Senate Debate 100616

U.S. Senate candidates met Thursday night at LSU on coastal restoration policy. From left to right, John Fleming, R-Minden; Rob Maness, R-Madisonville; Caroline Fayard, D-New Orleans; Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette; and Foster Campbell, D-Bossier City.

Advocate Photo by TYLER BRIDGES

Only one of the five candidates at a U.S. Senate forum Thursday night supported Gov. John Bel Edwards’ effort to try to force oil and gas companies to pay to restore Louisiana’s coast.

That candidate was Foster Campbell, a Democrat from Bossier Parish who has Edwards’ backing in the 24-candidate field to replace U.S. Sen. David Vitter.

Campbell said previous leaders didn’t have “courage” because “they had their tap dancing shoes on.”

Campbell said that if oil and gas companies caused 30 percent of the coastal erosion – as some studies have reported – “they should pay for it.”

Campbell also stood out as the only candidate at Thursday night’s forum who said humans are responsible for climate change.

He noted that Pope Francis has taken that view.

Caroline Fayard, also a Democrat, noted that she is an attorney but said that she doesn’t think suing the oil and gas companies was the solution to restoring lost land.

Lawsuits are expensive and time-consuming, she said, and provide no guarantee of results.

Fayard also said that climate change is real but did not pin blame.

Rob Maness, a retired Air Force colonel and Republican from St. Tammany Parish, said he believes the state should sue the federal Army Corps of Engineers – not the oil and gas companies – because the levees built by the corps limited the flow of coast-building sediment.

“It will make a lot of connected lawyers very, very rich,” Maness said of Edwards’ decision to hire a team of outside attorneys to pursue cases against the oil and gas companies.

Edwards has said federal law prevents the state from suing the corps and that the companies should be made to pay for their share of the damage.

Maness also said climate change is nothing new and then took a shot at former Vice President Al Gore, who has been a leader in warning about climate change.

U.S. Rep. John Fleming, a Republican who represents north Louisiana, said he views the oil and gas industry as a “partner” in restoring the coast, adding that companies have donated money to restore oyster beds and assist Ducks Unlimited.

Like Maness, Fleming said climate change is nothing new and called the governor’s effort “legal casino.”

U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, a Republican who represents Acadiana, expressed concern that the lawsuits will “chase away” the oil and gas industry.

“We’re not going to litigate our coast back into existence,” he said.

Boustany didn’t take a clear position on what’s causing the planet to warm, calling only for decision-making based on “sound, peer-reviewed science.”

The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana sponsored Thursday night’s forum at the LSU Student Union. The group invited the five who appeared, along with state Treasurer John Kennedy, who was a no-show.

David Duke, a white supremacist who is the best known candidate in the race, was not invited because he did not score high enough in four recent polls, the group said.

Campbell complimented the four other candidates at the forum, saying, “These are all good folks here … We just think differently.”

He then said he was the only candidate who consistently opposed Bobby Jindal while he was governor and is the only candidate who has released his tax returns.

Maness said he, too, would release his tax returns, saying he wasn’t a “millionaire” like the others on the stage.

Fayard, Boustany and Fleming all have declined to follow suit.

Voters will choose among the Senate candidates on Nov. 8, the same day as the presidential election.

Of the five candidates at Thursday night’s forum, Campbell and Maness showed the most personality.

Campbell, a farmer and insurance agency owner who has held elected office for 40 years, sounded like a traditional north Louisiana populist, railing against “special interests” and “big corporations.”

Maness took a swipe at Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party presidential nominee, while saying he stood with Donald Trump, the Republican nominee. On three separate occasions, Maness called U.S. Rep. Garret Graves of Baton Rouge “my friend.” Graves briefly introduced the event.

Fayard several times made unnamed allusions to Campbell, saying at one point that at 38, she is younger than the number of years that some of the candidates have held office.

Follow Tyler Bridges on Twitter, @tegbridges.