JENNINGS — Candidates for state Senate District 25 shared varying views on the top issues facing the district Wednesday during a candidate forum in Jennings.
Three Republican candidates are seeking the office vacated by Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, who could not seek re-election in the Oct. 12 election because of term limits.
The candidates are Mark Abraham, Kevin Berken and John E. “Johnny” Guinn.
“First is far and above No. 1 is to build a new I-10 bridge because industry cannot transport their goods and services back and forth from the river unless we do so,” Abraham said of his priorities if elected.
Secondly, he said, the state must invest in its education and jobs.
“We have a job gap in Louisiana,” Abraham said. “We have jobs, but people are not trained to take them. We need to pinpoint the exact curriculum and professors that we need to use to make sure they have jobs.”
He said the state also needs to trim its budget and simplify its tax structure to attract more businesses.
Guinn, who served as a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives for 11 years, listed infrastructure as a top priority to be addressed.
“The biggest problem in the district is we don’t have infrastructure,” Guinn said. “We don’t have adequate infrastructure to be able to entice business to come.”
In addition, he said, the state’s drainage system — which he said had been neglected for 50 years — needs to be “straightened up.”
“We don’t have drainage,” he said. “With 157 rivers, the state has more drainage districts then roads and pays the highest insurance because of the neglect.”
The state needs to survey its drainage districts and clean out the ditches, he said.
“If we don’t have these ditches cleaned out we can have all the nice roads that we want and the nice homes, but all of that is going to have problems and you won’t be able to afford to live here because insurance rates keep going up,” Guinn said.
Berken said he is tired of seeing Louisiana at the bottom of lists. The state needs to improve its ranking in many areas from insurance to business to education to be the best it can be, he said.
“We rank 50th in the nation on almost everything,” Berken said. “We need to change most everything in the state.”
Berken’s goal is to see Louisiana ranked 40th in the nation in his first four years in office, if elected. If the rankings do not improve, he said he will not run for a second term.
He also said changes are needed in the state’s infrastructure, early childhood education and taxes. The state’s budget also needs be more flexible with its funds, he said.
He said the state has a “closed for business” sign and is unable to compete with other states because of constant changes in the industrial tax incentives and other measures used to entice businesses to the state.
“It needs to be solid, complete and something people can rely on,” he said.
All three candidates agreed a limited state constitutional convention should be looked at because of certain things legislators cannot change or are not willing to change because of the politics involved with special interest groups.
In closing, Abraham said he would like to do away with the district boundaries so that Calcasieu, Cameron, Jeff Davis and Acadia parishes can work together on projects.
“We need to think of ourselves as one unit because we can have more political influence and more economic influence,” Abraham said.
During the past legislative session, Abraham said he banned together with other groups to get a new bridge in Estherwood, a new ferry in Cameron and moving plans for a new I-10 bridge in Calcasieu Parish forward.
Berken said it is time for a “fresh set of eyes and ears” to go to Baton Rouge and look at problems facing the state, adding the state is losing 2,000 people per month to jobs in other states.
“That’s our tax base and good people going to other states because we rank 50th in the nation in job opportunity,” he said. “You can go anywhere in the other 49 states and get a better job than you have here. It’s time for a fresh set of eyes and ears for our citizens who have better wages to keep more of what they earn, to drive on better roads and to get a better education.”
Guinn said he is working to change the state for his children and grandchildren. He said the education system needs to be left to the teachers to teach.