Building a new Interstate 10-Calcasieu River bridge, tax reform and growing the economy were some of the topics candidates for state House Districts 34, 35 and 36 discussed at a Friday forum.
The event, held at the SEED Center, was the last of three debates hosted by the Chamber/Southwest Louisiana for the Oct. 12 election. Forums were held Wednesday in Jennings and Thursday in Sulphur.
The candidates running for the District 34 seat are Kevin Guidry, Wilford Carter and Matilda Green Miller, all Democrats. Rep. A.B. Franklin of Lake Charles is term-limited.
Guidry has served as the District 9 Calcasieu Parish police juror since first being elected in 2004. He mentioned creating an environment that sparks economic growth, including entertainment venues like Topgolf.
“We have to give something to our people that’s going to be attractive to them to make them stay,” he said. “If we can’t find those kinds of things for people to want to stop and be a part of what we’re doing here in Southwest Louisiana, we’re losing them.”
Carter represented District 34 from 1983 until 1992, when he resigned to serve as a 14th Judicial District Court judge. He retired from the court in 2013.
“I don’t see much difference in the Legislature today as when I was there,” Carter said. “We’ve got to work with one another to make things happen. I’m willing to do that.”
Carter called the Interstate 10 corridor a “gold mine” for the local economy and a prime spot for new businesses. He said the Lake Charles Regional Airport and McNeese State University should remain a priority for the area.
Miller said she wants to help existing businesses grow, while enticing new business development in the district.
District 35 candidates include incumbent Rep. Stephen Dwight of Moss Bluff and Jacob Marceaux, both Republicans. Dwight has served in the House since 2016.
When asked about supporting small business growth in urban areas within the district, Dwight and Marceaux said state licenses and regulations should be reduced.
“There’s too much red tape ... and we’re holding everyone back,” Dwight said.
Marceaux said if elected, he would offer voters a “clean slate” because he is funding his campaign alone. He talked about the need to fix infrastructure in the district.
“When you cross over the railroad tracks in Westlake, you almost have to get your car realigned ... and there’s a multi-billion-dollar asset sitting right there over to the left,” he said.
Expensive car insurance rates not only affect drivers, but also truckers and those in the logging industry, Marceaux said.
Dwight said Louisiana’s tax system needs reform and has too many dedications. Changing it may require a constitutional convention, he said.
Marceaux said he doesn’t support a permanent toll for drivers crossing a newly-built I-10 bridge.
“I personally feel that’s an embarrassment to our community,” he said. “I guess I just don’t get can’t why we can’t write a bond to service this I-10 bridge, take the federal monies being offered ... and once that bond is paid off, no more toll.”
Dwight said the state should have its share of the funding for a new I-10 bridge ready before it receives federal dollars.
“We don’t need to study (the bridge),” he said. “It’s been studied long enough.”
Dwight said he and other state lawmakers helped secure money from the BP oil spill to cover repairs to Sam Houston Jones State Park.
Candidates in the District 36 race are Mike Eason and Phillip Tarver, both Republicans.
Both said their careers have prepared them with the skills needed to balance the state’s budget. Eason said health care and education have been on the chopping block for too long during deficit years.
“Approximately 80 percent of our budget is tied up in the Constitution,” he said. “We’ve got to change that. Everything should be on the table.”
Eason said industrial tax exemptions impact property taxes for the first 10 years, but they have a big payoff in the long run.
“The largest taxpayer in Calcasieu Parish is Citgo,” he said. “And I’m quite certain if I go backwards I’ll find that they had an ITEP.”
Tarver said state lawmakers should make as many changes as they can before holding a constitutional convention. He said he is open to the idea of a convention and called the state constitution complicated.
Eason said he supports looking into a constitutional convention. He added it will take “a lot of political will” to hold a convention, including a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate.
Eason said the district should use best practices from other areas to improve drainage.
“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” he said.
Tarver said the economy and other issues could benefit from elected officials thinking ahead instead of reacting to problems.