Maggie Mathews of Baton Rouge attended a candidate forum at the Baton Rouge General Mid City Thursday afternoon because she is concerned about crime.
“It could happen to me,” said Mathews, 83.
Retired school administrator James Henry wanted to hear that his retirement benefits would not shrink as the state grapples with financial problems. “Simplify your communication, especially with senior citizens,” the 72-year-old Baton Rouge resident said.
Nearly 300 senior citizens attended a forum for candidates in a number of Baton Rouge-based races for the Louisiana Legislature and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Nineteen candidates fielded questions posed by senior citizens about charter schools, crime, blighted housing, Southern University, the bus system and other issues important to residents of north Baton Rouge.
The East Baton Rouge Council on Aging hosted the two- hour-long forum. Senior citizens packed the hospital’s atrium for a sandwich lunch and an opportunity to hear candidates’ views.
Tasha Clark-Amar, the council’s executive director, said senior citizens prepared questions in advance for the candidates. “The oldest trees bear the sweetest fruits,” she said of the importance of senior citizens in the Oct. 22 elections.
Candidates made their pitches for why they are the best choice for the office they are seeking before fielding the questions.
Democrat Edmond Jordan, who is challenging state Rep. Regina Barrow’s re-election bid in House District 29, said education is the solution to creating a less crime-ridden Baton Rouge. Jordan, a lawyer, said education needs more funding.
Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, said children need afternoon activities to keep them busy. “Children don’t have anything to do,” she said.
In the House District 61 race, candidates grappled with a question about whether a single board should be created to oversee higher education. The consolidation would eliminate Southern University’s board of supervisors.
Democrat Alfred C. Williams drew laughter and applause when he said Southern University is the only option for his children.
“I’ll only write a check to Southern University,” Williams said. “Southern University will be forever.”
Democratic Metro Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle said she does not want to see Southern dismantled, although she thinks LSU needs to continue to be the state’s flagship university.
She said Southern has a different mission and cited the importance of educating nontraditional students.
Democratic Metro Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis said state officials need to make certain that the university is accountable to its students.
Candidates vying to succeed BESE member Linda Johnson in District 8 agreed that charter schools provide parents with a choice in educating their children.
Charters are public schools that are supposed to offer innovative education methods.
Democrat Carolyn Hill, a social worker, said parents deserve to have options.
Another Democrat, Baton Rouge public school system attorney Domoine Rutledge, said charter schools perform no better than traditional public schools.
He said he does want parents to have a choice, although he said some are pitting charter schools against regular public schools.
Former teacher Russell Armstrong, also a Democrat, agreed that parents need to have options. “We’re not doing an equal job of educating children,” he said.
In the House District 63 race, state Rep. Dalton Honoré is battling three opponents in his re-election bid.
Honoré, D-Baton Rouge, introduced himself by taking a shot at one of his opponents.
“Three of us are chronic voters,” he said. “One of us only voted five times in seven years.”
Afterward, Honoré said his remarks were aimed at Baker businessman Ronald Rodgers Jr., a Democrat.
Asked about his voting record after the forum, Rodgers at first declined to comment but then disputed the accuracy of the voting history provided by Honoré.
“I’m definitely a registered voter, and I do vote,” he said.