LIVINGSTON — Roads, education and economic development are dominating the campaign in Senate District 13 where Derek Babcock is challenging incumbent Dale Erdey in the Oct. 24 election.
The district covers much of Livingston Parish as well as portions of southern Tangipahoa Parish and Central.
Babcock, 42, and Erdey, 60, are both Republicans and owners of insurance agencies, though they differ on several issues important to the region.
Babcock said Erdey should have done more to help the Hooper Road Bridge over the Amite River become a reality. The bridge has been long desired by residents to relieve traffic jams between Livingston and East Baton Rouge parishes, he said.
As a member of the Transportation and Revenue and Fiscal Affairs committees, Erdey should have secured funding for the project, which could reroute 25,000 cars per day from three bridges to the south, Babcock said.
“That (bridge) is critical. … It’s been talked about for years,” Babcock said. “We’re going need someone who’s going get in there and fight.”
Erdey acknowledged the importance of the bridge, but added that it’s easy for a challenger to say the incumbent hasn’t done enough. Babcock has never held an elected position in state government and has never had to lobby for funding against other districts, Erdey said.
“(Babcock) doesn’t have a track record. All he has is the ability to make promises,” Erdey said.
He pointed to the widening of Interstate 12 during his tenure as evidence of his commitment to road improvement. That project helped lure Bass Pro, Juban Crossing and Epic Piping, he said.
But Erdey said there are other important projects that need to be done — widening La. 190, Greenwell Springs Road and the La. 447 overpass among them. If the area’s economic development continues, it will be in part because of efficient roads, he said.
“The reason I’m on the transportation committee is to press and to get these projects done,” Erdey said.
Babcock said the region needs less talk and more roadwork. He added that the district needs not just to widen and extend existing highways, but needs new routes altogether. It’s “insane” that the area hasn’t seen a new state road in decades, Babcock said.
On the topic of economic development, Babcock said he wanted to address tort reform to cut down on frivolous lawsuits. He also wants to pass legislation that will attract firearms manufacturers.
“This is the South. It’s ‘Sportsman’s Paradise,’ ” he said.
Babcock described his opponent as “not business friendly.”
Erdey said 3,500 new jobs have been created in District 13 since he became senator. Babcock is presenting himself as the candidate with fresh ideas, Erdey said.
“I thought Bass Pro was a fresh idea. I thought Juban Crossing was a fresh idea,” Erdey said, continuing the list with the I-12 widening and the new Northshore Technical and Community College campus.
The challenger and incumbent were also divided over education, specifically, the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS scholarships.
The cost of the program is rising faster than any other government expenditure, Erdey said. He wants to freeze the amount of assistance students can receive. The qualifying standards wouldn’t change under his plan, but, should tuition increase, students would have to pay the difference.
Babcock said many people rely on TOPS to afford school, and said he wanted the program to support “anybody that’s willing to go to school and sacrifice to get a better education.”
Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.