GONZALES — With three of their election opponents absent, Ascension Parish president candidates Clint Cointment and Ricky Diggs had the stage to themselves at a Thursday night election forum.
They both took the opportunity to make their case to be the parish’s top government executive for the next four years.
Two-term Parish Councilman Chris Loar, of Prairieville; Gonzales City Councilman Kenny Matassa; and Clarence Henry Jr., a retired businessman and construction worker from Donaldsonville, were no-shows for the Ascension Republican Parish Executive Committee forum, as were several candidates for Parish Council.
All candidates for Parish Council and parish president were invited.
Kathryn Goppelt, chairwoman of the committee, said Loar and Matassa, who are both Republicans, had committed to attend the forum in May but backed out about a week ago. She declined to give their reasons. She did not know why Henry, a Democrat, did not show but he said he had planned to attend.
All five parish president candidates are vying for an open seat Oct. 24 as four-term Parish President Tommy Martinez is not seeking another term.
During the forum, Cointment and Diggs were asked a variety of questions focusing on how to pay for infrastructure, deal with growth, manage parish government, as well their opinions on a few touchstone controversies of the past eight years.
As he has for nearly two years, Cointment continued to burnish his image as an outsider not beholden to special interests who will put an end to “good old boy” government and bring transparency to voters.
Diggs, a surprise candidate at qualifying earlier this month, got a chance to introduce himself to the 75 to 80 people at the forum and to Ascension voters who can see the event on TV in the coming weeks.
Diggs, a retired schoolteacher from Modeste who works in safety for Turner Industries, also claimed outsider status since this is his first run for office. Cointment, another first-time candidate, is a land surveyor from Gonzales.
Both men pledged not to raise taxes and said they support road impact fees — though Cointment said he wants a full discussion of the fees first — but they promised to find ways to finance solutions to growth-induced infrastructure problems.
Part of that, both men said, is cutting waste in government.
“I know during ... election time, you get a little work done every now and then, but the next three years there is nothing done. I say let’s do more with the money we have and not increase taxes,” said Diggs, a Democrat.
Cointment took aim at the $39 million surplus in the East Ascension drainage fund, which he said could be used to do more to reduce flooding, while he suggested not enough improvement is being shown for the $8 million spent on roads and $3 million spent on recreation each year. He claimed the parish is doing too many studies and not enough actual work.
“We have to get efficient with our money and start spending tax dollars on the ground without raising taxes,” said Cointment, a Republican.