Longtime West Baton Rouge Parish President Riley “Pee Wee” Berthelot Jr. is bidding to extend his tenure on election day, touting his work to ease traffic congestion.
He faces Democratic challenger Clayton Hebert, who vows to address traffic woes, too, and raise a voice at the State Capitol until a new bridge is built over the Mississippi River.
The winner will also be working with a nearly revamped Parish Council after the majority of current members either reached term limits or didn't file for reelection.
Berthelot, a Democrat, is seeking his fifth term in office and said his institutional knowledge is vital to ensuring work doesn't stall on plans for a new bridge over the Mississippi River and a 3-mile flyover between the La. 415/Lobdell exit on Interstate 10 and La. 1. The Legislature this year approved using some settlement money from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to pay for the connector, an effort supporters say will alleviate congestion near the Intracoastal Waterway bridge.
Berthelot, 69, cited his track record of working with neighboring parishes, as well as state and federal officials, as reasons why voters should reelect him.
"If I'm reelected, the government will be stabilized. We'll still have our administration staff and all our people," he said. "We got a lot of things that we need to be able to do as the parish continues to grow."
Berthelot, whose held office for the past 16 years, ran unopposed in 2015 and secured 69 percent of the vote in 2011. He said among his priorities aside from transportation issues are building a new sewage treatment plant and consolidating eight existing ones. He said this year will be his last election.
Hebert, 40, a business owner from Brusly, said the parish needs new leadership to move forward.
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He said he plans to focus heavily on improving drainage and roads, saying they haven't kept pace with commercial growth in the southern part of the parish.
"We've put so much concrete on the ground without paying attention to where this water is going to be going to," Hebert said. "We put the cart in front of the horse."
Hebert said he'll add more staff dedicated to drainage if he's elected, as well as look at options to attract commercial development to the northern end of the parish along U.S. 190 to balance out the where businesses are located.
Both Democrats will have to get much of their work done through a new parish council after five members hit term limit ceilings this year and another didn't file for reelection. The open council seats have seen a flood of candidates qualify, with some districts squeezing up to four contenders on the ballot.
Several candidates, as well as Hebert, have voiced support for setting limits to the parish president's office. They say they're necessary and disputed whether there'd be significant changes in government employees and department leaders.
A West Baton Rouge Parish council member is proposing imposing term limits on the parish president, so that they match the limits under which …
Earlier this year, the council voted down a proposal that would have established a 12-year term limit for the parish president. West Baton Rouge is one of few neighboring parishes that don't have caps on how many times a parish president can run for office.
Berthelot and other members who voted against the proposal said they worried departments would lose significant institutional memory in its employees during administration changes. "It would probably take four or five years to get things stabilized," Berthelot said.
Though the proposal would not have had an impact on the current presidential race and would have needed voter approval, it might be brought up again under a new council coming in next year.
"I don't think there should be a life-time term for these politicians," Hebert said. "One of the first things I'll do is push for term limits."
Early voting began last Saturday and runs through this Saturday.
Riley "Pee Wee" Berthelot
PROFESSION: Former Business owner, Parish President
EDUCATION: Brusly High School 1967. Industrial instrument certification from Botech.
PROFESSION: Business owner
EDUCATION: Brusly High School 1996