Two members of the state House of Representatives and a community activist are vying for the state Senate District 15 seat being vacated by Democrat Sharon Weston Broome, who is term-limited after serving more than a decade in office.
Competing in the Oct. 24 election for Broome’s seat are three-term state Rep. Regina Ashford Barrow and twice-elected state Rep. Dalton Honoré, both Democrats, and Jerrie Davenport Williams, a Republican seeking elected office for the second time.
The sprawling Senate District 15 takes in much of the northern and western portions of East Baton Rouge Parish, including all of Baker and portions of Zachary.
Barrow is a former legislative aide for Broome and spent the past 10 years serving in the District 29 House seat, which Broome held before her.
Term limited in the House, Barrow said recently she’s campaigning for her former mentor’s seat because “I have so much more work to do.”
Honoré said he’s hoping a seat in the Senate will allow him to “accomplish more for the district.”
The retired law enforcement officer and businessman touted his life experiences and varied background — which includes a stint as a teacher at Scotlandville High School early in his career — as his greatest strengths over his opponents.
Honoré, who said he was the first black deputy hired in the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, spent a number of years as an investigator for the Parish Attorney’s Office.
Williams, the sole Republican in the race, promised to shake things up in the State Capitol if she is elected. A onetime Baker School Board candidate who’s never held elected office, Williams said she has been disappointed by the way the Senate district — and particularly Baker, where she lives — has been represented in the Senate. She said dysfunction in state government, including chronic budget issues, point to a need to wipe the slate clean.
The district’s residents, Williams said, “don’t want to vote for the same old career politicians. They want someone that’s new to the table because it can’t get any worse.”
Barrow, though, said it is her lengthy experience in state government that makes her the best choice to represent District 15 in the state Senate, giving her an edge in pushing through legislation.
“I know how to get the job done and work across party lines,” Barrow said. “I’m the longest-tenured member there, and I’m the most knowledgeable. I know the process.”
Williams, a fourth-generation Republican, listed improving care for veterans, mental health services and better educational opportunities for special-needs students as among her top priorities. Her top pledges, Williams said, were providing transparency and accountability to her constituents. If elected, she promised to have an open door to voters and hold monthly meetings with constituents throughout the district.
Honoré said he’d like to continue working toward reforming the state’s criminal justice system, which he said locks up far too many residents of his district at far too high of a price.
“I’ll go as far to say that for the cost of keeping a person in Angola, you could send a kid to LSU, buy his books, feed him and house him for the same price,” Honoré said. “Something is wrong with our goals and our future. We’ve got to have some major prison reform.”
Honoré said investments are also needed in roads and other infrastructure projects around Baton Rouge.
Barrow said crime, a lack of jobs, inadequate schools and a lack of access to health care are the largest issues confronting District 15’s residents.
All three candidates highlighted educational issues in the district, pointing to inadequate schools and educational opportunities as major hurdles that limit prospects for too many of the district’s residents.
Barrow said she would continue fighting for raises for teachers in the state, and said free prekindergarten and more after-school programs are both major priorities for her.
The first challenge facing the candidate who wins the Senate seat likely will be a special legislative session to address major shortfalls in the state’s budget. All three said further cuts — especially to higher education and health care — wouldn’t be feasible without seriously compromising services to state residents.
Where additional revenue might come from, though, remained up in the air. Both Barrow and Honoré said they’d consider hikes to the gasoline tax to fund much-needed infrastructure projects but stopped short of committing to backing the raise.
All three said they’d support accepting federal dollars to expand the Medicaid program in the state, something that outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal has fought against for years.
Williams said the state’s budget woes were another sign that incumbent politicians need to be voted out of office. Long term, Williams said, better job training and an increase in the minimum wage would help boost the economy and increase state tax revenue.
But Williams said she doesn’t have concrete suggestions about how to boost revenue. In the foreseeable future, she said she’d prioritize state programs and work to protect spending on education and services for the disabled, seniors and military veterans.
One thing Barrow said she would oppose was a tendency under the Jindal administration to levy fees on residents as a way to avoid raising taxes. If more revenue is needed, Barrow said, state government should be transparent about raising taxes to pay the bills.
“I’ll call things what they are,” Barrow said.
Unless one of the candidates gets more than 50 percent of the votes cast Saturday, a runoff will be held Nov. 21 between the top two vote-getters.