Roads, growth and government transparency remain front-burner issues for two political newcomers battling to win election Nov. 21 to a Prairieville-area seat on the Ascension Parish Council.
Lawyer Aaron Lawler and businessman Mac “Rooster Lips” Edmonston survived a closely fought five-person, all-Republican primary Oct. 24 for Council District 7. The seat is being vacated by two-term Parish Councilman Chris Loar, who ran for parish president but lost in the primary.
The runoff for the only council seat contested on the Ascension Parish ballot Nov. 21 pits two candidates who tout conservative leanings, say they are interested in road impact fees and in slowing the rate of growth so roads and other infrastructure can catch up, but most of all they promise to fight for their district.
“You got to fight for it, fight for things that you see that needs to be done and you fight for the things that you want to see done in your district. If you don’t stand up and fight for it, there’s nobody else doing it,” Edmonston said.
“I’ve lived in District 7 for 12 years,” Lawler said, “and I’ve watched the parish and this district just grow around me, and we haven’t done enough to slow it down to allow our roads and our sewer and our drainage to catch up.”
He called the unplanned growth “unfair” and “very disheartening.”
“And we’ve had some opportunities (to slow it down), but we’ve got to take the bull by the horns and actually do it,” he said.
District 7, which is east of Airline Highway and straddles much of La. 42 between Airline and La. 44, has been one of the fastest growing parts of Ascension Parish over the past 15 years.
District 7 is the council district with the second highest number of registered voters and the second greatest percentage of registered Republicans at 45 percent for any of the 11 seats on the Parish Council, according to voter registration data.
Lawler was the top vote-getter with 32 percent in the Oct. 24 primary, but three percentage points separated three of the next four candidates, Edmonston, Ken Firmin and former District 7 Councilman Doug Hillensbeck. Edmonston, who came in second with 20 percent, beat third-place Firmin by eight votes.
None of the three losing primary candidates has issued endorsements, and Lawler and Edmonston said they are not planning to do more fundraising.
A television commercial for Edmonston is expected to air on Eatel and Cox while Lawler said he has been knocking on doors in the district for the third time this election cycle.
Edmonston, who has been endorsed by the Ascension Republican Party Executive Committee, of which he is a member, is promising change and has taken a tough anti-tax position. He said he wants to give voice to people who aren’t heard in parish government.
He also favors a housing moratorium, though he said it would be hard to implement with dozens of subdivisions already approved.
Lawler is promising transparency and other good government measures such as a parish website that would provide a clearer picture of where and how tax dollars are spent as East Baton Rouge Parish government has tried to do.
Lawler has been outspoken about a temporary moratorium on new housing subdivisions, but said he would like to see a major commercial center built in Ascension to boost sales tax revenue.
Lawler, who was involved in the push for a failed parishwide recreation tax last year, is one of the few candidates in a parish race this election cycle not to rule out new taxes completely.
He has proposed a special recreation taxing district in the Prairieville area for a new park. Lawler also proposed turning land next to Oak Grove Park into a dog park for small canines only. The land has been purchased on behalf of parish government under the La. 42 expansion.
Edmonston, who did not feature recreation as a major point of emphasis early in his campaign, said recreation has become a major issue as he has spoken with voters.
He said he opposes a new tax but would turn over operation of parish parks, possibly through a lease, to a nonprofit organization, which would then rely on industry, businesses and individual donations for funding.
Many parish recreational leagues are operated by local, nonprofit sports groups and volunteers, but the nonprofit Edmonston envisions would oversee the broader parish recreational effort and its facilities.
He pointed to the recent agreement between the parish and the nonprofit Companion Animal Rescue of Ascension to run the Ascension animal shelter as a model.
Though the time for a legal challenge has passed, Lawler has questioned Edmonston’s residency, noting he moved into District 7 from elsewhere in Prairieville shortly before the deadline to qualify.
“Why would somebody want to hold a Parish Council seat so badly they would be willing to move out of a very nice house and move into business property? It just doesn’t make any sense to me,” Lawler said.
Edmonston, a lifelong resident of Ascension Parish, said he and his wife have moved to his business, Rooster Lips Company on Conthia Street, and is living in an apartment there. He said his move was soon enough to meet state candidacy rules.
Edmonston said he and his wife are planning to build a new house on family property and have been trying to sell their home for several years.
“But I live in District 7. It’s as simple as that. They just need to get over it and move on with life,” he said.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.