Legislators ‘retiring’ soon

Published 3:20 pm Friday, September 18, 2015

Bogalusa’s two outgoing state legislators were treated to a “retirement party” Thursday afternoon, and they told of some of the positives and the negatives of their time in Baton Rouge.

State Rep. Harold Ritchie and State Sen. Ben Nevers were the guests of honor at the Bogalusa Chamber of Commerce’s 2015 Legislative Luncheon, which was held in the party room at Maria’s Restaurant. The luncheon is held every year, but this year’s event held special importance because it is the final term for both Ritchie and Nevers.

Both Nevers and Ritchie are members of the Democratic Party. However, Nevers said that eight years ago he told many constituents to vote for current Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican.

At that time, Nevers believed that Jindal was an intelligent man, and a new face who could bring meaningful reforms to Louisiana.

“It was the worst political mistake of my life, asking you to vote for Bobby Jindal,” Nevers said to the crowd of a little more than 50 people at Maria’s Restaurant.

Nevers has been battling health issues and began his remarks while sitting down. However, he eventually stood up and was demonstrative as he expressed his frustration with the governor.

“Somehow or another, he lost touch with our state and our people,” said Nevers, noting his belief that Jindal has often put presidential campaign aspirations over the business of the state.

“You can hear the frustration in my voice, but I’ve spent 17 years of my life (in Baton Rouge),” Nevers said.

Nevers said he was disappointed with the way that Jindal has handled his battle against Common Core, and that the fight has put Louisiana’s education system even further behind. He also said it made no sense for Louisiana not to vote for Medicaid expansion, because the state was already paying $1.6 billion to the federal government anyway. By not voting for Medicaid expansion, that money is filtered out to other states and does not return to Louisiana, Nevers said.

Nevers also noted some positive improvements that he has seen while serving in office. He praised the investments that International Paper has made in the Bogalusa mill, and said Thursday that the facility was very close to shutting down had International Paper not stepped in.

He also praised the work at Northshore Technical Community College, noting that students who begin their education at technical colleges now have an easier path to transfer to a four-year university.

“There have been some positive gains,” Nevers said. “And Bobby Jindal has played a part in those, so I give him credit for that.”

Ritchie, who spoke before Nevers, said that this year’s legislative session was a tough one that required some tough choices. Legislators passed more than $750 million in additional taxes and made cuts to many services, to help fill a $1.6 billion budget shortfall.

One of those additional taxes is an increase in the cigarette tax, from 36 cents to 86 cents. Ritchie joked that he wasn’t sure if that new tax played a role, but he was recently able to quit smoking — earning a round of applause.

Both Ritchie and Nevers expressed their thanks for the opportunity to serve.

“It’s been an honor and a privilege to me to serve y’all and to serve this district,” Ritchie said. “Thank you.”

“Whether or not we agreed on issues or disagreed, I always respected your opinion,” Nevers said.