Incumbent state Rep. Clay Schexnayder said continuing economic growth and improving education, infrastructure and flood protection are the driving forces behind his bid for re-election to his District 81 seat in the Oct. 24 primary election.
His opponent, Springfield native Lester McLin, echoed similar concerns, but said the district needs a representative with a mind for business who will better listen to the needs of its constituents.
Both candidates are registered Republicans.
Schexnayder, a Sorrento native and auto shop owner, is seeking his second term representing a district that encompasses portions of Ascension, Livingston, St. James and St. John the Baptist parishes.
“District 81 is in a prime area,” he said. “It’s a part of the capital region as well as the River Parishes area, which are both seeing major growth.”
McLin, a professional land surveyor, is seeking his first public office.
“I think I can do a very good job representing the people of District 81,” McLin said. “I’ve looked at running in the past and felt this was the time to do it.”
McLin and Schexnayder each said they feel the state’s budget concerns are a top priority. With a special legislative session likely to be called in the spring before the regular session, the candidates each said legislators must take a hard look at the state’s financial situation.
“We’re going to have to face the music on some issues,” McLin said. “It will definitely be a challenge. I feel my experience as a businessman will help me to keep a business sense when working on making the state budget as healthy and feasible as possible.”
Schexnayder said he feels better prioritization of issues would go a long way in correcting state budget woes.
“We all do it at home,” he said. “We have bills that come in and we have to decide which come first, which come second and so on. It’s common sense to do it that way. If we do that, I think we come out a whole lot better. Using one-time funds for one-time projects is something that will definitely help.”
Both candidates said they do not want to see more gashes made to higher education and health care funding.
“I’m definitely for keeping those cuts to a minimum,” McLin said. “These are very important sectors for our state’s future. I’m not for massive cuts, but we need to check and see if there are other areas we can possibly restructure.”
Schexnayder said he feels that prioritizing budget needs will help the higher education and health care sectors.
“They need to be higher priorities, rather than sitting at the bottom, waiting for what’s left over,” he said.
Both candidates said they are not in favor of raising or instituting new taxes to cover budget cuts, but acknowledge that taxes are an option in certain cases.
“Right now, I know my district sees us as being able to work with what we have,” Schexnayder said. “There are tools in our toolbox that we haven’t even used yet. We need to utilize those before we start looking at other alternatives.”
McLin said he is not in favor of raising taxes.
“But I also understand that there are sometimes situations where you may have to look at that option,” he said.
Each of the candidates said that continuing to improve education both in their district and statewide is important.
In response to complaints from constituents, McLin said he would work to remove or block Common Core standards from schools in the state.
Alleviating flooding concerns, especially in lower Livingston Parish, is another issue both candidates cited as a major focus.
“In our area, flooding is a big issue,” McLin said. “The residents of District 81 need some relief.”
Schexnayder said a project to divert flow from the Blind River has been on the table for years but finally saw progress during his term in office.
“The project itself has been around since the 1990s, but no one had ever put any effort into moving it forward until I took office,” he said. “Now, we have money secured for the project and it’s moving. I believe we’re within a year and a half of finally getting it underway.”
A related project that both candidates cited as a focal point is the proposed extension of La. 63 from Florida Boulevard in Livingston south to Gramercy.
Both McLin and Schexnayder said the expanded road would relieve industrial and residential traffic along Interstate 12, Interstate 10 and Airline Highway in Baton Rouge while also serving as a hurricane evacuation route for flood-prone lower Livingston Parish.
“The evacuation route for lower Livingston would be a huge improvement for an area that desperately needs it,” Schexnayder said. “This would also create a corridor that would connect traffic from I-12 to I-10, Airline Highway, La. 3125 and La. 3127, all of which are major industrial roads in the district.”
McLin said there is “definitely a need” for the road extension.
“When Hurricane Isaac came through, that area was cut off because they had no access to higher ground,” McLin said. “I’ve heard it talked about for many years, and that’s something I plan to work toward if I’m elected.”
McLin said he feels District 81 needs a representative who will best address the needs of constituents, something he feels has been lacking under Schexnayder’s term.
“I want to be a listener for the district and be accessible to everyone,” he said. “It’s a very big district that covers a lot of ground over four parishes, but I feel I can be the representative this district deserves.”
Schexnayder said his voting record and list of accomplishments during his first term are evidence of his success in office.
“The projects being done and the business that has come to the district — things like that don’t happen by chance,” he said. “They come from hard work, listening to the people and having someone at the Capitol who is looking out for the interests of the district and fighting for what the district needs.”