State Sen. Dan Claitor believes his track record of pushing for transparency and doing his research should help him in the Oct. 24 election when challengers Scott McKnight and Brent Campanella each try to win the seat.
Claitor, a Republican from Baton Rouge who has represented District 16 for seven years, is being challenged by two political newcomers: McKnight, a Republican, and Campanella, other party.
McKnight has raised more money than Claitor, so far, but Claitor says it is no cause for concern.
“When you have to make a choice for who is going to fight for you, who is going to be able to navigate this incredibly difficult system, who has the experience and the life experience, I think it’s a pretty easy choice,” said Claitor, 54.
Two efforts that he said he is most proud of during his time in the Legislature are demanding greater government transparency and advocating for the developmentally disabled.
Claitor pushed legislation during the 2015 session to limit the Governor’s Office’s ability to shield records through the state’s public records law. The changes will go into effect once a new governor takes office.
In the past, he sponsored legislation that now forces LSU and other universities’ board members to disclose the names of students to whom they grant generous scholarships.
In addition, Claitor has sponsored legislation that provides a pathway to high school graduation for students with disabilities.
Claitor also defended some of his less-popular stances and votes. He said he took heat from the Baton Rouge Area Foundation earlier this year when he cut funding for a project to revitalize the LSU lakes.
Claitor pushed to cut the $40 million allocation by about two-thirds. The project ended up with only $3 million, but an extra $10 million may be available in the future.
“I’m not saying that’s a bad project, but I’m saying to the vast majority of the people I represent, that is low on their list of priorities,” Claitor said. “Throwing $40 million into a lake doesn’t stack up with the vast majority of my constituents’ priorities. They’d rather have a road to ride home on at the end of the day.”
Claitor said he’s pursuing one final term in office because “there’s more to be done.” He said he wants to continue pushing for transparency and to try to help LSU maintain its flagship status without pulling money out from under it.
He lost an election bid last fall when he ran for U.S. House of Representatives.
From January through Sept. 14, Claitor raised $98,950. None of the money disclosed in his campaign finance report is his own personal money.
Insurance businessman Scott McKnight is the youngest and the best-funded candidate in the race after raising $250,000 from January to Sept. 14. None of the money comes from his personal funds, according to his campaign finance report.
McKnight, 34, said he has always wanted to run for public office and seeing the current state of Louisiana made him want to jump into the political arena now. Born and raised in Baton Rouge, he works for BanCorp South Insurance Services Inc. and is a reserve deputy for the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office.
He said his biggest priority is the state’s budget, which he would take apart and review, should he be elected.
“I don’t think anything should be left on the table when reviewing it,” he said.
McKnight said the state needs to do a better job of prioritizing what’s important and cited infrastructure and education as two of his top concerns. However, he said it’s too early to say what the best way to fund infrastructure improvements might be without having all details.
Still, McKnight said he is more concerned about reining in spending before he turns his focus toward generating new revenue.
Being a Republican running against Claitor, the incumbent Republican, McKnight would not point to specific examples of where his views differ from Claitor’s.
“I can’t come out and say that I support everything that Dan has done for the time that he’s been there,” McKnight said, declining to be more specific. McKnight described himself as a “conservative guy,” but said he could not say if he’s more or less conservative than Claitor because Claitor is “kind of all over the place.”
Claitor said McKnight is too inexperienced for the seat.
“I’m not saying he’s a bad man by any stretch, but the Senate is not the country club,” Claitor said about McKnight. “You have to earn your stripes there. … He just doesn’t have the life experience yet, and I just don’t know him well enough to say when the going gets tough that he’d be able to take that stance that very few are willing to take.”
McKnight has been running television ads, distributing signs, knocking on doors and making phone calls to get his message out. He said he believes his lack of political background is an advantage in the campaign.
“A lot of people said we need new leadership; they’re tired of the same people going down there and not getting the results that they want,” McKnight said.
Brent Campanella is positioning himself as the outsider in the District 16 race in two ways: He is a physician and he is running as an “other party” candidate, as he calls himself an independent. He’s hoping that he will appeal to people who are fed up with government as it currently functions.
He said his decision to jump into the race was a spur-of-the-moment one made at the beginning of August.
“I’m very hopeful that everybody is ready to try to break the career politician mold,” said Campanella, 61. “I’m very hopeful that there are many other people who are like-minded and are fed up with the political party bickering and the promises that are unfulfilled and are ready to try to change.”
Campanella has a family practice in Baton Rouge. He said his first priority in the Legislature would be studying the budget to find out where the spending problems are.
Infrastructure is one of his biggest concerns, and he said he’s open to a variety of funding options for improvements to Interstate 10 such as creating toll roads and calling for bond issues.
He also said many voters he’s talked to have mentioned the failed movement to create the city of St. George as an issue of importance to them. Campanella said he supports the right of people to vote on whether to create a new city by carving out a part of Baton Rouge.
Campanella has funded his own campaign so far, with a check to himself for $2,000, according to his campaign finance report. He said the public can soon expect mailers and radio and television spots from his campaign, along with him knocking on doors.