A councilwoman, a School Board member, a motivational speaker and the 2011 runner-up for state representative are hoping voters will vault them into the open seat for the north Baton Rouge-dominated House District 29.
The foursome are seeking to replace state Rep. Regina Barrow, who is finishing her third term in office and is term-limited. The election is Oct. 24, with a Nov. 21 runoff if necessary.
The heart of House District 29 is in north Baton Rouge, but it also heads across the Mississippi River to include Port Allen and Brusly.
Barrow’s lone opponent in 2011, Brusly lawyer Edmond Jordan, is back. He started this year’s race with by far the most campaign money in the bank, $14,745. Jordan earned 36 percent of the vote in 2011, the bulk of it from voters on the west side of the river. This time, once again, he is the only candidate from that part of the district, but he said he’s campaigning hard to make inroads with Baton Rouge voters and is increasing his use of social media to get his message out.
“This time, I’m being more strategic about it,” Jordan said.
Two of his three opponents already hold elective office: Metro Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards and Vereta Lee, who sits on the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board. Edwards is in her second term and Lee is in her third term. They both live in the Glen Oaks area and their current elective districts cover that area and much of the surrounding areas of north Baton Rouge.
Edwards works for the nonprofit community development group Urban Restoration Enhancement Corporation, including spending 17 years as its executive director. Lee is a career educator who spent 22 years in the classroom and another 13 and as an administrator in three different school systems.
Both say they have toyed for years with the idea of running for the Legislature.
“In my mind, it’s a natural progression,” Edwards said.
Lee says her desire to run grows out of her frustration with education funding to public school districts.
“The state is taking the money off the top and not giving them enough to run their districts,” she said. “I don’t think they are being treated fairly.”
The fourth candidate, Daniel Banguel, was a self-admitted bully growing up who has turned into a motivational speaker focusing on the dangers of bullying. He also works as a manager of Pop-A-Lock franchises in Baton Rouge.
In his first elective race in fall 2014, Banguel unsuccessfully challenged Lee, garnering about 34 percent of the vote against the incumbent. He said he’s focusing this time on direct voter outreach, saying he’s knocked on more than 1,000 doors already.
“I want to make change in our community,” Banguel said. “I feel like these last few years, the community has looked the exact same way. We need to give them a better option.”
The race is unusual in that Edwards is running while still in the midst of an aggressive battle against an advanced stage of pancreatic cancer that has lasted almost two years already. She hasn’t been able to attend Metro Council meetings since June.
Edwards spent this summer hospitalized for several weeks at Baton Rouge General Medical Center. She said she had adverse reactions to aggressive chemotherapy she received in Atlanta earlier this year.
Edwards has recently been released from the hospital and she is at home recovering. She describes herself as in “partial remission.” She’s also started a late campaign push, with supporters canvassing neighborhoods, paying for automated phone calls and sending mailouts to constituents.
“It’s definitely nontraditional,” she said, referring to the late start.
In interviews, the four candidates say they are focusing on the same areas: criminal justice, economic development, education, health care, housing and transportation.
The four Democrats agree on far more than they disagree on. For instance, all are in favor of Louisiana belatedly accepting federal money to expand Medicaid, something many Republicans oppose. They all question sending nonviolent offenders to jail. They all say that even though they are Democrats, they have a history of reaching across the aisle and getting things done.
The candidates, though, emphasize different things. Banguel, unlike the other three, pushes for more jail time for violent offenders. Jordan said he wants to expand the use of body cameras by police. Lee supports building a loop to alleviate traffic congestion on Interstate 10.
Perhaps not a surprise given her recent health problems, Edwards focuses on health care.
“I can’t imagine anyone going through an experience like the one I’ve been through without good health care,” she said.
She wants more focus on providing patients with medical report cards that reveal potential problems; she thinks early warning might have helped her head off her cancer.
All four candidates say they will work hard to attract an acute care facility to north Baton Rouge. Residents who need to go to the emergency room now are directed to hospitals in south Baton Rouge. The state in 2013 closed Earl K. Long, the so-called charity hospital that long served north Baton Rouge, and earlier this year Baton Rouge General Medical Center closed the emergency room at its Mid City location.
Jordan said the status quo is “unacceptable” and suggested revisiting the state’s contract with Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, which took over providing services for uninsured patients when Earl K. Long closed.
Edwards said creating a groundswell is her plan to get the state moving on the issue.
“That’s going to have to be advocated for from the grassroots up,” she said.
While all candidates talk about the need to combat blight and create more affordable housing, Banguel focused on homelessness, noting that he at one point grew up in a crowded house with eight different families.
He said money is being misspent now and should help the homeless find work, and said many of them have talents that are being overlooked.
“We need to examine the skill sets of the people who are homeless,” Banguel said. “I want to be able to create a means to where they can benefit society.”
Jordan highlighted his business background.
“I’m on the board of a $270 million-plus financial institution,” he said, referring to Essential Federal Credit Union. “There is a certain skill set in dealing with these issues.”
If elected, Lee vowed to find ways to help direct more money to schools in her area, which she said have made strides but are still in need of more financial support.
“I’ve dedicated my life to serving children. I’ve been in this over 36 years,” Lee said. “The people, they know I’m going to a be a speaker for the people.”