A two-term incumbent and a first-time political candidate vying for the House District 70 seat agree that state tax credit programs should be reviewed to help solve Louisiana’s constant budget struggles, but have differing views on other issues they say are important for the south Baton Rouge-based district.
Republican Franklin Foil, an attorney, was first elected to the seat in 2007. His opponent is Shamaka Schumake, a Democrat who works as a self-employed education consultant and is involved in Baton Rouge Organizing, a local activist group.
Election day is Oct. 24, with early voting starting Saturday.
Foil, 50, touts his experience as an advantage, saying he has overcome the Legislature’s learning curve and has the connections needed to get things done.
He has been a proponent of building a new Mississippi River bridge and of the Baton Rouge Urban Renewal and Mobility Plan, or BUMP. The plan would create an “inner loop” of tolled express lanes connecting Airline Highway to Interstates 10, 12 and 110. Both projects would require private investment but would help the area’s economy, he said.
“We need to do big projects at this point that make major changes,” Foil said. “That’s a huge quality-of-life issue. We’ve got to do something to divert the traffic off the interstate.”
But Schumake said Foil has been part of the political establishment allowing the budget crisis to linger, sticking too closely to the party line even though District 70 “is not just solidly Republican.” She calls her policies “more pragmatic than liberal” and views her outsider status as a plus.
Schumake, 28, recently started an online petition to phase out the Sons of Confederate Veterans speciality license plate in Louisiana. She said the flag issue is not why she is running for office, but pointed to the petition as an example of taking a stand on a divisive topic.
A review of campaign finance reports shows Foil entered the last stretch of the campaign with a huge fundraising advantage. He had $122,000 in the bank as of Sept. 14, while Schumake had raised $550 and noted just $38 available at the close of the reporting period, according to the most recent report.
The two candidates share education as a top priority. Both want to find more stable funding for Louisiana’s public colleges and universities, which came close to deep cuts last session and could face midyear budget cuts in January.
Foil authored one of several bills filed last session to give colleges and universities greater autonomy in setting fees. His proposed constitutional amendment made it through the House but stalled at the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs committee.
“They’re (colleges) in the best position to decide what the market will dictate, but we also have to continue to look for ways to find steady funding for higher education of the state because these are public universities and they should … be open to the public,” he said.
Foil said he supports reviewing Louisiana’s tax incentive programs, which have been criticized as being a large part of the state’s budget instability, to “determine which ones are effective and which ones are not,” but he does not support raising any taxes. Schumake also said corporate tax breaks “that don’t help the economy” should be scaled back.
“We can try to attract all these companies with tax credits, but how we could actually attract them is by growing our industry and economy, which comes out of our universities,” Schumake said. “Just as I pay taxes, so should these other companies.”
Schumake also wants to make changes to public K-12 education in Louisiana. She believes there isn’t sufficient public support for preschool and advocates implementing universal pre-K. “The benefits are numerous, according to research,” she said.
School funding should not be tied to standardized testing results, Schumake said, because it forces teachers to spend too much time teaching “standard answers” instead of critical thinking. She said the state should eliminate high-stakes tests and replace them all with one test to provide evaluation metrics.
Foil said he will work to expand educational opportunities for children with autism, many of whom struggle to get high school diplomas yet “function at a very high level.” He wants to make curriculum changes at public schools and look at starting special programs at charter schools to ease that process.