Education and health care are the major issues in the House District 67 race, were four candidates are running to fill the open seat.
The four contenders — three Democrats and one Republican — are vying to succeed Rep. Patricia Haynes Smith, who is in her third four-year term and is now running for the state Senate in District 14.
District 67 includes LSU's campus and downtown Baton Rouge and extends along Interstate 110 to Mid City North. Sixty-two percent of its nearly 21,000 registered voters are black and 32 percent are white. Early voting starts Saturday through Oct. 5, except Sunday, Sept. 29. Election Day is Oct. 12.
The three Democrats in the race — Leah Cullins, Sonya Hall and Larry Selders — have each spent upwards of $10,000 on their campaigns. Records show the lone Republican, Jocita Williams, has spent zero dollars.
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Cullins, 40, is a family nurse practitioner and an assistant professor at Southern University. She specializes in HIV/AIDS care and said she'd push the state to fund more education campaigns centered on the virus.
"It's all about education, education, education," Cullins said. "The layperson doesn't know that you can take a drug and become undetectable."
Cullins owns a clinic in north Baton Rouge and says she often visits her patients at their homes to ease the physical and financial burden of traveling. She said she'd bring that same spirit of "meeting people where they are" to elected office.
Hall, 49, is a defense attorney who formerly worked in the public defender's office representing indigent clients. That taught her how to "work with few resources" and what it means to "fight for the least of us," she said.
It also gave her a unique look at the criminal justice system, an issue she said she hopes to tackle if elected to the House.
“I’d like to see a system of probation, community service and intensive rehabilitation for nonviolent offenders,” Hall said. “That will save us a lot of money in the long run.”
Selders, 37, is the executive director of a mental health and substance abuse clinic. He said he'd advocate for greater state funding for mental health care, which he said is often on the chopping block when lawmakers face a budget crisis.
“To me, mental health directly affects education. It directly affects crime prevention. It directly affects the health care system,” he said.
Selders is also the treasurer on BREC's board of commissioners. He said helping to manage the department's $60 million budget taught him how to be a wise steward of the public's tax dollars.
Williams, 66, said she decided to run because she thinks “we need to come together as a nation." Williams, a native of Louisiana, moved to Baton Rouge from Colorado about a decade ago.
“I can relate to the community because I’ve been where they are. I’ve been homeless before. I’m not rich. I don’t have anybody supporting me,” Williams said.
Hall, Cullins and Selders specifically identified education as a top priority.
Hall cited a focus on providing more technical and vocational programs for students who aren't college-bound, adding that she wants "to give businesses skilled workers when they come" to the district.
Cullins identified education as key to "breaking the cycle of poverty," and said she hopes funding early childhood education programs will help students avoid "falling prey to the broken criminal justice system."
Selders said his experience as one of only a handful of black students to attend LSU's Lab School taught him how to interact with diverse voices in the community.
“I went from being a majority in my neighborhood to being a minority at school,” Selders said.