Two Democrats and two Republicans vying to represent one of the state's largest senatorial districts — one that extends from West Feliciana Parish up to north Louisiana — are focusing their campaigns on the education and infrastructure needs of the district's residents.
Daniel “Danny” Cole, a Trout Democrat; Judia “Judy” Duhon, an Olla Democrat; “Steve” May, a Columbia Republican; and Glen Womack, a Harrisonburg Republican, are battling for the District 32 state senate seat, formerly held by Sen. Neil Riser, a Republican who is term limited.
District 32 covers an extensive strip of the state’s eastern border up to Ouachita Parish. It includes all of Caldwell, Catahoula, Franklin and LaSalle, as well as certain precincts in Avoyelles, Concordia, Ouachita, Rapides, Richland and West Feliciana parishes.
Early voting for the Oct. 12 primary ends on Oct. 5. A runoff election, if necessary, would be held Nov. 16.
The candidates have been talking about their ideas for education and infrastructure across the sprawling district, which is largely rural with parishes that tend to rank the highest in the state for poverty.
Though education is a key issue for Cole, 55, who has spent his career as a high school teacher, he prioritizes poverty. In addition to favoring the elimination of the state income tax, Cole opposes any increase to the statewide gasoline tax — which was discussed as an infrastructure funding option in the previous legislative session.
“I’m against these tax hikes because of what they do to middle-income families and those who struggle whose budgets are pressed right now,” Cole said. “Somebody has to speak for them.”
Cole said he believes in equal pay for equal work.
“We’re just now coming to grips with equality as far as what people are paid,” Cole said. “I believe that women should be paid just as much as men.”
With an extensive background in teaching, Duhon, 69, champions education. She wants more money allocated for teachers and support staff, Common Core curriculum accountability and improved infrastructure to address busing needs across the district.
Along to improving healthcare options for senior citizens and veterans, Duhon hopes to provide better resources for inmate job training, especially in technology, to ease the transition back into society following incarceration. “They need to slowly be added back to society, not just get thrown out there with no support.”
Duhon said she conducted a needs assessment across the district to find out what concerns are most pressing for her constituents. She said she has shaped her campaign around the feedback she received, noting a particularly strong link between improving education and building better roads.
“School is very, very important,” Duhon said. “And because we live rural, sometimes children have to ride a bus an hour to get to school, so the roads need to be in good shape.”
May, 60, who has spent his career working with the Caldwell Parish Sheriff’s Office, said he sees infrastructure as a vital component in improving job growth across the district.
The district is ideal for industry, he said, if businesses are given the right incentive. He favors tax breaks, and promises to push for more affordable automobile insurance.
“We’ve got rivers, we’ve got railroads, we’ve got four-lane highways — all these combined together mean it’s the perfect place to put factories and plants,” May said. “It’s just a matter of enticing businesses to come in.”
As a business owner, Womack, 58, said he has seen firsthand the decline in jobs over the years. He said at any given time he is always 15-20 jobs down when it comes to skilled labor.
His remedy is education, from designing better job training and workforce development to helping students choose between college and vocational schools. His educational reform plan includes restricting the number of students per classroom and increasing certified teacher salaries.
To improve the economic environment, Womack emphasized checks and balances, along with accountability.
“Let’s make sure that if we’ve started something, is it working? How long have we had this program going? Is the money going where it needs to get to?” Womack said. “I have to do that in my business every day.”
Once these basics are in place, he said, then it will be time to figure out how best to address taxation.
“In Louisiana, our roads, our bridges, our water is in such dire need,” Womack said. “But we’ve got to get a plan going. We can’t keep pushing it off.”
Daniel "Danny" Cole
Resides: Trout, La.
Education: Jena High School, Baptist Christian College in Shreveport, Master’s in Educational Leadership from Northwestern State University
Professional: High School Teacher, pastor and lawn service owner
Political: Never held political office; running as a Democrat
Judia "Judy" Duhon
Resides: Olla, La.
Education: Lasalle High School, Louisiana Baptist College in Pineville, Northwestern State University for her master’s degree in educational technology and University of New Orleans for her master’s degree in principalship
Resides: Columbia, La.
Education: Caldwell Parish High School; Police Academy
Professional: law enforcement career at the Caldwell Parish Sheriff's Office
Political: Caldwell Parish Sheriff for 20 years – retired in 2016; running as a Republican
Resides: Harrisonburg, La.
Education: Ogden High School in 1978 in Franklin Parish
Professional: Businessman and president of the Womack Company
Political: No prior political experience; running as a Republican