A school administrator, two lawyers, a banker and an insurance businessman are competing for the state House District 68 seat that term-limited Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, has occupied since 2007.
The five-person field includes Republicans Laurie White Adams, Tommy Dewey and Scott McKnight, and Democrats Taryn C. Branson and Joshua "Fini" Hajiakbarifini.
Adams, 49, is director of advancement and enrollment management at Parkview Baptist School and is a former legislative assistant to ex-state Sen. Mike Branch and former member of the Louisiana Board of Regents.
Branson, 34, is a lawyer and former teacher who served for two years as a consultant to the Office of Women's Policy in Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration.
Dewey, 53, is the other lawyer in the race and is a retired Baton Rouge police officer. He also served in the U.S. Army.
Hajiakbarifini, 30, works in the executive department at First Guaranty Bank. He served as treasurer for congressional candidate Justin Dewitt in 2018.
McKnight, 38, is director of strategic business development for BXS Insurance, formerly Wright & Percy Insurance, the family business, and is co-owner of RapidFire Protection and Superior Ford. He's also a reserve East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff's deputy.
Interstate 10 runs the length of House District 68, which extends from Perkins and Highland roads on one end to LSU on the other. The district is generally south of Jefferson Highway and north of Perkins.
Early voting for the Oct. 12 election kicks off Saturday and runs through Oct. 5, with the exception of Sunday.
FuturePAC, the political action committee of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, or BRAC, endorsed both McKnight and Adams in the legislative race. The East Baton Rouge Parish Democratic Executive Committee endorsed Branson.
McKnight challenged state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, in 2015 but came in second in the three-candidate race. Claitor won.
McKnight, who labels himself a conservative, said he has lived his entire life in District 68 and cares deeply about it. He said his record of getting things done in business and philanthropy highlight his dedication to community and service, and his ability to deliver results.
"Paving the way for future generations by creating a competitive pro-job, pro-business, pro-growth environment for Louisiana is what we need right now more than ever," he said.
McKnight, who has three young children, said District 68 is a great place to live but can and must be made better.
"I don't want them to have to go somewhere else. If they choose to go somewhere else, that's their choice," he said.
McKnight said topics such as tax reform, tort reform and budget — or expenditure — reform have resonated with voters in the district.
Louisiana has one of the most complicated tax systems in the nation, he said, and state tax exemptions often go to large companies and not small business owners — allowing the state "to pick winners and losers."
McKnight said frivolous lawsuits "are driving our insurance rates." Louisiana has the second-highest automobile insurance rates in the country, he said, and high insurance rates have a "huge ripple effect" on business.
Budget reform is essential so that government lives within its means, he said.
McKnight also said it's time to take a hard look at constitutionally and statutorily dedicated funds and determining if they could be spent elsewhere.
Adams said she will work tirelessly to combat the continued "brain drain" in Louisiana, in which many of its brightest young people depart the state in search of greener pastures.
"I want our kids to raise their children right here in Baton Rouge and not be forced to leave our state to find good opportunities," the mother of two LSU students said.
Adams said she's focused on several critical issues — budget reform, education, infrastructure, and legal and regulatory reform — aimed at making life better for residents in Baton Rouge and across the state, and making the city and state more attractive to business and industry.
She said it's time to break up constitutionally dedicated funding to give Louisiana the flexibility it needs so it can make wise budgetary decisions.
Adams favors expanding school choice programs to give parents a greater voice in their children's education; exploring public-private partnerships for real infrastructure change; and enacting changes to reduce the state's high automobile insurance rates. She also said small business owners in the district have told her the tax code "is a mess and a nightmare."
"It's not insurmountable. We can do this. I have so much hope for Louisiana," she said.
Branson described herself as a moderate Democrat and pledged to listen to voters and put their interests above partisan politics.
"I'm not focused on whether someone has a D or an R behind their name," she said.
Branson, who taught in north Louisiana and in Baton Rouge, said she envisions an educational system where early childhood education is made a priority and fully funded; where parents of K-12 students have the option to send their children to a public, private or charter school that serves the needs of their children; and where college students aren't forced to pay higher tuition costs due to cuts to higher education.
