St. Tammany Parish political races often boil down to a choice between different flavors of Republicanism, and the race to succeed term-limited state Rep. Tim Burns in House District 89 is no different: Both candidates, Reid Falconer and Pat Phillips, are members of the GOP.
The election is Oct. 24.
Neither candidate is a political neophyte. Falconer is a sitting parish councilman, and Phillips serves on the parish’s Republican Executive Committee.
Phillips also ran against Burns in the 2011 race to represent the Mandeville-dominated district, which is roughly bordered by La. 59 on the east, Interstate 12 on the north, the Tchefuncte River on the west and Lake Pontchartrain on the south.
But his ties to organized politics haven’t stopped Phillips, 61, a corporate pilot and retired Marine, from portraying himself as the anti-establishment candidate.
“I am not a lawyer, a doctor, contractor or developer. I have no special-interest groups funding me and no agenda for myself,” he said.
By contrast, Falconer, 58, is an architect and builder who is playing up his eight years on the Parish Council, highlighting his familiarity with neighborhood groups and his experience working in a legislative environment.
As might be expected, given the parish’s largely homogeneous political environment, the two find plenty of common ground. Both, for instance, say the state has to put all options in play when it comes to balancing the budget.
Falconer said the state should consider a constitutional convention to reconsider the dedication of funds to certain areas. “I think those statutory entitlements are hamstringing legislators,” he said.
The state is in crisis, Falconer said, and lawmakers should be free to allocate state funding to where it is most needed and make cuts across the board, rather than only in specific areas that lack dedicated funds, such as higher education. He also said the state should reconsider many of its corporate tax-incentive programs and do a better job of determining whether they are truly benefiting the state.
Phillips does not advocate a constitutional convention, but he agrees that all areas of the budget need to be discussed.
“We need to put it all on the table,” he said, adding that he thinks legislators could hash out many of the differences through hard work before each legislative session.
Phillips offers a flat rejection of Common Core, the set of educational standards that has roiled St. Tammany Parish education politics for more than a year. Falconer is more circumspect, saying much of the controversy around Common Core can be traced to the rushed way in which the standards were foisted upon the schools.
The other major issue that has generated considerable heat on the north shore recently has been mostly absent from the District 89 campaign.
“What’s not been coming up in the discussion is the fracking issue,” Phillips said. Falconer agreed with that observation, even though the Parish Council is challenging the permits granted to Helis Oil & Gas Co. to drill a fracking well near Lakeshore High School.
Both candidates said that while they respect the role the oil and gas industry plays in Louisiana, local zoning laws and interests should be given primacy when drilling is proposed in a community.
Phillips acknowledges that he faces an uphill battle against Falconer when it comes to raising money. “I’m scrambling, as you can tell,” he said. “I am not as well-financed as the other side, but I think I am getting my message out.”
According to their most recent campaign finance reports, filed last week, Falconer had $37,112 in his campaign account, compared with Phillips’ $14,601.
Falconer said he expects a battle, however, and he plans to wage the campaign as though he’s behind.
“I am taking nothing for granted,” he said.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.