Voters in the southern third of Tangipahoa Parish voters will select a new state representative next month from among two political outsiders.
The candidates hoping to replace the term-limited Steven Pugh are relative unknowns. Afghanistan war veteran Michael Chatellier and veterinarian Dr. William “Bill” Wheat Jr., both Tangipahoa natives and Ponchatoula High School graduates, will square off in the Oct. 12 election. Both are Republicans. Pugh has held the District 73 seat since 2007.
Neither Chatellier nor Wheat has political experience, though each believe they have the proper background. One has 22 years of military service and other has had extensive community involvement.
Chatellier said his top three issues are education, job growth and infrastructure – in that order. Tangipahoa’s rapid growth ties into each concern he has for the parish’s success, from infrastructure development to creating economic opportunities.
In addition to overcrowded schools with an influx of students, Tangipahoa’s lack of infrastructure, according to Chatellier, has limited the parish’s economic growth. He believes that while the rest of the country is growing economically, Louisiana is falling behind.
“We seem to have a government mentality here where we just push businesses away instead of invite businesses in,” Chatellier said.
His goal is to revamp the business atmosphere of the state to increase high paying job offerings. For Chatellier, his run for the seat is not a political exercise, but rather a bid to help his hometown and parish grow.
“We need to represent our districts and not worry about just the status quo,” Chatellier said. “I think my background in the military gives me a good basis with leadership, the ability to stand up and insist we do the right thing.”
Wheat said he does not believe in touting a platform based on issues and narrow definitions, but instead hopes his “sense of achievement” in the community will convince voters he should be their representative.
“I’ve been a productive member of our community,” Wheat said. “I’m a person who has been able to identify the needs of our citizens, work toward resolutions of problems and come to the table with solutions.”
From serving as president of the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association to chairing the Tangipahoa Mosquito Abatement District, along with a long list of other local responsibilities and honors, Wheat’s involvement in his parish defines him as a candidate.
Like Chatellier, Wheat is concerned about infrastructure issues that contribute to routine flooding in the parish and hopes to improve the education system. As a small business owner, he wants to change the economic climate in the state to keep local talent local.
Wheat also said healthcare is important to his candidacy. As a veterinarian, he has seen the bond between people and their pets, he explained. However, as a veterinary practice owner who has had to balance a budget, he understands the importance of fiscal responsibility.
“I do believe that I can be a compassionate, conservative Republican and address the issues that are concerns to folks,” Wheat said. "We can’t turn our back on folks that are in need, but we can also be fiscally responsible.”
Between extremes in rhetoric on both sides of the healthcare debate, Wheat said, he hopes to find a way to address the real problems people face.
RESIDES: He was born and raised in Bedico in Tangipahoa Parish and lives there today.
SCHOOL: Graduated from Ponchatoula High School in 1978, Associates Degree from Central Texas College in 2001.
PROFESSION: 22 years in the Army, before that worked in the oil fields – Equitable Shipyard in Madisonville
POLITICAL: No political background.
Dr. William “Bill” Wheat Jr.
RESIDES: Born in Ponchatoula, lived there basically his whole life
EDUCATION: Graduated from Ponchatoula High School in 1976, studied at LSU as an undergraduate, but then was accepted into the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine before he could complete his bachelor’s degree. He graduated from the LSU Vet School in 1983
PROFESSION: Veterinarian who has been in practice for 36 years.