Two attorneys from Crowley will face off on Saturday, March 25, in a race for House District 42 that has flown largely under the radar.
Jay Suire and John Stefanski, both Republicans, are vying to fill the unexpired term of Jack Montoucet, who stepped down from the Legislature a year into his third term after Gov. John Bel Edwards tapped him in December to head the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
The winner of the special election will serve the remaining three years of Montoucet's four-year term.
The legislative district, which for more than two decades has been represented by a Democrat, takes in southern Acadia Parish and a small portion of western Lafayette Parish.
It's a rural district where agriculture and oil and gas are the main economic drivers. Both candidates have campaigned as social and fiscal conservatives who favor small government and who are wary of any proposal to raise state taxes.
Both were born, raised and live in Crowley and are political newcomers.
Suire, 45, has served on the Acadia Parish Republican Executive Committee but has never before sought public office.
"This is an opportunity to have a new chapter in my service to the community," he said.
Suire said he learned the value of service and hard work early on from his grandmother, who raised him. He recalled going with her every week to clean the church at Redemptorist Catholic School across the street for their home in Crowley.
Suire said he later learned the weekly cleanings helped him receive a break in tuition at the school.
Suire worked for a few years in radio broadcasting after graduating from high school and later while attending the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He graduated from UL-Lafayette in 1997 with a degree in political science, receiving his law degree from Tulane Law School in 2000.
He now works for The Glenn Armentor Law Corporation, a personal injury firm in Lafayette.
Suire said roads, drainage and economic development are among the biggest issues in a legislative district where rural residents often feel forgotten in Baton Rouge.
But looming over it all, he said, is a seemingly never-ending state budget crisis.
"Until we can get our budget under control, we are never going to able to solves the problems that affect District 42," he said.
Suire said he has no certain answers to offer on how to fix the state's budget but believes there is a need for a major overhaul.
Any new taxes, he said, should be a last resort and then only if new taxes are balanced by decreases in existing ones.
"What we've seen in recent years is repeated tax increases with no real palpable return on investment for the state," he said.
Stefanski, 32, shares a similar view.
"The solution can't be to tax. You have to get more creative than that," he said.
Stefanski said economic development and improving drainage and fixing roads are critical issues in the district.
"They have been neglected for too long," he said.
But Stefanski said finding the money for infrastructure seems impossible if state government is not streamlined and the budget not stabilized.
"Until we get this mess fixed, it's really hard to concentrate on anything else," he said.
Stefanski said he had long considered the District 42 seat but didn't think he'd be running so soon.
"But when there's an open seat, you have to take the opportunity," he said.
Stefanski said he's drawn to public service in part because of his experience growing up with a younger brother diagnosed with autism who had trouble getting the support and services he needed.
"Constantly throughout our lives I was having to speak up for my little brother and stand up for him and represent him," he said.
Stefanski graduated from LSU with a degree in history in 2007 and received his law degree from Loyola Law School in New Orleans in 2010.
He returned to Crowley to practice with his father and other relatives at the personal injury firm of Edwards, Stefanski & Zaunbrecher.
Stefanski said one of his biggest concerns for the upcoming special election is that people actually show up to vote on a day when few other issues are on the ballot and when the Secretary of State is predicting an unusually low turnout.
"People need to stand up and exercise their right," he said.