GONZALES — Ascension Parish grocer Brandon Trosclair told a room full of Republicans this week that his House runoff opponent sent their all-Republican race “into the ditch" by bringing up his criminal charge from 2006 that was ultimately dropped.
Kathy Edmonston, his opponent, said Thursday she brought up facts about his past in a press statement and a direct mail piece because she thinks voters should know about her opponent's character, saying he was accused of defrauding a customer when he was a home builder.
"I think people should see a clear distinction between the two of us," Edmonston, a state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member and a public school parafacilitator, said in an interview.
Trosclair's attempt to address his opponent's claims came up in a testy three-minute broadside against Edmonston during an Ascension Republican Women forum Wednesday at the Clarion Inn in Gonzales.
He took swipes at her record on BESE, where she is not seeking reelection, and her conservative credentials while defending against her criticism of his work with the A Better Ascension movement last year.
The two candidates are seeking to replace state Rep. Johnny Berthelot, R-Gonzales, who didn't seek reelection to the District 88 seat that covers parts of eastern Ascension Parish. Trosclair led a three-person, all-Republican primary Oct. 12. The runoff will be Nov. 16, and a one-week early voting period opens Nov. 2.
Both Trosclair and Edmonston said they favor a smaller, more efficient government and have generally staked out conservative positions likely to appeal to many voters in the suburban and rural House district.
An Edmonston campaign statement released this week notes Ascension Parish officials had filed a charge against Trosclair years ago. Prosecutors said he misapplied tens of thousands of dollars intended for a home construction project.
Trosclair, 36, who lives in the Gonzales area, subsequently entered a pretrial diversion program and the charge was dropped.
"I was accused of an unfortunate deal, and what she doesn't tell everybody is I was cleared of any and all wrongdoing and the case was dropped," he said.
Trosclair, at the forum, claimed Edmonston had accepted money from individuals and political action committees aligned with Democrats and trial lawyers, and said she was a “mouthpiece for (Gov.) John Bel Edwards” while serving on BESE.
In particular, he said Gumbo PAC, Napoleon PAC and former state Sen. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, who is a trial lawyer, were helping her with funding and finding other donors. An official with the two PACs said after the forum that Trosclair’s assertion is unfounded.
"The same people that are funding her campaign (are) wrecking the economy," Trosclair said. "So, I'm not even sure you showed up at the right forum, probably should have been the Democratic ladies forum."
Edmonston, 69, of the Galvez area, sat at a dinner table next to the lectern as Trosclair spoke. She had just spoken before Trosclair and mostly focused on her background and campaign positions. Under the forum's compressed format, she wasn't allowed a rebuttal. In a later interview, she disputed Trosclair's claims.
"What he said today about my campaign is not true," said Edmonston, who serves on parish and state Republican Party committees and was endorsed by both.
Trosclair attacked the efficacy of those groups, but Edmonston said the local party organization, in particular, helped block several proposed parish tax increases in the past five years.
Trey Ourso, a Democratic operative who manages Gumbo and Napoleon PACs, said Gumbo PAC spends on behalf of Gov. Edwards exclusively. Napoleon PAC is supported by trial lawyers, but Ourso said the group is nonpartisan, hasn't spent on the House 88 race so far and hasn't made decisions about runoff expenditures.
Amedee's Gonzales law firm, which donates to many candidates, including Berthelot, gave Edmonston's campaign $2,500 this cycle.
"She's a great person, and she fights for kids, and she's honest, and she has a lot of character, and that's why we're supporting her, and when you add that up, it's not even close," said Amedee, who denied trying to link her up with other trial lawyer donors.
Edmonston said Amedee and his law partner, André Gauthier, are personal friends.
Trosclair also defended his backing of the A Better Ascension group, which unsuccessfully sought to have Ascension voters change the home rule charter and replace the elected parish president with an appointed manager, whom voters could not elect, as a good government measure.
At the forum, Edmonston alluded to A Better Ascension's proposal for the appointed parish manager, saying that as a legislator she would protect the people's right to vote.
"I believe in the voice of the people and vote of the people. I am not for anybody putting in any elected official without a vote. I think that is one precious thing we have going and I think we should continue to keep that," she said.
Later, Trosclair said he and other business people were fed up with parish government and formed ABA to look at what other communities were doing, but the Parish Council rejected putting a home rule charter proposal on the ballot for voters to decide.
"All we wanted was the right for the people to be able to vote. I didn't take the right to vote. The council took that right to vote away," said Trosclair, who has gotten backing from several business groups.