DENHAM SPRINGS — Zooming from immigration to health care to the conflict in Ukraine, the packed field for Louisiana’s 6th Congressional District took on nearly a dozen topics in the first half-hour of a candidates’ forum Wednesday.
Each candidate was given two minutes to answer a randomly assigned question from the Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce board, but with 11 of the 13 hopefuls in attendance, there was not time for rebuttal, moderator Brian Abels explained.
Despite the disparate topics, most of the candidates found common ground in criticizing what they described as a meddlesome federal government.
Local control is key to improving schools, Baton Rouge Republican Garret Graves said during a discussion of Common Core.
“It’s entirely inappropriate,” he said. “We need local control for schools.”
When asked his energy policy, Republican Dan Claitor, of Baton Rouge, told attendees he doesn’t want the federal government “regulating us to death” by telling them where to drill for oil.
“Fracking is what’s giving us energy independence,” he said.
Republican business owner Paul Dietzel II also stressed local control of schools and said the government “overreaches” and “overburdens businesses.”
Dietzel, who lives in Baton Rouge, reminded chamber members that he grew up in Livingston Parish.
“We need to get the government off our back,” said Democrat and former Gov. Edwin Edwards, who touted his decades of living in the district except for the time “when I was away,” a nod to the nearly nine years he served in federal prison in a riverboat casino license scheme.
“If you liked the way I was governor, vote for me,” said Edwards, who now lives near Gonzales. “If not, vote for one of these other nice people.”
The other Democrat in attendance, Peter Williams, of Lettsworth, was asked for his opinion of, and gave his support to, the Dodd-Frank act of 2010, which tightened regulations over the financial services industry.
Williams also dismissed politicians who run on a promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which came under fire from several of his opponents.
“They’re blowing smoke,” he said.
Candidates also addressed international issues, specifically the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, which Baton Rouge Republican Cassie Felder identified as the biggest threat to national security.
“We’re on the verge of World War III,” she said. “We are showing weakness, and our enemies are taking advantage of that.”
“It’s actually terrifying. It looks like Putin’s taken Hitler’s playbook,” remarked Republican Robert Bell, a retired U.S. Navy Reserve officer who lives in Baton Rouge.
Republican Craig McCulloch, of Ethel, fielded the board’s question on expediting citizenship for immigrants who entered the country illegally.
“We can’t reward people for coming across as criminals,” McCulloch said, adding they should be placed at the “back of the line” for citizenship.
Baton Rouge Libertarian Rufus Holt Craig Jr., when asked whether he supports raising the minimum wage, said “everyone that works should be able to support their family,” but added: “The marketplace is the correct place to set wages.”
Republican former deputy sheriff Norman Clark, of Denham Springs, said businesses are attracted to low-crime areas and vowed to support law enforcement if elected.
Republican educator Trey Thomas, of Baton Rouge, emphasized his own professional background, saying he has taught in Louisiana and in other states.
“I know from the ground level what makes schools work,” he said.
Democrat Richard Lieberman, of LaPlace, and Republican Lenar Whitney, of Houma, did not attend Wednesday’s forum.
Election Day is Nov. 4, with a Dec. 6 runoff, if necessary.
Louisiana’s 6th District is currently represented by Baton Rouge Republican Bill Cassidy, who is running for U.S. Senate.