Acadiana's 96th House District is filled with poverty-stricken neighborhoods and a diverse population that could benefit from an improved education system, according to candidates seeking to represent the district in the Oct. 12 election.

The district stretches between Iberia, Lafayette and St. Martin parishes and includes parts of New Iberia, St. Martinville, Broussard, Lafayette and Breaux Bridge. It's an oddly shaped district that was carved out as a majority-minority district following Hurricane Katrina. 

The racial makeup of District 96 is 56% black, 36% white and 8% other, according to census data.

It's less affluent than the state as a whole, with a median household income of $31,477 per year and 29.5% of the district's residents living in poverty. Louisiana's median household income is about $47,000, with about 20% living in poverty.

Three of the four newcomers vying for the District 96 seat in the Louisiana House of Representatives can agree on one thing — education should be a priority.

Marcus Bryant, Cammie "Yogi" Maturin, Robert "Bob" Titus II and Patrick Wiltz are running for the seat held by Terry Landry, a Democrat who was first elected to the position in 2011. Although eligible for reelection, Landry announced in May that he would be retiring after serving two terms in the Louisiana Legislature.

Bryant, Maturin and Wiltz are Democrats. Titus is an Independent.

Here's a closer look at the candidates.

Marcus Bryant, 42, said he's running for office to give a voice to the voiceless as others did for him when he was younger.

"I'm an attorney by trade, and I represent people who don't have a voice," Bryant said. "So going to Baton Rouge and fighting for the rights of our community works for me. I'm deeply ingrained in my community, and I have the legal background to understand the issues and concerns we need to deal with to help people live the best lives they can."

Although he now works as a lawyer, Bryant comes from a humble background. He only attended high school through 10th grade and later earned his high school equivalency diploma while studying paint and auto body at a vocational college. That's when mentors pushed him to enroll in a four-year university.

Bryant would eventually earn a bachelor's degree in English and a law degree from Southern University. 

The New Iberia native and St. Martinville resident said his top three priorities as a candidate are to help the elderly, improve education and tackle infrastructure issues.

If elected, Bryant said he would make health care more affordable for those on a fixed income, devote resources to schools instead of jails, and improve roads, sewage and drainage.

Bryant, who is single with three school-aged children, said he is the right person for the job because of his devotion to the community, especially its youth.

"I try to bring love and compassion to everything I do, and that's worked out so far in my life," Bryant said. "It always works. It never fails."

Cammie "Yogi" Maturin, 42, said she's running for office because it's time for a change, especially when it comes to education in Louisiana.

"As a public school educator, I've worked in the legislature on reform for education," Maturin said. "And it's something I think is very important. People don't come here or stay here simply because our education system is so low on the totem pole."

Maturin has worked as a public school teacher for 13 years, and she's spent about 10 of those years traveling across the state to speak to lawmakers about the importance of education and criminal justice reforms. She started her career as a probation and parole officer.

Maturin earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

The New Iberia native and resident said her top three priorities as a candidate are education reform, youth development programs and criminal justice reform.

If elected, Maturin said she would work across party lines to address the historical challenges and systemic issues that continue to plague her district and state.

Maturin, who is a single mother with a 14-year-old boy, said she is the right person for the job because of her willingness to fight for any and everybody in her community.

"I'm just one of the people who live in my district," Maturin said. "I'm no better than anyone else in my district, and I'm ready to work with everyone that's ready for change. There has to be change in Louisiana."

Robert "Bob" Titus II, 63, said he's running for office because he's waited long enough for other politicians to do "something with an impact."

"I haven't seen it, so I got to do it myself, I guess," Titus said. "It's always been my hope that the people you bring into politics would do something for the people, and it comes down to a fundamental thing: I'll just do it myself, or at least try to. Maybe the things I'm looking for are unpopular, but they still need to be done. Something may not pass, but of course it can't pass if you don't bring it up."

Titus owns a consulting company in New Iberia. He started his career working for Cleco and later worked in the casino industry and at UL's New Iberia Research Center before starting his own business.

He has a bachelor's degree in business management and "a lifetime of wisdom and experience."

The New Iberia resident said his top three priorities as a candidate are improving education, addressing infrastructure problems and easing up on restrictions.

If elected, Titus said education would be his top priority, closely followed by improving highways. He said he would also work to reduce rules and regulations that "seem unnecessary and infringe on the Constitutional rights of people," such as those that would restrict residents from painting their homes in whatever colors they wish.

Titus, who is married with four grown children and five grandchildren, said he is the right person for the job because of the wisdom that comes with being older than the other candidates vying for the position.

"I could say a lot of things, but you won't be able to see that until I'm elected," Titus said. "We all tell the perfect story, but it takes getting elected first to prove anything."

Patrick Wiltz did not respond to numerous voicemails or text messages requesting comment for this story. 

Wiltz has largely been absent from the race. He has not appeared in public forums alongside other candidates, and The Advocate could not find an online campaign page or signs displayed in his district. He has not dropped out of the race, according to the Secretary of State's website.

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