Education, transportation and drainage are among the issues of the candidates running to fill the open seat in House District 70.
The five contenders — three Republicans, one Democrat, and one Libertarian — are vying to succeed longtime GOP Rep. Franklin Foil, who is in his third four-year term and is now running for the state Senate in District 16.
District 70 extends from the edges of LSU’s campus down to south Baton Rouge. Sixty-nine percent of its nearly 30,000 registered voters are white and 24 percent are black. Early voting will last from Sept. 28 to Oct. 5, except Sunday, Sept. 29. Election Day is Oct. 12.
An inordinate number of current and former state lawmakers are squaring off for seats in the Louisiana Senate in the Oct. 12 primary, putting …
Democrats are hoping for a potential pickup of this district. Of the 22 contested House districts currently held by Republicans, District 70 is where President Donald Trump under-performed the most relative to Mitt Romney four years earlier, according to an analysis by Mike Henderson, an assistant professor who directs the Public Policy Research Lab at the LSU School of Mass Communication.
Three of the candidates in the District 70 race have separated themselves from the pack in fundraising upwards of $45,000: Barbara Freiberg, Michael DiResto and Belinda Davis. The two other candidates, Mallory Mayeux and Ricky Sheldon, have each reported raising less than $1,000.
Freiberg, 70, a Republican, has represented District 12 on the Metro Council since 2016. The retired educator pointed to her 30 years as a public school teacher and experience on the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board.
Neither of the two other major candidates has held elected office, though they both highlighted their extensive work in the public sector.
“It may sound counterintuitive,” said DiResto, “but as a first-time candidate, I’m running on my experience.”
DiResto, 48, a Republican, spent nearly two decades in the public sector, first as press secretary for Congressman Richard Baker and later as assistant commissioner at the state Division of Administration. DiResto is now the executive vice president at the Baton Rouge Area Chamber.
The Advocate’s records show that DiResto was arrested twice for driving while intoxicated, first in 2008 and later in 2013. In an emailed statement, DiResto said he had made mistakes in his past and he took full responsibility for his actions.
“In the years since then, I have been all the more focused on strengthening my faith and working hard to make a positive difference in our community,” he wrote.
The sole Democrat in the race, Davis, 48, is an LSU political science professor whose research focuses on evaluating the effectiveness of public policy.
DiResto and Davis said part of what motivated them to run is the desire to make Baton Rouge a better place for their children. DiResto said he’d work to make the state friendlier to businesses, while Davis said she’d focus on increasing state investment in education.
A portion of District 70 extends into the boundaries proposed for the city of St. George which, if approved, would convert a large part of southeastern East Baton Rouge into the parish's fifth municipality, with a population of more than 86,000. DiResto and Davis both said they were personally opposed to the incorporation. Freiberg would not offer an opinion for or against the measure.
Education topped the agenda for these three candidates. Freiberg said she would work to expand industry based certification programs and college-credit programs in high schools. DiResto, who helped champion the BASIS Baton Rouge charter school while at BRAC, said he’d work to make sure that state government has sustainable funding for higher education.
Davis, who heads up the One Community, One School District public education advocacy group, said she would work to reduce reliance on standardized testing and increase state education investment.
She emphasized her commitment to the issue by pointing to testimony she gave at the legislature for teacher pay raises. “I’m doing that as a mom in my free time. Think of what could be accomplished if I was in the legislature,” Davis said.
The three major candidates also all said transportation is a top priority, citing Baton Rouge’s infamously bad congestion. Freiberg and DiResto both said they would work to identify funding for a new bridge over the Mississippi River. Davis said she would focus on policies that lower insurance rates and invest in infrastructure.
DiResto highlighted his role in establishing CRISIS — the Capital Region Industry for Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions — a business-led coalition that has advocated for congestion-relief projects.
Both Freiberg and DiResto also said they want to focus on reforms that allow greater flexibility in how the state’s budget is allocated.
The race also features two less prominent first-time candidates. Mallory Mayeux, 34, a Libertarian, said she’s running to give “a voice to the third party.” The HR manager said she’d focus on lowering taxes, which she said are too high and “unfair for what we get.”
Ricky Sheldon, 28, who describes himself as a progressive Republican, said he decided to run because he’s dissatisfied with the party’s national leadership in President Trump. The LSU graduate student said he’s mainly interested in improving the state’s healthcare policies.