The two candidates for the Baton Rouge-based 6th Congressional District accused each other on Tuesday night of lying in the only debate scheduled before Saturday’s election.
Former Gov. Edwin Edwards, the Democratic candidate, tried to hang the policies of the current unpopular governor, Bobby Jindal, around the neck of his opponent, Republican Garret Graves.
Graves, the former coastal adviser to Jindal, is running in his first race and gave as good as he got in what could be the final political debate in the career of 87-year-old Edwards, a four-term governor who is making a comeback after serving nearly nine years in federal prison.
Graves holds the lead in the overwhelmingly Republican 6th Congressional District — 65 percent of the voters in the Nov. 4 primary cast ballots for GOP candidates. He agreed to only one debate.
Graves has worked for former U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin, who once was a close ally of Edwards but Monday night sat in the audience wearing a Graves button. He also has worked for former U.S. Sen. John Breaux, a protégé of Edwards, and for a U.S. Senate committee.
Graves said the federal government is encumbered with too many costly programs, like giving free cellphones to the poor and expanding welfare.
Edwards said some semblance of government regulation is a necessary part of a complex society that wants to keep its children in schools rather than working and wants its workforce to be safe.
From the very beginning of the debate, Edwards, who began his political career in 1954, came out criticizing Jindal for traveling so much.
“Gov. Jindal doesn’t seem to want to stay here,” Edwards said.
He criticized Jindal’s refusal to accept federal money that would have extended Internet access into rural areas.
Graves answered the same question about net neutrality saying he would meet with the principals and hear their positions, but he leaned toward leaving the Internet unregulated.
Edwards said Graves wasted hundreds of millions of dollars building offshore berms that washed away, as predicted. The berms were designed to keep oil that spilled from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster from coming ashore.
Edwards said the enterprise, overseen by Graves, was a failure. That $160 million was all that it would have taken to build the protections for a flood-prone Livingston Parish, he said.
“I don’t think I would brag about spending all that money and have nothing to show for it.” Edwards said. “We had the opportunity and it just didn’t get done.”
Graves said he had done nothing illegal or immoral while in government, adding that his candidacy was backed by parish presidents and sheriffs. (The Louisiana Sheriffs Association’s political action committee endorsed Graves on Nov. 19.) He blamed politicians like Edwards for creating the frustration many voters have voiced.
“The Last Hayride has been written, we don’t need a revival,” Graves said, referring to a book about Edwards’ terms as governor.
After the debate, Graves said the berms were backed by all the experts at the time. Graves said that if he spent time refuting all the untruths told about him by Edwards, he would have used up all his time.
“He told a bald-face lie,” Edwards said, when Graves contended that all the parish presidents and sheriffs supported him. “I know of five sheriffs who do not.”
Edwards got the biggest laugh of the evening at the debate, sponsored by the Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce, which began during rush hour at 6 p.m. He noted that the suburban Baton Rouge parish had good schools and a stable government. “You have everything except an easy way to get here,” Edward said.
The south Baton Rouge-based 6th district includes suburban parishes like Livingston and Ascension, southeast to some of the suburbs in New Orleans and further south to parts of Terrebonne Parish. It is 72 percent white and has been judged by congressional handicappers as one of the safest for Republicans.
Half of the households in the 13 parishes of the 6th District earn less than $50,000 a year, and 14.8 percent — roughly 105,000 people — have no health insurance at all, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
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