Seven lesser-known candidates opposing Gov. Bobby Jindal’s re-election bid faced off Wednesday night in a sparsely attended debate on the LSU campus.

The candidates discussed higher education funding, spending cuts, natural resources, the state cigarette tax and other issues.

Jindal — who is widely agreed to be the frontrunner in the Oct. 22 primary — refused to participate in the debate.

The governor said last week the debate’s host, the Louisiana Association of Educators, opposed his education initiatives during his first term.

The LAE represents about 20,000 teachers and other school personnel.

Nine candidates are running against the governor: Democrats Cary Deaton, Tara Hollis, Niki Papazoglakis and Ivo “Trey” Roberts, Libertarian Scott Lewis, and David Blanchard, Leonard “Lenny” Bollingham, Ron Ceasar and William Robert “Bob” Lang, who do not have a party affiliation.

Vacant chairs were set aside at the forum for Jindal, Ceasar and Lang, who were all absent.

The forum’s moderator, radio host Jim Engster, said Jindal refused to send a surrogate to speak on his behalf.

Roberts, a schoolteacher, told the audience not to be too concerned with Jindal’s absence. “There will be plenty of time tonight to talk about what Gov. Jindal is not doing,” Roberts said.

All of the candidates who attended introduced themselves as a necessary alternative to Jindal, even if they are not a household name.

Many said they are angry or fed up with what they perceive to be a lack of progress under the Jindal administration.

“You may not have heard of me because, like you, I’ve been busy working, not politicking,” said Papazoglakis, who is on leave from a nonprofit organization.

Hollis, a schoolteacher, said she is a wife and mother of three. “It is time that we elect one of our own,” she said to an auditorium of about 100 people, many of whom carried her campaign banners.

Bollingham, an engineer, held up a report that showed 44 percent of public schools in Louisiana are failing. “I know I’m angry. We’re a very rich state and we’re failing,” he said.

The first question of the evening centered on higher education, which has undergone funding cuts and experienced tuition increases in the past four years.

Deaton, a lawyer, said nobody has benefited more from higher education than Jindal, who graduated from an Ivy League university in Rhode Island. He accused the governor of increasing tuition, laying off administrators and pulling up the ladder on public colleges and universities upon becoming governor.

Deaton said his first order of business would be to lower college tuition by 10 percent.

Roberts said the state needs to collect a processing fee for seven years on the petrochemical industry. With the revenue, he said, the state could expand a merit-based college scholarship program.

Papazoglakis said she agreed with Roberts that the state’s natural resources are the answer to education funding problems.

“The money is flowing under our feet,” she said.