Leah Cullins (left) and Larry Selders (right)

Leah Cullins (left) and Larry Selders (right)

Both candidates in a runoff election for the state's House District 67 seat are longtime local health care professionals and lifelong Baton Rouge residents, and both promise to help some of the community's most disadvantaged residents.

Democrats Larry Selders and Leah Cullins emerged as the top two vote-getters after a four-way contest in the Oct. 12 primary. Selders received 38 percent of the vote with Cullins trailing at 29.

They're vying to succeed Rep. Patricia Haynes Smith, who was defeated in a state Senate race after being term-limited out of the House seat. 

Selders, 37, is a social worker and executive director of a mental health and substance abuse clinic. He's promised to continue raising awareness of mental health issues, including among children growing up in poor urban communities. 

He also noted the diversity of District 67, which is 62 percent black and includes LSU's campus and downtown Baton Rouge, extending along Interstate 110 to Mid City North. Selders said one of his goals is to make sure money is going to the communities and schools that need it most. 

"Everybody deserves an opportunity," he said. "We need an even playing field."

Selders said he also started a development group and has invested in several properties, most in Old South Baton Rouge, that he's bought and fixed up and then sold or rented to low-income families. 

Cullins, 40, is a nurse practitioner and assistant professor of nursing at Southern University. She was born and raised in Baton Rouge, and said she plans on staying for good.

She started her career here decades ago and noticed the high concentration of residents living with HIV/AIDS, which motivated her to focus much of her doctoral research on the disease, becoming an expert in the field.

Cullins later opened her own family health clinic in Baton Rouge, which offers home visits for people who are unable to travel to the office. 

"If my patients can't come to me, I go to them," she said, noting that the idea of "meeting people where they are" is central to her campaign too. Her work has allowed her to see "all facets and all walks of life," both from a health care and an educational standpoint, Cullins said.

She sits on the board of the Bridge Center, a planned mental health crisis center meant to fill the void in Baton Rouge's psychiatric care system and keep the mentally ill out of jail. 

Cullins and Selders advanced to the runoff after defeating fellow Democrat Sonya Hall and Republican Jocita Williams.

The runoff election will be held Saturday, Nov. 16.

Email Lea Skene at lskene@theadvocate.com.