Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and challenger Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser differed on the role of the lieutenant governor at a Baton Rouge Tea Party political forum Thursday night.
Nungesser told the crowd of about 75 that if the job was only tourism, then he’d be in favor of doing away with the office. But he said he would expand his role to include tasks such as economic development and coastal restoration.
Dardenne said the job should remain an elected position to ensure accountability and responsiveness in a government agency that has a budget of about $100 million.
Dardenne said his legal job is tourism, which is a big driver of the state’s economy. He said tourism initially attracts people to the state who stay to invest, establish businesses and retire.
Nungesser said that until the state fixes its tax structure, few people will choose to retire here.
Dardenne said the Legislature should look “responsibly” at the state’s tax structure, including the much discussed elimination of the personal income tax,
Dardenne and Nungesser, both Republicans, face each other in an Oct. 22 election that will determine who will serve the next four years as the first in line of succession to the governor. Early voting begins Saturday and lasts until Oct. 15.
The lieutenant governor has primarily responsibility for state culture, recreation and tourism efforts. State parks, major museums and the state library are under his oversight. The job pays $115,000 annually.
The race had become bitter, with each candidate calling the other a liar.
For a while at the Tea Party forum, the two focused on issues with little of the rancor that has been part of the campaign so far.
Dardenne said he was glad the two candidates had an opportunity to discuss the issues surrounding the office.
“I hope you’re going to look at vision,” Dardenne said.
He said he was one of the legislative sponsors to the measures that created tax credits for the movie-making industry. He said that because of the tax credits, the industry has grown into a major business and job producer in the state.
“We have got to create jobs across this state and a lieutenant governor who is going to get involved on every front,” Nungesser said.
Dardenne addressed allegations brought up in Nungesser’s advertising. He said he did not vote for a pay raise for himself, as he was accused of in his opponent’s advertising. Nor, Dardenne said, was he part of any health-care plan that he voted for as a legislator.
Nungesser said that was because the governor vetoed the legislation.
Dardenne responded, “I was not part of the system, Billy. I wasn’t in the plan.”
Nungesser said only two of his commercials detail Dardenne’s record. “If they’re not factual, take them down,” Nungesser said.
“You are the master of cut and paste,” Dardenne said. “Everything said about me is outright falsehood.”
Dardenne said Nungesser’s name is on a contract to produce a 22-minute video that cost Plaquemines Parish taxpayers $175,000.
“That’s a lie,” Nungesser said. “It’s the sheriff’s video.”
Earlier Thursday, Dardenne released a copy of the disputed contract. Both Nungesser and Plaquemines Parish Sheriff Jeff Hingle’s signatures appear on the agreement for creation of a “documentary film and awareness campaign video for preservation of wetlands and to promote coastal restoration projects within Plaquemines Parish.”
The parish agreed to contribute $124,835 toward the video’s cost in the document which is dated July 30, 2010.
Nungesser said he did not favor the video contract, which the parish commission approved at the behest of Hingle. Nungesser said he signed the document as an administrator.
Nungesser said he was irked at Hingle “involving himself in coastal restoration and wasting money.”