52nd State Representative District to choose between 2

Terrebonne, Lafourche see jump in early voting
October 21, 2015
Voters to choose between 3 candidates in District 51 House race
October 21, 2015
Terrebonne, Lafourche see jump in early voting
October 21, 2015
Voters to choose between 3 candidates in District 51 House race
October 21, 2015

Voters in the 52nd State Representative District will choose between two candidates to replace the outgoing Gordon Dove, who’s held the position for the last 12 years.

But voters who base their decisions on candidates’ views may find themselves having to choose between two candidates who share many ideas, but entirely different backgrounds.

Former Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority chair Jerome “Zee” Zeringue, and beverage distributor “J.J.” Buquet, owner of Buquet Distributing, are both running for the seat.

Gordon Dove, R-Houma, represented the district which encompasses most of Houma, excluding a large swath of east Houma, and Bayou Blue, for the maximum number of three consecutive terms under state law. He is now running for the Terrebonne Parish presidential office.

Preparing for a special legislative session…

Zeringue said the first thing he would do in office should he be elected would be to reach out to the legislators he’s already established relationships with to discuss critical issues of the state budget in preparation for a special legislative session early next year.

Each of the four candidates for Louisiana’s governor, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, State Rep. John Bel Edwards and U.S. Sen. David Vitter have said publicly they would support a special session to reform Louisiana’s tax structure.

Buquet also said he would speak with other legislators and the governor elect in preparation for the special session.

Both Buquet and Zeringue said they would pursue a cost-to-benefit analysis of the state’s tax incentives like tax credits and exemptions to figure out which of them actually benefit Louisiana and which are nothing more than a drain and ought to be eliminated.

Also, both candidates said they believe the Louisiana budget structure, which currently protects a majority of government spending from cuts and leaves only higher education and public healthcare budgets open to cuts, needs to be completely changed.

“We’ve got to find a way to unlock the budget in such a way that the revenue shortfalls that we’re currently experiencing do not continue to fall squarely on the shoulders of healthcare and higher ed[ucation],” Buquet said. “We’ve got to be able to find a way to spread that pain throughout the entire Louisiana budget and not just keep hitting the same two departments.”

“The unfortunate reality is that the budget is being balanced on the backs of higher education and healthcare and if you were going to identify two issues or two priorities that you should ensure there [are] sufficient resources [to support them], it should be education and healthcare,” Zerinque said.

Zeringue went a little bit further and said that there are state dollars that are protected from cuts that don’t need to be.

On economic development…

Both Buquet and Zeringue share similar views on what Houma needs in order to spur economic development. Both hold the view that the Terrebonne Economic Development Agency is one of the keys to that door.

Buquet said he would like to improve the functionality of the South Louisiana Economic Council, which is one of the economic development agencies in the Bayou Region. He said that currently, there is some dysfunction in that organization. Partly to blame is the fact that most of the funding that pays for these organizations comes from the state, which has slashed funding in that arena due to budget shortfalls.

Buquet also said the SLEC hasn’t been working well with the Terrebonne Economic Development Agency.

“They really need to wrap their arms around one another,” he said. “…The general operating funds for the [economic development organizations] has been eliminated. Many of the EDOs turned to private industry to fund them and SLEC was rather slow in doing so. And so, [SLEC] is really paying the price for that right now.”

Buquet’s plan to correct this is to bring leaders from both TEDA and SLEC together with industry leaders to collectively come up with a solution and a master plan to achieve a vision of what they want EDOs to operate like in the future.

Zeringue also acknowledged that the local EDOs are not operating properly and said fixing them is a priority. He said the role local EDOs must focus on is sustaining and supporting local businesses that are already established because that is the key to improving the business environment in the parish.

Both candidates said modeling the Bayou Region EDOs after existing successful EDOs, such as GNOinc in New Orleans, is important.

Buquet also said he believes in reducing what he called an “overzealous regulatory environment.”

“I believe in regulation, but not over-crazy-zealous regulation that’s hampering the ability for businesses to maintain their doors open,” Buquet said.

On coastal restoration…

Zeringue said he considers coastal erosion the biggest threat to the Bayou Region. The former CPRA director said continued land loss reduces the accessibility to natural resources, increases the region’s vulnerability to hurricanes and, in turn, increases insurance rates, which will drive people to relocate to places where those rates aren’t as high.

“If you don’t have a community, you don’t have people, you don’t have a parish and you don’t have an economy,” Zeringue said. “So, we can talk about roads and bridges or having more improved schools, and that’s great. I support all of that. But we can have the finest schools and the most well equipped libraries, but if they’re underwater, they’re useless.”

He said that it is critical to ensure that the money earmarked for coastal restoration projects are spent on achieving that aim and not diverted to pet projects by other legislators.

Buquet said in order to ensure coastal restoration dollars are spent on exactly what they’re intended to be spent on he will focus on “making a lot of friends.”

“You hate to say it, but that’s what it comes down to because the governor…has ― right wrong, good, or bad ― he’s got a line item veto ability and you’ve better reach out and make friends with the governor very, very quickly to make sure that, one, you’re on a good relationship with that guy. That he understands your issues, that he understands the needs of your area and that he’ll pick up the phone when you call him.”

He said the current Bayou Region delegation has been successful in that regard and he intends to continue that.

What differentiates them

Zeringue was the director of the CPRA, a state-wide organization focused on stemming the rapid land loss that the coastal parishes have experienced for many decades. Before that, he served 10 years as director of the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District.

As director of the CPRA, he represented Louisiana as its OnScene Coordinator during the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. He also assisted in the development and approval of the $50 billion coastal Master Plan aimed at restoring and protecting Louisiana’s coast.

“I ran an organization of a 160 [with] a $600 million budget,” Zeringue said. Then, he said, he had to go through many levels of government culminating with the governor in order to get many projects and their respective budgets approved.

Buquet is president of the family business, chairman of Coastal Commerce Bank and vice chairman of Louisiana Community Bancorp.

“I feel like the state representative from this area does not need to know how to build the levee, he needs to know how to get the money to build the levee,” Buquet said.

Both candidates each said they consider one another a friend and have each run an amicable campaign. Before announcing their candidacies, they sat down together over a couple beers and discussed the campaign and agreed that after the election they would remain friends.

A primary election will be held Oct. 24. Because there are only two candidates for the District 52 seat, there will be no run off.