GONZALES — A 24-year mayor of Gonzales and a member of the fading old guard of Ascension Parish politicians, state Rep. Johnny Berthelot announced during the summer he would not seek a third term in the House from the strongly conservative district, even though he wasn't expected to draw significant opposition.
Three people hope to replace Berthelot, who once was on the House Republicans' short list as a possible Speaker. They each vow to provide fiscally conservative leadership and keep an eye out for government waste and inefficiency that Berthelot has championed, as did parish Assessor M.J. "Mert" Smiley before him.
Plant inspection supervisor Ryan Beissinger, state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Kathy Edmonston and local grocer Brandon Trosclair qualified last month to run for the state House 88 seat. The election is Oct. 12. Early voting begins Saturday.
The candidates said they had no plans to seek the seat until Berthelot said he wouldn't run again. They all propose a tighter state budget while also directing more money toward Ascension's infrastructure woes.
"With the budget, we have definitely a spending problem, not a revenue problem. We have so much industry in the state, you know, the oil and gas industry, the energy industry and, of course, tourism down in New Orleans. We have so many advantages other states don't have, and we're squandering it," Beissinger said.
The House 88 district is entirely within Ascension and covers Galvez, St. Amant, Sorrento and half of Gonzales.
In fundraising, Trosclair, 36, led his opponents with more than $48,000 in cash on hand at the start of September for the stretch run. He had lent his campaign $30,100 and raised $55,570 overall.
Beissinger raised $14,200 and had $7,437 on hand. Edmonston had raised $6,825 but hadn't started spending it yet.
Edmonston, 69, who sits on the local Republican Party executive committee and the party's State Central Committee, won the state party's endorsement for the primary earlier this month.
But Trosclair, who operates the family-owned Ralph's Market and Butcher Boy Supermarket, and Beissinger, who works for ExxonMobil, have won backing from the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association.
Trosclair also has an endorsement from the Associated Builders and Contractors while Beissinger has backing from the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association.
Beissinger, a 36-year-old U.S. Army veteran and former Apache helicopter pilot, said he would like to see a limited constitutional convention focused on breaking protections on spending in the budget.
Trosclair said he would like to a see a constitutional convention called with the aim of creating a smaller and more efficient government.
"I think it would be best for the state of Louisiana to scrap what we got and start over, and I think it would be a lot more effective from the get-go," Trosclair said.
Beissinger, who is making his first run for office, said one risk in a more wide-open convention might be that other changes could occur that would introduce new forms of wasteful spending.
Edmonston said she would have to give the idea of a convention some thought, but, like her opponents, believes there is plenty to cut from state agencies and would resist pressure to raise taxes.
"It just always seems to be you can only cut in certain areas and then because you can't cut in those areas, you have to look at raising taxes," she said.
Other Republican candidates and some nonpartisan good government groups have floated the idea of a convention to simplify the more than 72,000-word document.
Edmonston, an Ascension public school parafacilitator, opposes the Common Core curriculum and supports the use of charter schools to aid failing school systems but not strong ones. She said she feels the Legislature will offer her more opportunities to collaborate than the 11-member state board.
"So just I think a little bit more freedom to get the things done that I've always wanted to get done and that's really to impact education in a significant way," she said. "I feel like we have a lot work to do."
Trosclair has been involved in the local political scene. He ran unsuccessfully for Parish Council in 2003, when he was 19, and is one of the backers of the A Better Ascension group. Last year, its members made an unsuccessful bid to change the parish home rule charter and have an appointed professional parish manager in place of an elected parish president.
Trosclair is touting his outsider experience running a $50 million local grocery chain with 250 employees and says government at all levels needs to be more customer-service oriented. Early in his career, Trosclair ran into a bumpy waters when he and a partner ran a custom home-building business.
In June 2006, Ascension Parish prosecutors accused Trosclair of misapplying funds intended for a home construction project. Though a charging document doesn't give a precise amount that prosecutors say was misspent, Trosclair was accused of drawing thousands of dollars from one of his client's accounts and not using it to pay for the construction work.
Trosclair described the episode as an unfortunate situation and said he was falsely accused.
According to court transcripts and other filings, Trosclair's home-building company cut a $20,000 check to one of the clients to cover the largest of their unpaid subcontractor bills a month after Brandon Trosclair's arrest in April 2006. A judge found probable cause for the misapplication charge, even after the check was disclosed in open court, but prosecutors dropped the felony count in January 2011 after Trosclair completed a pre-trial diversion program.
Trosclair also faced a handful of lawsuits from homeowners, suppliers, subcontractors and a law firm over housing projects and related litigation in that time period, including the home project that led to the criminal charge, criminal and civil filings show. Some of the suits were dismissed while, for others, the record leaves the resolution unclear.
NAME: Ryan Beissinger
EDUCATION: Lake Region High School, Florida; U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
OCCUPATION: U.S. Army active service eight years with two tours; currently captain in Louisiana Air National Guard; ExxonMobil inspection supervisor.
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: First time candidate.
NAME: Kathy Edmonston
EDUCATION: LSU bachelor's in English; University of La Verne, certification in adult education.
OCCUPATION: Ascension Parish public school parafacilitator; member of Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Elected to one term on BESE in 2015.
NAME: Brandon Trosclair
HOME: Gonzales area
EDUCATION: St. Amant High School; attended three years at LSU in business administration.
OCCUPATION: owner of family-owned Ralph's Market and Butcher Boy Supermarket.
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Ran unsuccessfully for Ascension Parish Council in 2003; member of A Better Ascension.