the final stretch while reaching out to voters who backed a third candidate in last month’s primary election.
Jean-Paul Coussan and André Comeaux, both in the Nov. 21 runoff election for the House seat based in the city of Lafayette, said they’re campaigning hard to get their supporters back to the polls next week. At the same time, they’re trying to attract those who voted for Jan Swift, also a Republican, in the Oct. 24 primary.
All that effort will thrust either Coussan or Comeaux into the Capitol in Baton Rouge, where in January legislators likely will again have to deal with Louisiana’s problematic finances. State accountants warn that Louisiana’s current budget, barely four months into the 2015-16 fiscal year, is short of revenue and needs to be amended.
Comeaux and Coussan said they’ve put a lot of thought into the budget, and both said they would not vote to raise taxes. They differ somewhat on whether they would consider expanding Medicaid insurance for Louisiana’s working poor. Expanding Medicaid is a provision in the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and estimates are that hundreds of millions of federal dollars would flow into Louisiana’s health system if Medicaid is expanded in Louisiana. Gov. Bobby Jindal has opposed the expansion, citing increased costs once Louisiana would have to pick up 10 percent of the tab after three years.
Comeaux said he’d consider supporting a Medicaid expansion, but with much study. “I think we need to make sure we understand the full impact of it before we do anything.”
Coussan said he would not consider voting to expand Medicaid.
Both candidates favor a hard review of the tax exemptions offered to businesses.
Comeaux said automatically rolling back the exemptions, which would require businesses to pay more in taxes immediately, might end up costing the state in the long run. He said some cost-savings measures enacted in the past, such as reductions in the state’s vehicle fleet, were not reviewed in the following years. A review, Comeaux said, could have gauged the cost benefits of shedding state vehicles, or discovered unintended higher costs such as increased reimbursements to state employees who used their own vehicles, and taxi and Uber fares.
“The biggest issue … is a lack of a clear understanding of the impact of decisions that have been made in the past,” Comeaux said.
Coussan said some tax exemptions are “parochial” in that they benefit only a few people or businesses. He said other exemptions, such as those that give breaks for business research and development, are job-creators that should be retained.
Comeaux and Coussan said that however big Louisiana’s budget problem is now, they’re concentrating first on the election.
“I’m working on earning votes right now,” Coussan said. “So we’ll cross that (special budget session) bridge when we get there.”
Comeaux finished first with 41 percent in the primary, pulling 4,578 votes. Coussan was second with 4,098 votes, and Swift finished third with 2,458 votes.
Swift, who met with Coussan and Comeaux separately last week, said she’s decided not to make an endorsement.
“I think I had a solid block of wonderful people who voted for me,” Swift said. “They’ll make up their own minds.”
Early voting in ongoing, and runs through Saturday with the exception of Wednesday, which is Veterans Day.
The race for the District 45 House seat has been competitive, with campaign contributions to the three candidates tallying more than $560,000 from 2013 until now, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Louisiana Board of Ethics.
At over $220,000 in contributions so far, Comeaux has raised the most, but he got the earliest start: In 2013 campaign contributions to Comeaux outpaced Coussan and Swift by a large margin. The fundraising competition grew more even as time progressed.
The race has been free of the rancor and negative ads that have colored other Louisiana campaigns this year. Indeed, District 45’s candidates have not had one wedge issue that distinguished one from the other.
Coussan said that to attract voters to his candidacy, he’s accentuating his cultural ties to Catholic Lafayette and Acadiana — his double first name is French version of Pope John Paul.
Comeaux said he and his wife have been part of Lafayette public schools for 13 years, and they are graduates of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
“I consider myself part of the culture of Lafayette,” Comeaux said. “I’ll challenge Jean-Paul to a two-steppin’ contest any day.”