Louisiana Senate District 26 voters will choose between two candidates in a partial rematch of a 2018 special election.
Former Rep. Bob Hensgens, R-Gueydan, won election without a run-off in that three-person race last year, topping Jean Menard and Jerry Gaspard, who ran third. That enabled Hensgens to serve the remaining year of Sen. Jonathan Perry’s four-year term. Perry left the Senate to successfully seek a seat on the Louisiana Court of Appeal, 3rd Circuit.
Gaspard, then a Republican, is challenging Hengens as a Democrat in the Oct. 12 election. Early voting starts Saturday.
The district stretches over parts of four parishes, including Acadia, Vermilion, Lafayette and a portion of St. Landry. It is mostly rural, with municipalities that include Abbeville, Cankton, Gueydan, Kaplan, Maurice, Rayne, Scott and the outskirts of Sunset.
It includes farm and fishing industries, with a long coastline that includes a portion of Vermilion Bay.
Of principal concern to Hensgens, the incumbent, is the business climate in the vast district, including energy-related jobs both offshore in the Gulf of Mexico and on land, where no one seems to be drilling.
Hensgens, 64, who has spent a long career in rural healthcare administration, said many of those oil and gas jobs have gone west and he’s unsure why.
“In Gueydan, we have fourth- and fifth-generation oil and gas workers who are now working in Texas,” he said. “Of all the states working in oil and gas, we are doing the least amount of business.”
Hensgens said the state should seek answers from local businesspeople about what they need most in the way of support from the state. He said a longtime contention is that tort reform is hindering the energy industry here, and, if that’s the case, he said the state could do more in effecting legislation.
He said he’d focus on asking service companies and local companies what they need from the state.
“What are we doing wrong that Texas is doing right?” he asked.
Hensgens also said coastal protection and restoration are critically important to District 26, but there’s an order to that business. The priority, he said, must be on protection, which he said he supports.
“We need to rock the coast. We need to get the protection first. There have been a lot of good projects on the coast” — among them, Hensgens said, is work along the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge — “since CPRA (Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.) We need more.”
Hensgens also cited this cause, which he said is dear to his heart: Protecting rural hospitals. He said hospitals in Kaplan, Church Point and Abbeville do a lot to ensure good health for his rural constituents.
“We need to protect them,” he said.
Hensgens, who previously served as Gueydan mayor, holds a bachelor’s in business administration from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Gaspard, 64, listed several issues of importance to his campaign, including better roads, higher education and workforce training; reining in state spending, coastal erosion and medical care.
To improve roads, Gaspard said the state should dedicate 100 percent of the state’s gas tax collections to improving roads and should recruit investors to launch a $6 billion road building program in Louisiana. He said the state should consider raising gasoline taxes in Louisiana by a dime to hasten needed improvements. Voters would understand the need to generate additional money for roads, he said.
Gaspard also suggests the state should rein in state spending by establishing a commission to study state-supported agencies for “efficiency, transparency and accountability.” He said state spending had increased some 25 percent during the John Bel Edwards administration.
Nonetheless, he said, as a new Democrat he supports Edwards’ re-election campaign. He explained his party switch by saying that there are more Democrats than Republicans in the district and said the Democrats had become more conservative in recent years, matching his own political positions.
Eventual missions, his campaign webpage suggests, are to cut payroll, pay down state debt and to outsource state work to the private sector, which he said was more efficient than the public sector.
Gaspard worked 28 years for Louisiana Farm Bureau after graduating LSU with a bachelor’s degree in vocational agricultural education. He taught school for about a year. He stopped working around age 50 after his vehicle was struck from behind in a 2006 traffic accident; court documents say the other party was at fault. Gaspard said his health has improved and he is capable of serving in the Senate.
He authored and self-published a book, “Truth that Brings Peace, Love and Hope,” in 2018. This year, he wrote and published “Jesus is for Real and There is Power in His Name.”