The five contenders who hope to succeed state Sen. Dan Claitor showed wide differences on abortion during a forum Monday at the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

All five, including two incumbent House members vying for the seat, also sounded off on the push to form a new city of St. George, whether a 2018 state sales tax hike should be rolled back and Baton Rouge traffic.

At stake is the Senate District 16 post, which covers the southeastern portion of East Baton Rouge Parish and Claitor has to vacate because of term limits.

The contest is one of 27 Senate races statewide.

The Baton Rouge contest features state Reps. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge and Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, who were longtime seatmates in the Louisiana House now running against each other, and  three other contenders.

That trio includes Democrat Beverly Brooks Thompson, Republican Bob Bell and Libertarian Everett Baudean.

The clearest split of the forum focused on whether an abortion bill signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards that banned abortion at about six weeks of pregnancy should have included an exception for rape and incest.

The law will only take effect if a similar measure in Mississippi withstands a court challenge.

Foil said that, during House debate on the bill, he voted for an amendment that would have added an exception to the bill for rape and incest. He noted that the amendment failed. Foil later voted for the bill.

Carter said he opposed the rape and incest amendment and even has trouble running over squirrels.

"You are basically going to be killing an unborn," Carter said of the exception.

Thompson disagreed with both Carter and Foil.

"That bill was about control, not health care," she told the group.

Thompson said issues likes those embodied in the legislation should be settled by a woman and her doctor.

Bell said he opposed an exception for rape and incest.

He said the only caveat to such legislation should be to save the life of the mother. "You should not punish the unborn child for the crime of the father," Bell said.

Baudean said he favored a rape and incest exception. "But beyond that I don't think it should have ever been passed," he said of the legislation.

The candidates also showed sharp divisions over St. George, which would be the fifth city in East Baton Rouge Parish and is in the senatorial district they are seeking.

Carter and Foil both sidestepped the question.

"It is up to the voters," Carter said.

Thompson said she opposed the push. "We are better together," she said.

Baudean said voters should have a say in their own government.

Bell endorsed the St. George drive, which like the state Senate race will be on the Oct. 12 primary ballot. "I think it is a basic right to form your own municipality," he said.

The five candidates also disagreed on the merits of legislation debated earlier this year that would have gradually rolled back the 0.45 percent state sales tax approved last year aimed at shoring up state finances.

The bill, by House GOP leader Lance Harris, of Alexandria, failed.

Baudean said that, while he has major reservations about taxes, he would not favor undoing the sales tax hike unless state spending was cut too.

Thompson said the issue points up the need for a constitutional convention, which has been pushed in the Legislature without success.

Carter said he voted for the bill.

"We have been taxed enough," he said.

Foil echoed that stance.

"We did have a $300 million surplus this year," he noted.

In other areas, Bell said 89 percent of state gas tax revenue is not used for roads and bridges. "The first thing we have to do is get the gas tax back to roads and bridges," he said when asked how to improve Baton Rouge area traffic.

Top officials of the state Department of Transportation and Development dispute the view that large amounts of gas tax revenue are used for non-highway purposes.

Thompson and Foil said a new bridge across the Mississippi River should be the top priority for improving traffic.

Carter, who in 2017 sponsored a failed bid to boost the state gas tax by about $500 million per year, said lawmakers need to show courage to solve traffic congestion.

Baudean was the lone candidate who endorsed the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes.

The Senate race will include a Nov. 16 runoff unless one of the five candidates gets at least 50 percent of the vote plus one.

Separate from the forum Claitor, who endorsed Foil's bid to succeed him, said he has served with numerous lawmakers.

"Few have been as hardworking and effective as Franklin Foil," said Claitor, a Baton Rouge Republican.

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