Profiling the candidates for Louisiana Senate Dist. 36

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L to R: Gatti, Mills, Preston.

[Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series profiling candidates in local elections coming up this fall.]

In the Oct. 12 election, Bossier residents will vote on the representative for Louisiana Senate Dist. 36. 

Three candidates have qualified with incumbent Ryan Gatti (R-Bossier City), Robert Mills (R-Benton) and Mattie Preston (D-Minden).

Sen. Ryan Gatti grew up in Bossier Parish working at his father’s cattle farm and auto salvage business. For the last 18 years, Gatti has served northwest Louisiana as a Bossier based attorney and small business owner. He has served as President of the Bossier Bar Association since 2008. 

Gatti has authored 62 bills since he was sworn in and 21 became Acts and were signed into law by the Governor. He credits these bills and the ideas behind them to his constituents, having held over 50 town hall meetings to hear his constituents’ questions and concerns.

Gatti has served as the Louisiana Trustee on the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention since 2012.  He is currently a member of Cypress Baptist Church in Benton.

Gatti was co-valedictorian of his graduating class of Airline High School. He attended LSU and graduated in three years, where he was president of Kappa Sigma Fraternity. Ryan graduated from LSU Law School and was elected repeatedly to serve as president to his fellow law students. 

Ryan has been married to his wife Susan Gatti, Ph.D. for over 22 years. Together they have created their greatest accomplishments – their four daughters.

1. Why do you want to be a State Senator for the 36th Senatorial District?

We have worked very hard in difficult times to protect the values we hold dear in District 36.  Faith, Family and Friends has been our guiding priorities. Susan and I have spent thousands of hours in the district getting to know the real needs of the people we serve.  We have continued to work hard with anyone that holds our same values.  We will continue to fight to keep good paying jobs here.  I am glad to continue the work with keeping Fibrebond and other local companies here in Louisiana.  We will add to the infrastructure dollars being allocated to Northwest Louisiana.  The Barksdale Interchange and replacing Interstate 20 is a good start, but we must put politics aside and work to fix infrastructure.  It has been the greatest honor and most humbling experience to serve the folks I grew up around in the Senate.   

2. Tell me what your priorities will be for our area if elected?

First, protecting our Christian values. Fighting for prayer in school, for Christian businesses like ChristFit to remain free, fighting for Life and traditional family values. This is and hasbeen our main priority. 

Secondly, securing the jobs we have here in our area.  We must protect the small business owners that employ over 95% of the employees in our area.  I have drafted legislation that was killed by special interest to stop giving handouts to the bottom and bailouts to the top.  We simply can’t put anymore stress on the businesses in our area. 

Lastly, reducing insurance rates.  Last session after a year of  study, a bill was pushed through committee that would not lower rates.  In 2016-2018 my bills to lower rates were killed in committee.  This study committee formed in 2018 was supposed to give the final answer on rate reductions.  The author allowed the committee to be populated by a strong majority of insurance lobbyists.  They met only three times and hid their expert reports from the legislature.  I read the bill and as a lawyer, noticed it had no provisions to lower rates.  The author would not allow amendments that would actually lower rates. The legislative committee decided that the bill had not been vetted and was designed to increase profits for big insurance and not reduce rates.   I will draft a bill that is actuarially sound and will reduce rates. 

3.  There are several issues that are important to Bossier residents. Transportation, education, economic development, infrastructure. How will you go about ensuring that these are addressed and not cut due to state funding issues?

I will continue to work with leaders in our area to preserve and advance these issues. 

For example, we’ve had many accomplishments in the last four years.  I’ve drafted 62 bills and 21 have become law.  SB 33 made it a crime to sell baby parts from abortions.  This bill passed with 67 co-authors in my first 45 days in office and helped shut down the abortion clinic in Bossier.  I secured funding for the Barksdale Interchange by working with DOTD and the Governor’s Office.  This will increase the mission and scope of Barksdale and cut down on travel time for our airmen and their families.  I was honored to carry Katie Bug’s Law.  After losing our daughter in 2017, I could only admire the strength of the Grantham’s as they testified in Baton Rouge about their injustice.  I drafted and passed legislation helping foster kids who aged out of the system before they graduated.  Susan and I have made the plight of foster families and children a mission of our family.  We’ve held six luncheons at our house to bring more awareness each time to their situation.

