First-term state Sen. Troy Brown said he believes he is running strong in his sprawling River Parishes district that encompasses 85 percent of southeast Louisiana’s chemical corridor as he defends his seat from two challengers in the Oct. 24 election.
Trying to oust Brown from his Senate District 2 seat are safety consultant Chris Delpit and restaurateur Eric Weil, who both say Brown has failed to stay in touch with residents who are now unhappy with his leadership.
District 2 encompasses parts of eight parishes that follow the Mississippi River and Bayou Lafourche from West Baton Rouge Parish to St. Charles and Lafourche parishes.
Senate District 2 was a minority-majority district entirely contained within Orleans Parish before the 2010 census. Under the 2011 redistricting process that took into account the post-Katrina depopulation of New Orleans, the district was refashioned to track the Mississippi and Bayou Lafourche into a new minority-majority district.
Brown, who won a tough runoff in 2011, said that in his first four years in office he sat on the Senate Transportation, Highways and Public Works Committee and helped direct funding for major refurbishments on three Mississippi River bridges in his district: the Sunshine Bridge, the Interstate 10 and the old Highway 190 bridges in Baton Rouge.
Brown, 44, a Democrat with rental properties and businesses in construction and home health care, is far and away the top fundraiser in the race, seeing donations from residents but also businesses, engineering firms and others with ties to the river corridor.
As of Oct. 4, Brown had $39,866 for the final weeks of the race. Since then, he has raised another $20,000, including $10,000 on Oct. 15 from the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee for direct mail pieces, campaign reports say.
Weil reported donating $1,463 of his money to his campaign while Delpit gave $304 of his money to his campaign. Neither man had any cash on hand in reports filed in October.
Brown claims his opponents are running because of personal disputes with him and believes he will win in the primary. He says he has adjusted his advertising accordingly by running radio ads and using direct mail but no TV ads.
“I believe I’ll be finished next week,” he said Thursday.
Despite Brown’s establishment backing and financial advantage, Delpit, 56, a Democrat, and Weil, 68, no party, say Brown’s constituents feel he is out of touch and needs to represent more people than a “chosen few.”
“We have no leadership. The leader we have right now doesn’t seem to be concerned about our needs like jobs, education, attending to people when they are in need, helping when they are calling upon our leader,” Delpit said.
Weil, who owns Café Lafourche in Donaldsonville and is the son of deceased Donaldsonville politician Heldon “Jay” Weil Jr., aired similar concerns, which he says he’s heard from voters. Weil predicted Brown would be in for a surprise and won’t be elected Saturday.
Weil, who says he is not a politician, ran once before for Ascension Parish Council when he said voters told him that now outgoing Councilman Kent Schexnaydre had forgotten about the west bank. Weil said he sees himself in a similar “eye-opening” role this time.
“One thing I’m going to tell you right now about me: You call me, I will always call you back. I might not get right around to it immediately, but I will call you back,” Weil said.
If elected, Weil said, he would create committees of residents in each of the district’s parishes to stay in touch with constituents’ issues, and Delpit said he would hold town hall meetings as his way to stay in touch.
Brown claimed his opponents are upset with him because he did not respond as they wanted him to over their business concerns. Brown said Delpit had come to him for assistance in getting a contract with a large petrochemical facility in Ascension. Brown said he does not believe it was his job as a senator to help Delpit with a contract.
Brown said Weil had sought Brown’s intervention in a state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control violation at Weil’s restaurant and over a dispute Weil had with the Bayou Lafourche Fresh Water District.
While Weil and Delpit did say they had tried to reach Brown over the issues Brown described, they disputed his charge that those problems directly motivated their candidacies.
“I’m running because of the people that are talking to me about making the district a better place,” Weil said.
Delpit said he had tried to get a minority business contract with the Methanex plant in Geismar near his home and was told to call his senator but Brown never returned his call. The experience made Delpit wonder, he said, how many other people Brown had ignored.
Weil claims that a then-new, enthusiastic 16-year-old employee served alcohol to an undercover, underage ATC agent, but only after the agent did not respond to several requests to give his identification. ATC agents later claimed the employee never asked for identification, Weil said.
Weil, who said he did not dispute that the drink was served improperly, said he called Brown because he felt the agent was not being truthful.
ATC Commissioner Troy Hebert on Friday said Weil was cited for serving someone alcohol who was underage and for having an employee serve alcohol who had not been certified as a responsible vendor. Hebert stood by the agent’s version of events in the June 2014 incident, saying the agent had a witness with him. Weil paid a $1,575 fine and did not show up for a hearing on the issue.
One major issue identified by the candidates is jobs for local residents. Brown said he would modify the state Quality Jobs incentives program to reward companies that hire within the region where they are located.
Delpit said he would work with other officials to help residents get jobs in industry and would like to see juvenile criminal records sealed more effectively so young people with minor convictions wouldn’t be hindered from getting plant security clearances. Weil said he would work with industry to create satellite technical training campuses.
Delpit said he supported the expansion of Medicaid called for in the Affordable Care Act, an idea gaining traction as a possible boost to the state budget. Brown said he is 50-50 on the idea and wants to check for unintended consequences first. Weil said he was not going to discuss that issue at this time.
More broadly on the state budget, all three men said they were interested in looking at reducing some tax incentives and removing some constitutional protections on spending but wanted to protect educational funding. None was interested in raising new taxes.