As he did four years ago, Kyle Green is challenging incumbent state Rep. Robert Billiot to represent District 83 in the state House, and the debate leading up to the Oct. 24 election once again focuses on very different interpretations of the two-term legislator’s record.
District 83 is 57 percent black and covers parts of Marrero and all of Westwego, Bridge City, Avondale and Waggaman.
Both candidates are Democrats. Green lives in Marrero, Billiot in Westwego.
Green, 28, says Billiot has spent the past eight years as a reliable supporter of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s priorities and served in the House while the state went from a surplus to a $1.6 billion hole in the budget.
“His votes with Bobby Jindal do not fall in line with the needs of his district,” Green said, pointing in particular to the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. “He’s out of touch with the needs of his district, and he should know better.”
However, Billiot, 61, a retired educator, defends his record of bringing money to the district, including the construction of South Kenner Road and the expansion of the Huey P. Long Bridge, despite very difficult fiscal constraints.
He disputes the charge that he has been a rubber stamp for Jindal.
“I didn’t really support the governor’s agenda,” he said, describing the process of putting together a budget as a give-and-take affair where the final product may include many provisions an individual lawmaker may not like but that he will vote for because it also includes money for projects in his district.
“I know some of the things people are saying, but that’s not how a budget works,” he said.
Billiot said the state’s decision against expanding Medicaid was administrative and not up to legislators, though he points to his support this year of Rep. John Bel Edwards’ failed bid to expand the program, which provides medical coverage for the poor.
Green, however, characterizes that vote as a fig leaf that contradicts Billiot’s earlier votes when the issue mattered.
He says Billiot didn’t stand up to the governor in other areas, as well, such as on taxes and criminal justice reform, where he says Jindal’s policies are at odds with the needs of the district’s constituents.
Green said that if elected, his first priority would be to introduce a bill to call for the expansion of Medicaid. He said he would push to lift the constraints that mean budget cuts strike primarily at higher education and health care and would look at reining in tax breaks for businesses. He said he also wants to expand access to early childhood education, fund the state’s public colleges and universities, and invest in workforce training.
Billiot, however, sounds many of the same priorities, saying he supports a re-examination of tax breaks to make sure the state isn’t giving away more money than it’s taking in. He said he will work to make sure higher education and hospitals are fully funded and will continue to fight for better flood protection for the district.
Green, who is the son of former Rep. Kyle Green, is fresh out of law school. Billiot is a former mayor of Westwego and sat on the city’s Board of Aldermen before it had a City Council.
According to the latest campaign finance reports, which cover the period up to Sept. 14, Green had spent about $7,000 of the $9,885 he’d raised. Billiot had spent about $18,000 and had $53,284 remaining.
Four years ago, Billiot won with 57 percent of the 1,069 votes cast. Turnout during an uninspiring governor’s election was just 26.5 percent, and Green said he’s hoping higher turnout will help his chances this time.
Green said his questions for voters are: “Do you want to continue down this road? Are you better off now than you were eight years ago, and do you want the next four years to look like the last eight?”
Billiot, however, said the district’s representation under the next governor is too crucial to hand the reins over to someone without his experience.
“The bottom line now is we’re going to need to send people to Baton Rouge who have knowledge and expertise about the state as a whole and the top priorities for our district,” he said.
Early voting begins Saturday.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.