Through a fair flat sales tax in 2016, we secured funding for the medical center in Shreveport, BPCC, TOPS and other important programs.  Our office helped usher the partnership at LSU Medical School in Shreveport to stabilize the medical school in our area.  I then voted against the 7 year $3.5 billion sales tax the Republican party was pushing in 2018, because we had promised the citizens we would reform the government, not kick the can down the road.  I received and still do receive criticism for this anti-tax vote from both parties. 

First responders asked our office to draft legislation on Cancer treatment and PTSD.  Those bills faced stiff opposition from Big Insurance, but both bills passed.  I was honored to receive the Legislator of the Year Award from the Firefighter’s Association. 

Then simple bills were also powerful.  DOTD could not rent equipment, they could only buy equipment.  This was delaying repairs of roads and bridges in my district.  So I drafted and passed a bill to allow them to rent expensive equipment. 

Demitric Evans, retired NFL great from Haynesville, asked me to author a bill requiring Driver’s Education Classes to cover the expectation and etiquette of what to do when you get pulled over.  Additionally, there was no cost to the state because BPSTIL in Bossier filmed the video with Troop G for free!

I worked with Billy Weatherall as his senator and attorney to keep his logo on the field in Benton. Billy is a true warrior and I was glad to stand with him when no one else would. 

I have personally held over 50 town hall meetings all over the district.  These meetings allow for accountability and great ideas for legislation from constituents. 

I visited every school in my four parishes and brought each school a Louisiana Flag and a U.S. flag.  We give a presentation on each flag and its historical significance.  As a result of this, the Mama Pelican Award was created.  We give a Louisiana flag to those who exhibit the sacrificial love the Mama Pelican showed her babies.  Most recently, the award was given to a foster couple who has had over 123 foster children. 

But we also have not been afraid to fight battles and lose. I drafted the Permission Slip bill to change the school prayer debate.  Christian Lawyers and Atheist Lawyers who make money of the confusing law of teacher lead prayer joined together to confuse no lawyer legislators and kill the intent of the bill.  A parent recently said, “This bill was not hurting our first amendment rights, it was flexing the first amendment rights of parents and teachers.”  I will bring this bill again. 

I also kept my promise to donate my salary every year to charity. Geaux Bags, The Bistineau Foudation, Ringgold Food Bank, Minden St. Jude’s Auction, ChristFit Gym and a few others have received donations.

In these terrible times of party politics, I’ve been able to work with fellow republicans and even democrats to secure passage of common sense legislation. Although I’ve been attacked for working with the other side of the aisle, I consider that one of the greatest accomplishments- civility.

4. Why should someone vote for you?

I will not put politics above our values.  I funded my own campaign and my votes show I will stand with my constituents and work with anyone who can help with our issues and values.  I will do this even if it costs me greatly.  I have proven I can get things done.  62 bills and 21 passing is a large number for a freshman senator- especially in a time of vicious partisanship.  I have proven I will get the job done no matter what it costs- I work harder when bullied by the party system.  I will stand up to anyone, republican or democrat, that stands in the way of stopping abortion, protecting prayer in schools, reforming our tax code, protecting our children and preserving our democracy for the next generation. 

– – – –

Born and raised in Shreveport, Robert Mills graduated from Byrd High School. He then attended LSU where he earned his BS in Business Administration (’76). 

After graduating college, Robert entered into a career in the oil, gas, and timber industry. In 1991, Robert joined Falco S&D as a crude buyer, and, in 1993 Calumet Lubricants Company lured him to join their team as Manager of Supply & Distribution. He was named vice president in 1995 and executive officer of the partnership in 1997. Since 2015, Robert has been the vice president of Crude Oil Supply, South.

Robert has served on the boards for Louisiana Mid Continent Oil & Gas Association (LMOGA); Louisiana Chemical Industrial Association (LCIA);  Louisiana Association of Manufacturers PAC (LAMP); Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI and all of its cardinal direction PACs); Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA); North Louisiana District Export Council; Iberia Bank Northwest Louisiana Advisory Board; and North Louisiana Economic Partnership.

Robert is married to Sheila Allen Mills. They are parents to four children.

Robert serves on the Board of Trustees and on the Global Leadership Team for First United Methodist Church in Shreveport.

