Voters had few opportunities to meet and ask questions of legislative candidate this election season.
“Seems we’re not as enthused as we ought to be,” moderator Adell Brown on Wednesday night told a crowd of about 125 attending Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. candidate forum on the Southern University campus. He also asked questions Tuesday night at a Baton Rouge Community College candidate forum attended by about 50 people.
Where there were several forums a week during the campaign for Louisiana House and state Senate seats four years ago, this campaign “had very few,” said state Rep. Pat Smith, the Democrat who represents House District 67. She recalled three, maybe four total, for candidates in competitive legislative races in urban Baton Rouge. Other candidates came up with similar counts.
“There were more open races in ’07,” Smith said.
The election is set for Saturday. A runoff, if necessary, is scheduled for Nov. 19.
Many of the elections for Louisiana House and state Senate seats were determined in September, when incumbents did not draw challengers. Senate District 14, House Districts 29, 61, 63, 67 and 101 are Baton Rouge seats that have two or more competitors.
State Rep. Michael Jackson, who is challenging incumbent state Sen. Yvonne Dorsey, for the Senate District 14 seat, said the lack of a competitive race for governor along with bad economic times has sapped interest in the election. “People are more concerned about making ends meet,” he said.
Both Jackson and Smith say the campaigning has become more personal.
Smith said she had focused her campaign efforts at knocking on doors and phoning constituents throughout the district, as has her opponent, Lorri Burgess.
Dorsey said she did not mourn the lack of forums because it gave her more opportunity to meet with constituents one on one. “What a legislator does goes far beyond what you do in State Capitol. It’s what you do in the street for the people.”
The candidates answered similar questions at both the Delta Sigma Theta event on Wednesday and the Tuesday forum, which was sponsored by the Louis A. Martinet Society, The Drum Newspaper and the League of Women’s Voters of Baton Rouge.
A big issue for the candidates whose districts are in and around Southern University is how that higher education system is governed: Whether it has its own board or is included in a single board that some legislators are pushing to oversee most colleges and universities.
Dorsey and Jackson oppose a single board as does Chris Toombs, the Republican candidate for the Southern seat.
Toombs, who did not attend the forum Wednesday, said Tuesday night that he thinks improving Baton Rouge’s roads system would help spur economic development.
The three candidates for House District 61 voiced opposition to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposal to privatize the Office of Group Benefits. The agency handles health insurance benefits for about a quarter of a million state workers, retirees and their families.
“It would put families at risk at risk,” said Donna Collins Lewis, who is East Baton Rouge Metro Councilwoman for District 6.
Alfred Williams said Jindal is proposing privatization because it helps his supporters. “This is only the beginning,” said Williams, a former assistant chief administrative officer for Mayor Kip Holden. Jindal’s aides have said the governor is exploring the privatization idea because it might save state government money.
“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” said C. Denise Marcelle, who is East Baton Rouge Metro Councilwoman for District 7.