Candidates participate in forum (Part 2 of 2)
Published 3:56 am Saturday, October 5, 2019
Candidates for four state and political races spoke in front of about 50 citizens on Thursday, Sept. 26, during a candidate forum held at the Bogalusa Senior Center.
In the weekend edition, Sept. 28-29, 2019, of The Daily News, summaries of the first half of questions were published. This story includes the second half of questions:
Question (paraphrased): Many people have lamented the fact that Washington, D.C., style partisanship has seeped into Baton Rouge. How would you fix the partisanship problem in our state capital?
- Malinda White, Democrat incumbent, State Representative for District 75 — White said that she was shocked to see the partisanship present in Baton Rouge, and colleagues told her that it is as bad as it has ever been.
“But I will tell you that we will get nothing passed unless we pull together,” she said.
White said the extremes of both the right wing and left wing are equally bad.
“I have a lot of Republican colleagues that I call my dear friends, and we have voted together many times to move our state forward,” she said.
- Beth Mizell, Republican incumbent, State Senator for District 12 — She noted that the Senate is different from the House because it only has 39 members, so that body likes to have a consensus.
She noted that she worked with a Democratic state senator from New Orleans in order to help secure some funding for improvements at the Washington Parish Courthouse.
“We respect each other,” she said. “We know each other beyond the ‘R’ behind my name and the ‘D’ behind his name. He respects that I care about my district. He respects issues — I’m very pro-life, he’s not, but he respects that I stand up for what I believe in.”
Mizell also noted that there is a strong divide between urban representatives and rural representatives, and they need to work together as well.
- Phillipp Bedwell, Republican challenger, State Representative for District 75 — Bedwell said “it’s no secret that I’m a conservative Republican,” and while he was on Parish Council he worked with party members from both parties to “get things done.”
“Sometimes it fell more toward the conservative side, sometimes it fell more towards the other side,” he said. “But it was a compromise.”
Bedwell noted that even the founding fathers disagreed strongly on some issues, but were able to work together to establish a new nation.
Question: What projects would you push for in the capital outlay bill and state budget to bring to Washington Parish? How would you get that done?
- Mizell — She said that capital outlay is based neither on need or merit, but only politics at its “rock bottom level.”
“Sometimes the most deserving requests aren’t even considered,” she said. “That’s a tremendous frustration.”
Mizell said that she bases her requests on what the community asks for. She has asked for a one-way turn lane on Superior Avenue, because “somebody is going to get killed.” She has also asked for a third lane on Highway 25 to Highway 10, going to Folsom and going to Bogalusa in each direction.
- Bedwell — Bedwell said he is working on a plan to see if there are any physical problems that might have caused the recent flooding. He also noted that rural broadband improvements would be a huge help for the parish.
He said that there are a “lot of bridges and a lot of roads out there that need some help and need to be worked on.”
- White — White said that capital outlay is an interesting process, because it is constantly changing as it moves through the wheels of government.
“When I got there, I discussed that we had note received any capital outlay dollars for 10 years,” said White, noting that she was able to secure some projects in her first two years.
White also said that the governor has told her that “brick and mortar” projects have virtually no change of being approved as capital outlay projects — the priority now is on infrastructure improvements.
Question: This parish is a large geographic area. How would you use technology and other methods to increase accessibility and accountability to all citizens, no matter where in the parish they may live? How will you ensure that road and infrastructure improvements benefit the parish as a whole, and not just specific small areas?
- Ryan Seal, Republican challenger — Seal said that improved Internet broadband is important for rural areas, because it will allow the parish government officials to more quickly communicate with the residents.
He noted that recent floods have affected roads that “have never been flooded before,” and he thinks the parish should be more proactive rather than reactive.
- Richard “Ned” Thomas, Democrat incumbent — Thomas agrees that broadband is very important for Washington Parish, and works to communicate with the parish council members in each district to ensure that all constituents are being treated fairly.
“There’s no favorite places that they’re putting roads,” he said.
Thomas said that the parish recently got a $2 million grant to improve bridges and culverts that were affected by the recent flooding, parish-wide.
“Our bridges are getting better all the time,” he said.
