This fall’s race for the House District 62 seat is a rematch of sorts, pitting incumbent state Rep. Kenny Havard against former Norwood Mayor Ronnie Jett, who ran four years ago but missed the runoff by fewer than 200 votes.
Havard, who just completed his first term, eventually defeated Ken Dawson in that race. With four years under his belt, Havard believes he has been a good representative for the district and deserves another term. Jett said his business and government experience make him a good fit for the job.
The two will square off in the Oct. 24 primary election, seeking to represent a large district that encompasses most of East and West Feliciana parishes and parts of East Baton Rouge Parish, including Zachary.
Havard, a 44-year-old Republican, works in industrial sales. He said his work defending state institutions in his Felicianas district was a highlight of his term.
“I think the biggest thing we’ve faced were the budget issues,” said Havard, who earned a number of legislative leadership awards. “The Jindal administration has been cutting funding to our local institutions for years — East Louisiana State Hospital, the prisons and so forth. With some of the other representatives, we stepped in front of the train and we stopped them from doing that.”
He said evidence of a turnaround is funding directed to projects such as restoration of the hospital in Jackson, as well as increased hiring at the facility. Havard believes economic development on the local level is the best way to get his district to be more financially self-sufficient. The key, he said, is to attract to new industry.
“Putting people to work is our biggest need,” he said. “We do that by attracting industry with high paying jobs like Riverbend Nuclear Station and Georgia Pacific.”
Havard was instrumental in creating the Regional Business and Industry Council, which targets new businesses for the region. He said the group was key in getting Florida Fuel Connections to build a $75 million petroleum terminal and rail shipment facility in East Feliciana near the Mississippi River. The project is expected to include at least 50 new jobs with an average annual salary of $70,000 plus benefits.
The region has a lot to offer prospective businesses, he said.
“We have a rail line, the Mississippi River, the Audubon Bridge, Highway 61, a major corridor, and we’re 20 minutes from the airport,” Havard said. He said there are many thousands of acres of land that are prime for development and could increase local property taxes.
The first time he ran, he was a mystery because he had no political history. It’s different now, and he’s able to run on his accomplishments, he said.
“People had to trust me and believe in me that I would do the things I was telling them I’d do, which is work hard and represent them every day,” Havard said. “I think I’m a good cross-section of the community. I’m not multi-millionaire. I’m like everybody else. I go to work every day. I just want to represent the people well.”
Jett, a 69-year-old Democrat, has been a small-business owner for 40 years, with convenience stores and food marts and an auto parts store. He is also a retired deputy warden who was in charge of operations at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.
If elected, Jett said one of his top priorities is to make sure state government operates like a business.
“I’ve been in business, I know business and I know government,” said Jett. “I know how to make it work together. For the last seven years, there’s been no fiscal responsibility. In January, they’ll have midyear cuts again and lay off people, state workers. I believe you set up a budget and make it work.”
He said the reason the state’s budget is in such dire straits is because of the many millions of dollars doled out through tax credits, such as those given to the film industry, and business incentives used to lure companies to set up shop in Louisiana.
“The budget would be really easy to balance if you quit giving it away,” Jett said. “I built three stores, I own six of them, but that’s been between me and the bank and I haven’t got a tax cut yet. It’s not fair to the businesses in Louisiana that are here, and the citizens here, that you give tax breaks to people who live out of state.”
Jett said funding education, particularly for local school districts, is his top priority. He also said he would build in protections for higher education so students wouldn’t have to rely on student loans. Other areas he believes have been mismanaged are health care and the prison system because of public-private partnerships that cost more money.
“We have to quit giving it away,” said Jett. “I want to get in there and see where the waste is. Don’t spend money studying a problem, get in there and fix it. I’d go down there with common sense. You don’t waste money on studies, and you don’t waste money on privatization. It needs to be run like a business.”