Senate candidates forum_Sen Jim Fannin, Rep Jay Morris and Matt Parker.jpg

Candidates in three state Senate races sought to distinguish themselves at a forum last week at the University of Louisiana-Monroe by touting how their personal or professional experience set them apart from others.

All the candidates in the races for the Senate’s 35th District and 33rd District are Republicans. That meant a number of candidates expressed similar views against abortion, gun control as well as opposition to raising taxes.

The forum was hosted at the ULM Library in conjunction with KEDM 90.3, the Monroe Chamber of Commerce and the West Monroe-West Ouachita Chamber of Commerce.

According to KEDM news director Cory Crowe, candidates were not allowed to engage in debates with another or to offer rebuttals during the forum. The rule against debating first cropped up during the 35th District candidates’ panel. Sen. Jim Fannin, who is the incumbent, is facing a challenge from Rep. Jay Morris and local businessman Matt Parker.

Crowe reminded candidates of the rule against debating after Fannin knocked Morris in a dispute about who failed to secure funding for area projects. It was the first time during the forum that a candidate personally criticized another.

Throughout the evening, Fannin and Morris referred to their work in the state Legislature’s two chambers and how certain bills would have been successful — if not for the people in the House or Senate, an apparent reference to each other. That was how Fannin began his defense about why House Bill 578, or the “infrastructure” bill, appropriated $690 million for projects without any money for projects in northeast Louisiana.

“It started in the House,” said Fannin, R-Jonesboro. “It was a House bill.”

Fannin claimed Morris could have tacked on an amendment to HB 578 that would have appropriated funding for specific northeastern Louisiana projects.

“Mr. Morris had an opportunity to walk to that mic on the House side and write an amendment to put a project for northeast Louisiana on that bill,” Fannin said. “He didn’t do it.”

“He chose not to do anything for northeast Louisiana,” added Fannin, while Morris spoke up to dispute the senator’s account.

“That’s not true, that is false,” said Morris. Crowe interrupted the candidates to deter them from engaging in a debate or rebuttal.

When the House approved HB 578 and shipped the legislation to the Senate, the legislation included some funding for the state Department of Transportation and Development’s nine districts. The DOTD funding disappeared in the Senate. In the Senate, Fannin added an amendment that appropriated $40 million for bridge work available to eligible projects in each of the state’s parishes.

According to Morris, the Senate’s version of HB 578 ignored projects in northeastern Louisiana.

“We weren’t partly left out,” said Morris, R-Monroe. “We were totally left out. It changed dramatically in the Senate.”

“As your senator, I will fight like the dickens to get your infrastructure dollars,” he added.

When asked about his position on HB 578, Parker also aimed his remarks at Fannin’s amendment as insufficient to address roads and bridges in Ouachita Parish.

“Let me tell you, that $40 million was to be divided among 64 parishes,” Parker said. “How much do you think we could actually get in Ouachita Parish?”

Parker, who is a Republican from Calhoun, admitted his lack of legislative experience but touted his experience as a businessman as critical to helping the state become more friendly to business.

“I don’t really know what they can or can’t do down there,” said Parker, referring to Baton Rouge.

Parker owns an auto body repair shop as well as a firearms training business.

“I think we need to be more business friendly,” Parker said. “I think we can do a better job than we what we been doing. I just believe we can do better.”

Meanwhile, there were little to no fireworks during the forum for candidates of the Senate’s 33rd District: Stewart Cathey, of Sterlington, and Wade Bishop, of West Monroe.

State Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, is retiring from the Legislature to campaign for Ouachita Parish Clerk of Court.

After freezing up during his opening statement, Cathey detailed some of his goals, if elected, including making cuts to state spending (sometimes referred to as “efficiencies” by Republicans) as well as calling for a limited constitutional convention.

“I want to create some efficiencies in state government,” Cathey said.

Cathey and Bishop echoed one another or other candidates on policy positions such against gun control and minimum wage as well as calls for tort reform.

“This race is not about national issues,” Bishop said. “My goal will be getting this state under budgetary control.”

Though candidates for the Senate’s District 32 race were scheduled to appear at the candidates forum, Daniel “Danny” Cole, a Democrat from Jena, was the only candidate to appear at the forum.

The other candidates in the race include Judy Duhon, a Democrat of Olla. The Republican candidates include Steve May of Columbia and Glen Womack of Harrisonburg.

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