An East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council member from north Baton Rouge and a Brusly lawyer will face off Saturday in the runoff election for House District 29 in the Louisiana Legislature.
Attorney Edmond Jordan and Metro Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards are seeking the seat being vacated by Regina Barrow, whom voters elected to the state Senate Oct. 24.
Jordan first tried to win the seat in 2011, but Barrow defeated him. Jordan is facing some of the same dynamics in his race against Edwards as he did in 2011.
Edwards, like Barrow, lives on the east side of the Mississippi River in north Baton Rouge, where 69 percent of the registered voters in District 29 live; west side voters in the district live in the Brusly and Port Allen area.
Edwards represents most of the House district’s east side voters on the Metro Council.
Barrow said Monday she supports Edwards’ effort to replace her. The two are old friends who live blocks away from each other in the Glen Oaks area. Barrow said she’s helped Edwards on occasion during the campaign and is sending out a mailer before election day officially endorsing her.
Barrow and Edwards also worked as aides in the past for politician Sharon Weston Broome, and their political paths have mirrored Broome’s. Barrow replaced Broome as state representative in 2005 and on Oct. 24 replaced her yet again when she won outright a three-way race for the Senate District 15 seat, which Broome is vacating.
Edwards in 2008 won her seat on the Metro Council, a body Broome also served on from 1988 to 1992.
Now, Edwards is looking to follow both Broome and Barrow to the Legislature.
Edwards led in the Oct. 24 primary with 36 percent of the District 29 vote, followed by Jordan with 29 percent. Two other candidates from north Baton Rouge, Vereta Lee and Daniel Banguel, failed to make the runoff.
Edwards’ legislative bid is unusual in that she’s running despite fighting an aggressive battle against an advanced stage of pancreatic cancer that began about two years ago. She said she is in “partial remission” but has been largely absent from the campaign.
Initially silent on the issue, Jordan sent out a mailer recently questioning whether Edwards can represent District 29 after missing Metro Council meetings and skipping all of the debates in the race thus far.
He said he hesitated before bringing up the illness but said the next state representative will be called upon to spend long days at the Legislature right away to deal with a host of difficult issues.
“I know that her recent inability to serve is through no fault of her own,” Jordan said in the mailer. “However, our issues are too great and important to not have representation that is focused on our challenges.”
Edwards immediately cried foul, calling the move both desperate and offensive. She said Jordan had incorrectly characterized her health condition and her record of service.
Edwards, who attended a Metro Council meeting Nov. 10 after a five-month absence, said she thinks Jordan’s mailer backfired.
“I’ve gotten a lot of feedback, to the person, that they objected to that strategy,” Edwards said.
Jordan said the response he’s received has been mostly positive. The people who have objected to it, he said, had not actually read the mailer.
“After they read it, they didn’t seem to have an issue,” Jordan said.
Jordan is trying to woo voters on both sides of the river with an aggressive campaign. He has reported raising the most money, $41,300, and spending the most, $31,483, so far. That’s four times the fundraising and spending Edwards has reported. Forty-one percent of the money Jordan has raised are loans to himself.
The two candidates are both Democrats and say they want to promote economic development in north Baton Rouge. Both support accepting federal Medicaid expansion and say they will fight for an acute care facility in that part of town to fill the void created by the 2013 closure of the state-run Earl K. Long Medical Center that long served north Baton Rouge and by Baton Rouge General Medical Center, which closed its emergency room at its Mid City location earlier this year.
The two candidates say they will work to create some kind of Baton Rouge traffic loop to avoid the logjam that develops at the Mississippi River bridge.
Edwards said she likes the idea of turning Airline Highway into a limited-access highway and directing more traffic to the U.S. 190 bridge just south of Southern University.
Jordan said he’s OK with that but would prefer a south loop that crosses the Mississippi River in Iberville Parish.
The candidates emphasize different issues when it comes to education.
Jordan is an advocate of school choice. He serves as vice president of South Louisiana Charter Foundation Inc., a nonprofit board that has contracted with for-profit Charter Schools USA to run three charter schools in the Baton Rouge area. Jordan also favors the state’s voucher program, which pays to send children from C-, D- and F-rated public schools to private schools.
Jordan, however, said he favors closing underperforming charter schools. He also said he wants all students at private schools to take state tests, not just the voucher students.
“Otherwise, how do you make an apples-to-apples comparison that the whole school is better than the place you took your kid from initially?” he said.
Edwards continues to embrace the controversial Common Core educational standards that Louisiana and 40 other states have adopted. She said she sees the benefits of Common Core in her two grandchildren, who both attend public schools in Baton Rouge. She sees higher standards as a must in today’s world.
“You’re not competing against the student sitting next to you,” she said “You’re competing against students in China, India and Germany.”
Jordan said his executive experience is what separates him from Edwards and will allow him to make more headway in the Legislature.
“I’ve been able to build relations and work with a diverse group of people,” he said. “I think my experience as an attorney, as a business owner and sitting on a board of directors has given me the ability to execute the vision I put in place.”
Edwards faulted Jordan for his lack of political experience.
“This is his third attempt to be elected to office,” Edwards said, nothing that Jordan also lost a 2008 bid to become mayor of Brusly. “He’s had well over eight years to build a résumé, and he has not done that. I take real exception to people who say they want to serve the public and yet don’t.”
Jordan said that argument is faulty.
“There are several folks whose first elected office was state representative, and they have done well. I don’t see that as being an issue at all,” he said. “It worked well for Sen. Barrow.”