Branson also said the root causes of crime must be addressed and added that education and the economy play a key role.
"It's not that we have a crime issue. We have a poverty issue," she said, noting that investing in our students, such as creating community centers, is vital.
In the area of health care, Branson said the state's high maternal mortality rate must be addressed, considering it is a burgeoning health crisis for both baby and mother.
Dewey said he's running on his record of public service. He served in the U.S. Army (active duty) from 1985-88 and was with the Baton Rouge Police Department from 1990 until 2007, retiring from the force with the rank of sergeant.
"I want to continue my public service," he said. "I want to be a public servant. I don't want to be a politician."
Dewey said what he learned in the military about making a decision and moving forward would serve him well in the Legislature, as would his communication and team-building skills, particularly when it comes to making tough decisions about infrastructure needs.
"There are too many studies. People need to start seeing results," he said, pointing out that roads in neighboring Texas and Florida are flourishing.
"Make a decision and move forward. That's what the military teaches you. Someone has to make the tough decisions."
Dewey said education plays a vital role in public safety by cutting down on the incarceration rate.
Hajiakbarifini said he is a John Bel Edwards' ally, and he joined the race to represent the residents of District 68 and to help the governor's popular policies get through the Legislature.
Hajiakbarifini, who said Edwards "turned this state in a better direction," said he supports measures that foster a batter economic climate.
"Everybody's better off if you just have better economic development," he said.
Hajiakbarifini, who said it's time for Louisiana to finally rise to the top of the good lists, said he's running for state representative "to secure a new freedom for Louisiana."
He said Louisianians need more freedom to start businesses and work where they want; the freedom and security that well-paid jobs provide; the freedom to go anywhere in the state without endless traffic or fear of dangerous bridges; and the freedom to send their children to public school no matter where they live if they so they don't feel like they have to pay for private school.
"Most importantly, we need these freedoms even if it means we have to pay a little more. As long as it is spent wisely, taxes are the price we pay to live in a free society," said Hajiakbarifini, whose campaign is mostly self-funded.
Education is about funding, he said.
"You need teachers with better pay. They should be paid ... at least on par with the Southern average. You need smaller classrooms."
LAURA WHITE “LAURIE” ADAMS
RESIDES: Born in Birmingham, Alabama; moved to Baton Rouge in 1988; lives in Jefferson Terrace
EDUCATION: Graduated from Hoover High School in Hoover, Alabama; bachelor’s degree in Journalism from LSU; master’s in Public Administration from LSU
PROFESSIONAL: Former director of advancement at St. Luke’s Episcopal Day School; former member of Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center development team; currently director of advancement and enrollment management at Parkview Baptist School
POLITICAL: Republican; former legislative assistant in state Senate
TARYN C. BRANSON
RESIDES: Born in West Monroe; moved to Baton Rouge in 2011; lives on Jefferson Highway near Bocage
EDUCATION: Graduated from West Monroe High School; bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and Spanish from Louisiana Tech University; master’s in Criminal Justice from the University of Louisiana at Monroe; juris doctorate from Southern University Law Center
PROFESSIONAL: Lawyer; former educator
RESIDES: Born in New Orleans; moved to Baton Rouge in 1988; lives in Heritage Estates
EDUCATION: Graduated from Jesuit High School; bachelor’s degree in General Studies with focus on Criminal Justice from LSU; juris doctorate from Southern University Law Center
PROFESSIONAL: Lawyer; retired Baton Rouge police officer, 1990-2007; former U.S. Army, 1985-1988
JOSHUA “FINI” HAJIAKBARIFINI
RESIDES: Born in Baton Rouge; resides in Concord Estates
EDUCATION: Graduated from Lee High School; bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and Economics from LSU; master’s in Finance from LSU
POLITICAL: Democrat; served as treasurer for congressional candidate Justin Dewitt in 2018
RESIDES: Born in Baton Rouge; resides in Jefferson Place Bocage
EDUCATION: Graduated from University High School; bachelor’s degree in General Studies from LSU; master’s in Business Administration from LSU
PROFESSIONAL: Insurance businessman; reserve East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy
POLITICAL: Republican; member of Republican State Central Committee