1. Why do you want to be a State Senator for the 36th Senatorial District?

I want to represent Senate District 36 as their new Senator for all the right reasons.  I am a true CONSERVATIVE businessman with the same CONSERVATIVE values that are inherent in the vast majority of residents in Senate 36. I will work with the majority Republican Party to lower taxes where possible and better control spending in every department of the state government.

2. Tell me what your priorities will be for our area if elected? 

Priority Number 1: Fiscal Reform and getting our budget and spending under control, 2: Fixing our education system, ensuring our teachers and schools have the funding they need so our children graduate and are prepared for the workforce, 3: Fixing our legal climate which is driving jobs out of our state

3.  There are several issues that are important to Bossier residents. Transportation, education, economic development, infrastructure. How will you go about ensuring that these are addressed and not cut due to state funding issues?

To fund the numerous issues it’s all a matter of focusing on our priorities. If we adequately fund our schools, improve our roads and bridges and create a friendly business climate, we’ll generate the revenues we need as a state without having to tax our residents. If we set priorities, focus on achieving results and manage our money better in the process, we can’t fail. I’ve been working at this my whole life. It’s not that complicated, but it’s going to take real business minded conservatives, not politicians to get it done.

4. Why should someone vote for you?

I am a hard-working businessman with 45 years of experience in the oil and gas industry. I’ve created jobs, balanced a budget and had to meet a payroll.  I am interested in helping Senate District 36 and the entire State of Louisiana get their feet back on the ground by protecting the jobs we have, fostering a better environment for creating new jobs and getting control of state spending so that we can take care of the basics that are being ignored. Like so many in this state, I’m tired of watching our children and grandchildren leave Louisiana in search of better opportunity. It starts by putting some real conservative reforms in place in Baton Rouge and I’m ready to go to work.- – – – –

Calls to Mattie Preston for answers to the above questions were not returned by press time.

However, in a release issued to the Press-Herald earlier in September, Preston announced her candidacy and revealed more about why she is running for Louisiana Senate Dist. 36.

A native of Minden. Preston graduated from Webster High School and moved California following graduation where she lived for the next 18 years. While there, she earned a B.A. degree from the College of Notre Dame, in Belmont, Calif., in Politics, Government, and Public Administration. 

She moved back home to Minden in the 80s, where she became a licensed and ordained preacher, and presided as assistant pastor of a local church. Currently a substitute teacher in the Webster Parish School System, Preston noted that she is happy that the teachers and support staff at received a “well-deserved” pay increase, adding, “I believe we must do likewise for our police officers and firemen. These brave men and women risk their lives for us. They are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice.”

She added that as she campaigns across the district, she finds people who say they don’t bother to vote, because it will not make any difference. 

“That saddens me. Woodrow Wilson said, The ear of the leader should be attuned to the voice of the people,’” Preston said. “Someone said, ‘The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.’”

She also noted that a close relative who had relocated to Michigan complained about the high cost of auto insurance. Preston explained that Louisiana has the highest auto rates in the nation, second only to Michigan.

“I am told that there are citizens driving without insurance coverage because they can’t afford the premium. Others are struggling to maintain their coverage. That troubles me,” she said in her announcement.

When she first informed her daughter that she would be running for the office of senator, Preston’s daughter replied, “Mom, you’ll make a good senator, because you are fair. You’ll side against your own kids if they are wrong.”

She said that one situation that “reeks of unfairness” is that of the gender pay gap. 

“Women working full time today on average earn 80.7 cents for every dollar a man earns,” Preston’s announcement said. “Let us endeavor to live out the last few words of our own Pledge of Allegiance, which reads, ‘Justice for all.’”

Preston said there are many challenges facing the state — the cost of living is increasing while the income of many remains the same, an insufficient minimum wage, high taxes, and more. She says that huge companies like Amazon and Netflix generate billions of dollars annually but pay next to no taxes, leaving the low and middle income taxpayers to make up the difference. 

“However, these challenges are not insurmountable. If we work together, we can triumph over them,” Preston said in her announcement. “As your senator, I will hope to hear from you. I will be accessible for your complaints, issues, or concerns as well as any suggestions or proposals for solutions. Let us unify and work together in order to create a better tomorrow for us all.”