Voters to choose between 3 candidates in District 51 House race

52nd State Representative District to choose between 2
October 21, 2015
2 set to challenge incumbent in Dist. 53
October 21, 2015
52nd State Representative District to choose between 2
October 21, 2015
2 set to challenge incumbent in Dist. 53
October 21, 2015

Two candidates are challenging incumbent Joseph “Joe” Harrison (R-Gray) this Saturday for the job of representing District 51 in the State House.

Terrebonne Parish Councilmember Beryl Amedee (R) and radio station owner Howard J. Castay Jr. (D) are running along with Harrison and all three say their top priority is fixing state budget problems if elected.

Each of the four front-running candidates of Louisiana’s governorship ― Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, State Rep. John Bel Edwards and U.S. Sen. David Vitter ― have openly said that if they were elected, they would call a special legislative session to address the tax and revenue issues that have led to yearly state budget deficits.

“We are in a horrible situation,” incumbent Rep. Harrison said. “…We need to tear the budget down to the bottom and start over.”

Harrison said that the only areas of the state budget that the State Legislature can make cuts to in order to make up for budget shortfalls are public healthcare funding and higher education. All other areas of the budget are protected either by the state constitution or by statutory law. He said opening up those protected areas of the budget to cuts is critical to fixing Louisiana’s budgetary woes.

Harrison also spoke of examining the tax credit and exemptions given to various industries in Louisiana that may or may not really benefit the state in the long run, and said they need to be examined to determine to which degree they do help or hurt the state purse.

“Finance all of your successes and get rid of the failures,” Harrison said.

Amedee also said dedicated funds need to be “unlocked” in order to fix the budget. She added, though, that there are a number of other things the state spends money on that represent inefficient spending that need to be done away with in order to balance the budget.

“I don’t believe that we have a revenue problem,” Amedee said. “I believe that we have a spending problem.”

Amedee added that “the bulk” of dedicated money is protected by legal statutes that can be addressed by legislators during a special session without amending the state constitution, which would require approval from voters during an election.

Castay said that a lot of money may be being misspent at the state level because of a lack of transparency in Governor “Bobby” Jindal’s office that distorts the true state of Louisiana’s budget.

He said he would fight to protect healthcare and higher education from spending cuts.

With the downturn in the Bayou Region’s economy due to lowered oil prices, economic development has emerged as a big concern for many voters. Many workers have been laid off from oil and oilfield service companies and the layoffs are predicted to continue.

Harrison said he would work to pass laws that promote a more diverse local economy that would put some of the skilled workforce back to work. He said he would like to bring manufacturing jobs to the district to build things that most Americans would likely buy from overseas.

He also said that legislation to protect sugar farmers and refiners from the oversupply of sugar imported from countries like Brazil is necessary to protect the industry. He also said incentives to attract seafood processors to the area would boost the economy by increasing the region’s capacity to sell processed seafood instead of shipping it to out-of-state processors.

He also said that all imported foods need to be required to follow any and all of the regulations that domestic food producers must ascribe to in order to ensure that local farmers and fisherman have a “level playing field” on which to compete.

Amedee also said that bringing in new industries is important to increasing the area’s economic resilience to downturns in the oil industry. But, she said, there are many businesses already in the district that are suffering under a heavy tax burden and need a leg up in order to take risks and expand their businesses.

Castay said he would work to create a better working relationship between the various chambers of commerce throughout the district in order to promote the growth of small businesses in the area. He said the biggest economic engine in any economy is small business, but resources available to people who want to start one are not up to par. He said more resources offered to those entrepreneurs would go a long way to creating a better business environment.

He also said he would push for the national delegation to increase tariffs on imported seafood in order to give local fisherman a hand.

“Seafood imports have to be taxed more than they’re being taxed because it’s hurting our fishing community,” Castay said. “These guys fight day in and day out to make a living but I think their needs have been overlooked in the past.”

Other business boosts Castay said he would pursue included dredging the Atchafalaya River so that large ships could enter the Port of Morgan City and expanding Medicaid in the state.

Gov. Jindal’s refusal to accept an expanded Medicaid program that is part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, has drawn fire from many health care providers, who say the expansion would allow more people to receive medical care.

Castay cited a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that said the expansion of Medicaid in Louisiana would have had a $1 billion economic boost to the state’s economy if it were accepted.

Getting the money from the state to complete coastal restoration projects in District 51, of which a large part is the now-broken marshes of southern Terrebonne Parish, can prove difficult when a majority of the state’s legislators represent areas that are not on the Gulf Coast, Amedee said.

That is even more of a problem on a national level where legislators may have never even seen the effects of land loss and couldn’t therefore understand the urgency of finding a solution to the problem, she said.

That’s why she pledged to impress upon them the urgency of addressing the issue of coastal erosion and the committees that appropriate money to that aim on a state level and work with national delegates to do the same.

Howard CastayJoe HarrisonBeryl Amedee