Candidates hoping to represent House District 29 in the state Legislature sparred on education, development and health care during a Tuesday forum.
Ronnie Edwards, who previously served District 29, which encompasses the north Baton Rouge area and West Baton Rouge Parish, died last month at age 63. She was elected to the seat in November and sworn in Jan. 11.
Three of the five contenders to serve the remainder of the term fielded questions from the Chamber of Commerce of East Baton Rouge during Tuesday’s lunch meeting.
The three men each sought to establish his credentials, though took different routes.
Lawyer Edmond Jordan, of Brusly, pointed to his leadership positions on various local business, health and financial boards, saying he already has relationships with various players.
“You have to have the plan … but you have to have the resources to actually execute it,” Jordan said.
The Rev. Albert White, a resident of Baton Rouge and pastor at Abounding Love Ministries, emphasized his role in several community ventures that work with schools, businesses, prisons and other groups. He said his Stars program, which offers character development and academic support to young people, is working to “birth a new generation of entrepreneurs.”
Lawyer Victor Woods, of Port Allen, portrayed himself as a champion of business and industry. As a partner in a law firm, he said, he understands the challenges of running a business and promised that if elected he would evaluate any proposed legislation by first looking at the impact it would have on the workers, businesses and industries of District 29.
East Baton Rouge Parish School Board member Vereta T. Lee, of Baton Rouge, did not attend the forum but submitted a recorded statement, in which she promised to continue Edwards’ work. She listed education and health care among her top concerns and vowed to fight alongside Gov. John Bel Edwards to expand Medicaid.
The final candidate, Tyra Banks Sterling, of Baton Rouge, did not attend. She was formerly an aide to Ronnie Edwards. All five contenders are Democrats.
Chamber members questioned the attending candidates on a variety of issues, including the state deficit.
White supported cutting expenses. Woods said the Legislature must better plan how to spend its money. He also said the state should look for redundant government positions and carefully review any job paying six figures.
Jordan said reinstating the Stelly Tax Plan could raise hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue every year. In 2003, the since-repealed plan raised taxes on higher-income earners while adding exemptions from the sales tax.
Candidates also addressed the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students scholarship program, specifically whether money should be spent on private higher education institutions.
Woods and Jordan generally support allowing TOPS to be used for private schools but said there should be a way to evaluate schools for eligibility. Jordan specifically mentioned that participating schools may need to open up their accounting books to the legislative auditor. White said that as the father of a TOPS scholar, he would fight for families to have access to the assistance.
The special election for the District 29 seat is April 9, with early voting from Saturday to April 2, excluding Sunday. If none of the candidates secures a majority, a runoff of the top two will be held May 14.
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