Candidates for the State Senate District 4 election discussed their positions and potential actions they would take on Mid-City and citywide issues with neighbors at a candidates’ forum last week at the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization.
Each candidate, Rep. Welsey Bishop, Erich Caulfield, and Joe Swider, had a limited time of about two to three minutes to speak about what topics that were specific to Mid-City they would prioritize and address if elected.
Erich Caulfield said he believes that there is a need for more economic development opportunities and job opportunities at different income levels. He said the Mid-City Market, for example, has created jobs for larger companies, but thinks smaller companies should get opportunities, too.
“One of the ways that we can accomplish that here is quite easily being done in other places is to provide incentives for small businesses and entrepreneurs who live in Mid-City,” Caulfield said. “I think we need to do more kinds of development for small business owners.”
Caulfield also brought up the Middle Belt Railroad, which would bring freight trains through the Hollygrove, Hollygrove-Dixon, Palm Air and Mid-City neighborhoods.
“The idea of driving a railway right through the middle of an established neighborhood is something that I will not be for and I will actively lobby against,” Caulfield said.
Joe Swider said that he believes the two biggest issues in Mid-City are crime and infrastructure.
Swider mentioned a recent armed robberty Sunday, Oct. 11, on North Broad Street.
“We have just recently an armored car was robbed at the Chase bank, like one day ago,” Swider said. “Money that was taken out that was going to go to the ATM’s went into to some robbers’ bags and they slipped off through the neighborhoods…that’s disturbing to me.”
Swider said one of the reasons why he is running is because he wants to help bring a better quality of life to the city.
“There’s really no quality of life if we don’t have security between our car and our front door, so that’s what I would like to focus on when getting into the legislature,” Swider said.
Rep. Wesley Bishop, who is also against the Middle Belt Railroad construction, brought up another transportation opportunity.
“We were offered $400 million to have a pilot study here in the state of Louisiana particularly between New Orleans and Baton Rouge to have a commuter railroad track to go from New Orleans all the way to Baton Rouge,” Bishop said.
Bishop said that the train would have helped when residents were evacuating for Hurricane Katrina, and would serve those who have to commute to work.
“It would go from downtown New Orleans to the airport to La Place to the river parishes going all the way to Baton Rouge,” Bishop said.
Bishop also brought up crime, and said he believed in reforming the criminal justice system. Mass incarceration wasn’t working, he said, adding that New Orleans jails more people than any other place in the world.
“So if you’re real about trying to solve this problem, three things: our punishment must be swift, it must be severe and it must be certain,” Bishop said. “If locking people up would solve the problem, we would have solved that problem a long time ago.”
Bishop mentioned that the state’s tax credits could be used towards fixing the issue.
“We have $700 million in tax credits, tax debits and tax exemptions here in the state on Louisiana,” Bishop said.
“Most of that money is spent wrong, we need to take that money and invest it in our young people and criminal justice reform and education and we would be on our way to solving our criminal justice problem.”
The candidates also touched on their views about the Common Core State Standards Initiative, an initiative for education reform that outlines certain standards students should know in math and English/language arts from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Swider said that he believes there is a need for higher education standards, but believes Common Core is not clear.
“Common core appears to be caught up with a lot of political jargon and energy and what not; I just want to get the best possible standards for the kids,” Swider said.
Swider said that he believes students should get at least another hour of sleep, quoting a study by The American Academy of Pediatrics, and free time in school.
“I also think we need to bring recess back,” he said. “I’m a child psychiatrist. You make people sit and write and memorize all day, anyone, even an adult isn’t going to be able to take that.”
Bishop said that he will continue to support Common Core.
“I supported Common Core because Common Core made common sense,” Bishop said. “If it came up again tomorrow I would support it again.”
Bishop said that he has seen fundamental problems in education both before and after Hurricane Katrina while being associate vice chancellor at Southern University at New Orleans.
“Unfortunately, my principal friends will tell you, we have some folks across the stage in many high schools who can’t read the very diploma that they have in their hand,” Bishop said. “We have individuals who come to school and they are freshmen in college and the first thing they do is have to write an essay to explain themselves and we have subject and verbs disagreeing all over the place.”
Bishop said that education standards need to be higher in order for students to be able to compare to other students around the nation.
“If our kids can’t compete with all of those kids, we have a major problem,” he added
Caulfield said that he also supported Common Core and agreed with Bishop that students in the state and city should be able to compete with others academically.
“Every single child in our city deserves a shot to do that and whatever mechanism that we have to put in place to make sure that happens is the commitment that we must make to our children,” Caulfield said. “So if there is a set of standards which allows us to know that we are graduating children whose minds are beautiful and who are ready to compete and who are ready to represent the greatness of this city and our state, then we need to do that.”
Caulfield said that it is the city and state’s responsibility to prepare its students.
“The obligation and the commitment that we have to our children is to prepare them to have the greatest life that they can possibly have and our educational system should provide that,” he added. “I think we would be preparing our children to be their best and to be the best that we have to produce, because I still think the greatest day that we have in our city and our state is yet to be done and it is our responsibility as adults to make sure our children are best prepared to compete. “
The candidates closed the forum by stating three topics they would prioritize when in Senate.
Rep. Bishop said that he would prioritize criminal justice reform, education reform, and education as a whole.
Bishop told a brief story about a woman telling him about her son, who was coming out of jail soon. The mother said that he had become a barber while in jail and was worried about him finding a job once he was released.
Bishop said that because of a former state law, he was not initially able to get a barber’s license because of his conviction.
“The fact that he had a felony conviction disallowed him from getting a license as a a barber although he has spent the last year learning how to be a barber while he was in jail,” Bishop said. “What’s the point of trying to rehabilitate yourself if you can’t get a job in the very thing that you actually learned about?”
Bishop gave this as an example of one of the things he has done while being in legislature and said he tries to do more to create opportunities for those less fortunate.
“We went in and changed that state law,” Bishop said.
Caulfield said his three priorities are criminal justice reform, specifically around sentencing, economic development, and equal pay for women.
Caulfield said that the amount of money spent on incarceration can be used towards education and job opportunities.
“When you talk about how much we spend, again, Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the nation,” he said.“For every person that we lock up, that’s a scholarship to UNO to SUNO or to one of our other state colleges.”
Caulfield said that instant savings would be seen if incarceration rates were changed.
“You can then re-invest that money in economic development specifically around small business tax incentives,” he added. “Having that extra 20 percent in your pocket can stabilize your business make it more successful so that you can then grow and hire people that live in your community.”
Caulfield also mentioned that Louisiana has the highest pay disparity in any state in the nation: 67 cents to the dollar.
“So by being able to address that disparity, it’s not only a gender issue here in Louisiana, it’s a family issue because we have a lot of women and men who are raising families on their own,” Caulfield said.
Swider said that he would prioritize crime, infrastructure and education in the city.
“The senate by design is a deliberative body, it’s not for rabble rousers, it’s for people who can analyze, think, make partnerships, reach across the party line, that’s what this senator from this district is going to have to do,” Swider said.
Early voting took place Oct. 10-17th. Voting for the primary election will take place Oct. 24th.