The second installment of the St. Mary Chamber of Commerce “Meet the Candidates” forum breakfast featured candidates for Senate District 21 and House District 51.
It was held Tuesday at the Morgan City Petroleum Club. Each candidate was challenged to answer two questions:
—“What will you do to ensure that the issues that you will be considering and acting upon will be in the best interest of the majority of the people whom you will represent and not just a few?”
—“What are your goals to assist the state in its economic recovery, reduction of spending and no new taxes?”
Senate District 21 challengers Bret Allain of Adeline and Darrin Guidry of Houma, both Republicans, are running for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Butch Gautreaux.
Allain, 52, is a graduate of Louisiana State University. He has been married for 27 years to the former Kim McElveen.
Allain said that in this area the major needs are job creation and the completion of I-49, while in Thibodaux the concern is the continued survival of Nicholls State University. In both Terrebonne Parish and in east St. Mary, flood protection is a hot button issue.
I-49 through St. Mary Parish should be completed for a number of reasons, he said.
Growth in the state during the last 10 to 20 years was along the I-10/12 corridor. Some 30 percent of the state’s growth was in that area alone, according to the last census. When the mass exodus of New Orleans occurred after Hurricane Katrina, businesses relocated in close proximity to airports and interstates, Allain said.
Without I-49 in the area, this district missed the opportunity to relocate those businesses here, Allain said.
Also, Allain cited rising costs. If the interstate had been completed when former Gov. Mike Foster first took office (in 1996), the cost to complete the project was estimated at $790 million. The current estimate is $5.2 billion.
The section from Lafayette to the I-310 interchange is estimated to cost $3 billion, while upgrading the section between Calumet and the E.J. “Lionel” Grizzaffi bridge is $300 million.
I-49 “needs a champion, and I hope to be that champion,” Allain said.
Coupled with business retention is the need for workforce retention. NSU, Fletcher Technical Community College and South Central Louisiana Community College, Young Memorial Campus are important for educating our workforce, Allain said. However, young people are educated here through our schools, on our dollar through programs like the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) and then leave because there are no jobs to keep them here.
Further, he said, economic development is not just a political catchphrase. It should be like a bank. When you put money into it, you expect to get money out of it. Ports are a prime example of this. Once they are up and running, they are self-sustaining and generate profits almost universally, Allain said.
Meanwhile, Darrin Guidry, a Patterson native and Houma resident, calls himself a Reagan Republican and said he sees the oil moratorium in the Gulf as having decades-long fiscal impacts on the state if the leadership doesn’t act fast.
As senator, Guidry said he would push on the state level to help industry, because, while an increased number of retail businesses are good, they aren’t going to pay all the bills for the state.
Guidry said he would work to make it easier for companies to drill in state waters so that royalties stay in Louisiana, and he would make the tax code more friendly.
The franchise fee is a tax on small business, he said, and it is one that makes it difficult to sell a business in Louisiana. Eliminating the fee, which amounts to an income tax on capital gains, would allow for money to be available for investment in companies that service the oil industry, Guidry said.
The candidate owns Guidry Group Inc., a 14-year-old publishing company operating in Houma.
Guidry said his goal, aside from helping industry, is to help small businesses grow. It is more likely, he said, to expand existing businesses and get them to hire one or two extra people than to recruit a new company that would bring 1,000 jobs to the area.
In the House of Representatives race, Morgan City resident Howard Castay, no party affiliation, was present, while incumbent Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Napoleonville) was absent due to a scheduling conflict.
Castay touched on a number of topics he said are important to the area including the oil moratorium, I-49, education, health care, the BP disaster and flood control.
He said Rep. Harrison voted with other lawmakers to give himself a raise and authored a bill to increase office expense accounts for lawmakers from $1,500 per month to $6,000 per month. Further, Castay said the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry gave Harrison a score of 55 for his work in fighting for business and jobs between 2008 and 2011.
Specifically addressing the chamber’s questions, Castay said he would represent everyone in the state, not just special interests. He promised to work with the chamber and parish officials to boost the area’s economic interests.
Secondly, he would work to downsize government through attrition. Also, he said, an across-the-board audit is needed in any section of government that collects fees or tolls.