Discussions at most 6th Congressional District forums are about immigration and ISIS, gay marriage and the Affordable Care Act.
But rarely are the candidates discussing jobs and the economy. On economic issues, all the remaining seven Republicans, three Democrats and one Libertarian pretty much agree on giving the energy industry lots of latitude and on allowing businesses to operate unencumbered. The Republicans want to do away with regulation and oppose an increase in the minimum wage while the Democrats support the minimum wage and see some regulation as necessary.
Eleven candidates are jockeying to replace Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy in the south Baton Rouge-based congressional district that runs south into the suburbs of New Orleans and into Houma.
The election is Tuesday, with a Dec. 6 runoff should no candidate receive a majority of the votes.
Libertarian candidate Rufus Holt Craig Jr. says he’s occasionally frustrated about the partisan rhetoric at the various forums and how it diverts attention from economic issues.
Unlike many of the GOP candidates, who argue for little government intervention, Craig says the current tax system, its credits and incentives benefit the wealthy.
“But wealth doesn’t create jobs; capital creates jobs,” Craig said. “We should use our fiscal policy to stimulate the economy and create jobs.”
Craig says that would be possible by doing away with income taxes and having a small tax on wealth that could be credited if the money was invested in business startups.
Republican state Rep. Lenar Whitney, of Houma, refused an interview but released a statement: “Only a truly free market can create jobs. We need less government intrusion into the marketplace and not just from Democrats. Republicans are just as guilty.”
Republican Craig McColloch, of Ethel, says he feels like he’s treading water faster and faster but barely keeping his chin above water. His physical therapy business is bringing in more patients these days but making less money than it was 10 years ago. He attributes all the increased hours to the paperwork that has been piled on over time.
“Don’t get me wrong; the government needs to help, but it’s all the regulations, more and more rules. Get the government out of the way,” McColloch said.
Former Gov. Edwin Edwards, a Democrat who is for as much unrestricted activity as possible, makes the point, however, that without government regulation, 6-year-olds could still be working 12-hour days.
“We have too much regulation and oversight? That’s why we lost billions of dollars in bank failures? Or the disaster in the Gulf?” Edwards asked. “Frankly, government has a role to play, and unfortunately, if the government does not regulate, there will be a great deal of abuse in the marketplace and we need to recognize that.”
“Anytime you make something more complicated, it’s going to cost more,” said Paul Dietzel, a 29-year-old Republican software magnate from Baton Rouge. “Pieces of legislation get in the way of progress, and it makes the financial sector more reticent about investing its money on the projects that create jobs.”
But government does play a role. He pointed out that the nation is going through one of the highest unemployment rates in history. That points to the need for higher education to focus its efforts on training students for jobs that are available and that industry forecasts will become available.
Bob Bell, a former Navy Reserve officer and lawyer for Lloyds of London argues for eliminating income taxes and doing away with the Internal Revenue Service. America needs more taxpayers, not higher taxes. He says that is the best way to address systemic poverty in Louisiana.
“When poor people have jobs resulting from economic growth and lower taxes, they can buy a car and not worry about ‘how long before the next bus comes; how close to my destination will the bus go; and will it rain on me or be too cold or too hot for me while I wait?’ ” Bell said.
Relieving the traffic bottlenecks, particularly in Baton Rouge, is one of the jobs government should take on, the candidates all agree.
Republican Garret Graves, of Baton Rouge, says officials over the past three or four decades have not properly prioritized transportation resources and needs.
“Projects like the Audubon Bridge (at New Roads) may be great from an economic development perspective but in terms of level of service, suffice it to say that there are greater needs — from a traffic volume — greater needs elsewhere,” Graves said.
Graves says the gas tax that goes into the federal highway trust fund hasn’t been adjusted in 20 years, even while gas mileage is improving and the cost of roadway materials is increasing. Congress should work to adjust the fees, he said.
Charles “Trey” Thomas is an educator with a doctorate. He argues that education is another acceptable role for government.
“Too often we try to deal with the short-term economic issues but think from a long-term perspective,” Thomas said.
Government needs to encourage parents to incorporate faith-based values in education to better prepare students for life and not just rely on grading the ability to demonstrate academic knowledge.
State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, said his economic views are formed by watching his grandfather who grew up poor working on a farm in Rayne but came to LSU, worked hard and moved his family ahead. His father went to the U.S. Naval Academy, then went into business and became fairly successful.
“Education is the key to lift people from poverty,” Claitor said.
He also backs flatter and fairer taxes.
“It encourages people to go out and take the leap of faith for entrepreneurship on their own. It’s less cumbersome.”
Richard Lieberman is a former Republican turned Democrat from LaPlace. The owner of a real estate company, he says the minimum wage should he raised in a staggered fashion, with a caveat to soften the blows on small businesses.
The reason why, says Peter Williams, is that it would increase production because workers would feel more appreciated. “I hear the argument that when you increase wages, you lose jobs. But we’re still working on wages from the ’70s and ’80s in this state. Workers know that.”
The Republicans all disagree.