U.S. Sen. David Vitter gave some Southern University students an overview Wednesday of his bid to become Louisiana’s next governor and didn’t shy away from slamming Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Dinging Jindal’s apparent presidential aspirations, Vitter told the crowd that Louisiana faces several challenges, but they can be fixed with the right leader.
“That’s the reason I’m running — not to kick the can down the road, not to play politics with the big issues,” he said. “I will be completely focused on what’s best for Louisiana.”
A few dozen people gathered in the atrium of the historically black college’s Higgins Hall — home to the Nelson Mandela School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs — to hear the conservative senator give a mostly standard stump speech touching on the state budget crisis, Louisiana’s future and workforce development. Several in the audience were students who were getting class credit; others included faculty and alumni.
“Voters don’t trust government, and as a voter I get that,” said Vitter, who has served in the U.S. Senate since 2005 and spent several years in the U.S. House and state House before that. “We’re going to stabilize the budget. We’re going to support higher ed.”
William Arp, dean of the event-hosting College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, said Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, also a Republican running for governor, is slated to speak to the same crowd April 15. State Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, spoke to the same group in late 2013 near the start of his gubernatorial campaign kick-off. Republican Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle also is running for governor.
Albert Samuels, a political science professor who introduced Vitter at Wednesday’s event, said that his appearance was part of a series meant to expose students to different viewpoints.
“This is part of our ongoing effort to create awareness,” Samuels said.
The college recently hosted President Barack Obama’s controversial former spiritual adviser the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, an event that drew a substantially larger crowd than Vitter’s 30-minute appearance. The events are being paid for by private dollars.
Attendees of the Vitter speech raised some questions about funding for higher education and Southern University’s future.
Preston Castille, the national president of Southern University’s Alumni Federation, noted that Jindal, too, is a Republican and Rhodes Scholar who spoke of the importance of higher education when he ran for office.
“Clearly, that didn’t turn out as well as we hoped it would,” Castille said.
Vitter fired back, drawing his loudest laugh from the crowd: “I know all of us Republicans look alike” before detailing what he sees as the differences between himself and Jindal, a once-popular leader whose popularity now lags in most Louisiana polls.
“With real leadership — real solutions — we can have real opportunities,” Vitter said.
During the most confrontational portion of the event, a student asked Vitter about his opposition to the confirmation of President Barack Obama’s Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch.
Vitter, a frequent Obama critic, said he had a “very significant discussion” with Lynch about Obama’s executive action on immigration.
“I’m voting against that confirmation because she supports the president’s executive amnesty, which I think is illegal,” Vitter said.