Republican candidates for open House seat participate in GOP forum _lowres

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- Republican candidates in the special election for the Louisiana House District 66 seat spoke at a forum Tuesday. From left to right are candidates Darrell Ourso, Rick Bond and Buddy Amoroso. The special election to fill the seat representing southeast East Baton Rouge Parish in the Louisiana Legislature is Feb. 21.

Speaking to a Republican audience, the three GOP candidates for a southeast Baton Rouge seat in the Louisiana House generally supported Common Core at a Tuesday forum.

The winner of the Feb. 21 special election will walk into one of the most divisive issues in years and be expected to vote on whether or not to scrap the controversial academic standards for English and math.

Buoyed by the vigorous opposition voiced by Gov. Bobby Jindal and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, some legislators vowed a massive effort to roll back the controversial program when the Legislature convenes in April. Others, backed by the business community, are just as vocal about the defense they will put up.

All three GOP candidates for House District 66, where registered Republicans nearly outnumber Democrats and other party voters combined, supported the concept of Common Core even as they criticized specific features of the program.

“I am for rigorous standards; I am not for national standards,” Buddy Amoroso said. “It kind of depends on how you define Common Core.”

Amoroso, a member of the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council, said he opposes federal and state mandates on curriculum and testing students.

“The short answer is, I support Common Core,” Rick Bond said to a smattering of applause by some in the audience and the stage-whispered exclamation by another audience member: “He just lost my vote.”

Bond, who is an investment adviser and lawyer, said he has problems with some of the curriculum, the testing and how the program was rolled out.

“Yes, I favor the standards; however, the implementation of the program has been challenging,” said Darrell Ourso, who served on the Metro Council from 1999 to 2008 and is now a financial adviser and is married to a sixth-grade public school teacher.

He had concerns that some older students were expected to take tests without receiving the same foundation.

A fourth candidate in the race, who was not invited to the GOP-only forum sponsored by the Republican Party of East Baton Rouge Parish, voiced similar opinions on the issue when interviewed separately later in the day.

“The concept of Common Core is fantastic but implementation has been terrible,” said Susan Nelson, who is running without party affiliation.

The four candidates are vying to replace Rep. Hunter Greene, who resigned after being elected to a seat on the Family Court for East Baton Rouge Parish.

Other than who to vote for, the GOP candidates differed on few issues.

They oppose cutting higher education budgets a further $300 million, want to rewrite the state constitution and agree that traffic is the most significant issue facing East Baton Rouge Parish residents.

Ourso thinks the state should return to closed primaries, in which only each political party’s candidates compete against each other, then face candidates from other parties in a general election. Amoroso and Bond say open primaries, where all candidates compete together regardless of party, work fine.

House District 66 stretches from Interstate 12 to Bayou Manchac, including Woodland Ridge, Old Jefferson, Santa Maria, Tiger Bend, the Country Club of Louisiana and many of the neighborhoods that would make up the city of St. George, if the residents there voted to incorporate.

The Secretary of State counts 14,969 registered Republicans among the district’s 30,744 voters, 80 percent of whom are white.

Norman Browning, the major advocate for creating a new city from the parish’s southeastern neighborhoods, attended the forum and asked where the candidates stood on the city of St. George issue.

All three Republicans said they backed allowing the residents to vote and agreed, in the words of Amoroso, that St. George, which would largely be in House District 66, would “have a very friendly ear” in the Legislature.

Nelson said she opposes allowing that section of the parish to incorporate as a new city.

Early voting in the special election runs Feb. 7-14, except Sunday and holidays, from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. A runoff election between the two highest vote-getters is scheduled for March 28, if none of candidates wins a majority in the Feb. 21 primary.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCNB. For more coverage of government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at politicsblog.