Candidates speak at forum

Published 3:57 am Saturday, September 28, 2019

Candidates for four state and parish political races spoke in front of about 50 citizens Thursday afternoon, during a candidate forum held at the Bogalusa Senior Center.

Bogalusa AARP Chapter 4032 sponsored the forum, and in attendance were the following candidates: Washington Parish Sheriff — Randy Seal (Democrat, incumbent), Olander Smith (Democrat, challenger) and Demille Topps (Democrat, challenger); Washington Parish President — Ryan Seal (Republican, challenger) and Richard “Ned” Thomas (Democrat, incumbent); State Representative District 75 — Phillipp Bedwell (Republican, challenger) and Malinda White (Democrat, incumbent); and State Senate District 12 — Beth Mizell (Republican, incumbent). Mizell’s opponent, Democrat Darrell Fairburn, was invited to the forum but had a conflict with another meeting and was unable to attend.

Moderators were attorney Charles Hughes Jr., and Justin Schuver, publisher and editor of The Daily News. Hughes opened the forum by presenting questions to the three candidates for the two state legislative offices, and they were given two minutes to answer. The order was varied to ensure that no candidate consistently answered first.

Schuver then provided questions to the parish president candidates, followed by the parish sheriff candidates. The entire forum took approximately an hour and 30 minutes. All candidates were also given the opportunity to make brief opening and closing statements, during their portion of the forum.

Editor’s Note: Today’s story will include a summary of the first two questions of the state legislators’ session, and one question each from the parish presidents’ and parish sheriffs’ session. Summaries of the remaining questions-and-answers will be published in the Wednesday, Oct. 2, edition of The Daily News.

State legislators

Question (paraphrased): How can we improve the local economy to ensure that our children do not move away in search of better jobs:

  • Mizell — She noted that she has two children who work out of state, so she is familiar with this issue. Mizell stated that there are two different problems that must be addressed — not only do we need good jobs to keep our children at home, but we also need to improve education to ensure that attractive workforce candidates are available to industries who are seeking workers. She said technology improvements are needed to allow students to take online courses and take advantage of other Internet educational opportunities. Finally, she noted that the state’s leadership needs to be pro-business.
  • Bedwell — He said that one of the primary reasons that jobs are leaving the area, is because there have been “over 30 new state laws” over the last four years, which have raised business taxes by over $3 billion. He noted that Louisiana lost 1,000 jobs last year, and was the only state in the union that lost jobs.

“Until we get our taxes, until we get true tax and budget reform established, we’re going to continue to lose jobs,” he said.

Bedwell said that it was cheaper for his family to live in a suburb of Dallas, Texas, than to live in the city of Bogalusa. He used this as an example of how high taxation keeps potential residents from moving to the state.

  • White — White noted that Washington Parish has the fifth lowest property tax in the state of Louisiana. She also expressed her belief that the lack of a four-lane highway connecting Bogalusa to the interstate is a hindrance to attracting new business. However, she noted that the state is finally starting to get to work on a “30-year commitment” to create the four-lane highway (Highway 3241). The project is now out for bid for designs, she said.

 

Question: What changes would you propose to achieve tax reform and a more fair allocation of tax revenue?

  • Bedwell — He said that it would be a good idea to raise the standard exemption for individual filers. He also noted that the state should look at the corporate income tax, because there are too many exemptions.

“Eighty-six percent of the possible corporate income tax is exempt,” he said.

Bedwell suggested that the state could reduce the corporate income tax rate, but do away with the exemptions, which will insure that all businesses — regardless of size — contribute to the revenue.

  • White — White said that that there were tax reform proposals introduced during her initial special session, but they failed due to “partisan politics.” She said that the only compromise that could be reached was a sales-tax increase — 1 cent for two years; and 0.45 cents for seven years (six years left as of today).

“We have time to actually get tax reform done,” she said.

White noted that she is a businesswoman who understands the importance of tax reform, and is confident it will still be discussed and voted upon in the future.

  • Mizell — She said that Louisiana needs to look at what its neighboring states are doing, in order to figure out why our state is not succeeded. She pointed out that the state has lost 68,000 people in the last four years. Mizell said that neighboring states do not have a corporate income tax, which makes them more attractive to businesses.

“Corporate income tax brings in next to nothing,” she said.

She said that the state has too many regulations and requirements that are anti-business.

 

Parish presidents

Question: What do you feel are the biggest problems keeping Washington Parish from thriving and growing?

  • Thomas — He said that businesses that are looking to come to the parish are looking for better schools, better roads and bridges. He said that Highway 3241 would be an enormous benefit to Washington Parish.

Thomas noted that he has been working very hard to help push the highway project through, and will continue to do so if re-elected.

“We should be using our noggins and making our feet work to get out there and make things better for the people of Washington Parish,” he said.

  • Seal — Seal agreed with Thomas that four-lane access with Highway 3241 is critical to improve the local economy. He also said that ideally Highway 25 also should be four-laned from Covington to Franklinton.

Seal said that Washington Parish also needs affordable high-speed broadband Internet access, not only for businesses but also for individuals. He said that people could work or take college classes from home, if they had the quality of Internet to allow it.

He also noted that the opioid epidemic is a major problem facing the parish. Businesses have a hard time finding employees who can pass a drug test, he said.

 

Parish sheriffs

Question: What do you feel are the biggest law-enforcement issues facing the parish today, and how would you choose to address them?

  • Smith — “At this moment, our biggest problem we have is the opioid problem,” Smith said.

He said that the second biggest issue is that the population is elderly, and first responders need to be trained and in the physical shape to help someone who has had a heart attack or other health emergency.

“Instead of standing there with a clipboard in his hand and waiting for the ambulance, he can be doing some first aid,” Smith said.

Smith said that the DARE program needs to be brought back in local schools, and we need to do a better job of teaching our children about the problems with drugs. He also believes there should be resource officers at all schools.

“We cannot arrest our way out of this problem,” Smith said. “Everybody who’s on opioids is not bad people. They just made a bad decision.”

  • Topps — Topps said the biggest issue facing the parish is that there are not “enough officers to fight that (drug) problem.”

“You only have a few officers on each side of the parish, then nobody fears anything,” Topps said. “So they do everything … Without visibility, there’s nothing. You’re not scared to speed, you’re not scared to use drugs, you’re not scared to steal somebody’s four-wheeler. You’re not scared to do anything.”

Topps said he would divide the parish into zones, and make sure the officers are accountable to stay in their zones. He would also stagger breaks to make sure that not all officers are taking lunch at the same time.

  • Seal — Seal said that this is the first time in 50 years that the sheriff’s office is completely out of debt, and the number of troopers on the beat is what the parish can currently afford.

Seal also agreed that the opioid crisis is the No. 1 issue facing Washington Parish. But he noted that the rest of the state is facing the same crisis as well. He said he is proud of his office’s aggressive approach to combating the drug problem.

“Yes, we know we can’t arrest our way out of it, chief (referring to Smith),” he said. “But I tell you what, I want the drug addicts off the streets just like I do the drug sellers. … I don’t want them to run over your kids, or my kids, or my grandkids and kill them.

“Yes, we’re going to put them in jail. Being in jail is the best rehab they get, because they’re not getting drugs while they’re in there.”

Seal said that he would love to see a resource officer in every school, but the funds are not available.

“You can say a lot of things when you’re running,” he said. “But when you’re the sheriff and you’ve had to do things, you’ll know running and reality’s two different things.”

Following the conclusion of the forum, past State Sen. Ben Nevers was named an honorary AARP member.