Question: What are your thoughts in regard to the mandatory funding obligations of parish government?
- Thomas — Thomas said that the parish has functions that it is required to perform under state law. He noted that the government in the past was “running a little behind” in those obligations, but have made significant improvements.
“We’re picking things up now,” he said. “To pay the mandatory (requirements) … and we’re doing it.”
Thomas said that the parish is dealing with an old jail, and is constantly working on it to make improvements where it can.
- Seal — Seal said that he has never liked “unfunded mandates.”
“I think it’s unfortunate when some higher-ranking government entity puts pressure on a local entity without funding it,” he said.
Seal noted that some smaller, rural parishes don’t have the money to meet funding obligations — such as parish jails and district attorney systems.
“If it’s the law, we’ve got to comply with law,” he said. “The law may be stubborn. We may not agree with it. We may like to change it. But we must be in compliance with the law.”
Question: How would you improve public relations and community involvement between the citizens and the employees of the Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office?
- Demille Topps, Democrat challenger — Topps said that one problem with the sheriff’s office and the community is that information is “a big secret.”
Topps said that he thinks there should be “juries” who are made up of citizens in the community, who might be able to assist with hiring and disciplinary decisions for WPSO personnel.
Topps said that municipal police departments and other law enforcement agencies need to work together to police the parish as best as they can.
- Randy “Country” Seal, Democrat incumbent — Seal said that the sheriff has to be accessible to the people, and noted that he has more than 13,000 telephone numbers in his cell phone.
“How did I get (those numbers),” he said. “By being accessible to the people.”
Seal said that Topps’ citizen jury idea “sounds good,” but it is not practical.
“As the sheriff, I want to do the hiring. And I want to do the firing,” he said. “You elected me to do that.”
Seal said the sheriff also has to set an example, and be active in the community.
“I’m not an eight-hour-a-day sheriff,” he said. “I’m a 24-hour-a-day sheriff, 365 days a year.”
- Olander “Smitty” Smith, Democrat challenger — Smith said a sheriff has to work within the community.
“I have been given a gift of service, and that’s what I’ve been doing all my life,” he said. “My core values deal with how I treat people, how I deal with people every day. Open-door policy, communicative policing, going out and seeing the people.”
Smith said that he would also train his officers to “do what is right, because it is the right thing to do.”
He said that leadership must come from the top, and set a good example for those who follow.
Question: How can you increase the visible criminal patrol presence in all of Washington Parish?
- Seal — He said that the simple answer is that “you have to have more money.”
Seal said that the WPSO was in financial straits when his administration began working, and had to work to recover from a budget deficit.
“We found out that we had more money going out than we had coming in,” he said. “And so we went and made the cuts. We now know that the WPSO threshold is 85 employees — we can’t hire any more than 85 employees, with the money that we have.”
Seal said that the sheriff’s office has to live within its means, just like any home or business owner.
- Topps — Topps said that the sheriff’s office should have a law enforcement grant writer that can find creative ways to get more funding.
He also said that there should be some restructuring within the office.
“Some people are going to have to multi-task,” he said.
Topps said that if he were elected sheriff, he would assist with criminal patrol as well.
“I think we have to go out into the streets, go into the communities, and earn our pay,” he said. “You can’t sit in the office, just answering phones. There’s nothing wrong with being an upper administrator and going out on a beat.”
- Smith — Smith said that he agrees that the office could use more money, but “sometimes it depends on how you spend that money.”
Smith noted that he has had previous jobs where he was asked to hire more people to deal with a backlog of work.
“When I changed it up, and put more people in different areas, they found out a better way of doing business,” he said. “Yes, we had the same amount of money, but we were able to do more. So sometimes you need to stop worrying about how it had been done, and look for ways that things have to be done differently.”
He noted that he has a police officer his whole life, and knows the challenges that employees at all levels faced. He recalled a time when he wanted to do a repainting project but was told there was no funding, so he took a small amount of petty cash each week to buy enough single cans of paint until there was enough to do the job.
“Yes, everybody needs more money,” he said. “Because having more money makes it all better. But sometimes, you waste money because you have money.”
The election is Saturday, Oct. 12.