The great debate

Political forum gives Bossier candidates one more chance to speak before election

Election Day in Bossier parish is this coming Saturday. This is a statewide election year (Gubernatorial Primary) which only happens in Louisiana every four years.

With such an important election drawing near, St. Jude’s Catholic Church in Benton hosted a Political Candidate Forum on Monday night October 19th. The event was very well attended by Bossier Parish residents interested in the upcoming election. Candidates were invited from each of the major political races within Bossier Parish for this election cycle.

Among the candidates in attendance as a part of this event: Bossier Parish School Board member Frank Kelly (representing BESE District 4 candidate Mary Johnson Harris), Bossier Parish Clerk of Court candidate Jill Sessions, Bossier Parish Tax Assessor candidate Bobby Edmiston (incumbent), State Representative District 9 candidate Dodie Horton, State Representative District 9 candidate Mike McHalffey, State Senate District 36 candidate Henry Burns, State Senate District 36 candidate Ryan Gatti and State Senate District 36 candidate Todd Hollenshead. With the exception of the state senate race (which was fully represented with all three of it’s candidates in attendance), there are additional candidates from each race who were not present at Monday night’s political event.

Photo by Randy Brown/Press-Tribune
Photo by Randy Brown/Press-Tribune

In brief opening remarks by  St. Jude Pastor Fr. “Pike” Thomas, the candidates were asked to be well mannered, respectful of one another and to stick to the issues. Fr. Thomas then introduced Mark Tatum, retired administrative officer of the U.S. Federal Court and chair of the St. Jude Catholic Church Parish Pastoral Council, as moderator.

When the time arrived for the candidates to talk, the candidates were told by the moderator that they each would be given 5 minutes to speak. Bossier Parish School Board member Frank Kelly was the first person to speak. Mr. Kelly was there representing BESE District 4 candidate Mary Johnson Harris who could not attend the event. Mr. Kelly mentioned the strong support that Mrs. Harris has garnered during this race. Mary Johnson Harris currently holds the District 4 BESE seat by appointment in order to fulfill an unexpired term brought about by resignation.

The next candidate to speak was Jill Sessions, candidate for Bossier Parish Clerk of Court. Mrs. Sessions told the audience of some of her goals for the Clerk of Court’s  office and she also mentioned some improvements that she would like to bring to the office as a service to the citizens of Bossier parish. Improvements were mentioned such as: the e-Recording and e-Filing of court documents and records. She stated that that improvements such as these will make Bossier parish one of the few parishes in the state to apply and use such technology.

Bossier Parish Tax Assessor candidate Bobby Edmiston addressed the audience next and spoke of how he has grown the office into a couple of additional locations (Bossier City Municipal Complex and also the Bossier Sheriff’s Substation on the Arthur Ray Teague Parkway) since taking office in 1998. These additional locations have made it easier for Bossier parish residents to conduct their business with the assessor’s office due to the increased accessibility brought about by the geographic locations of the satellite offices within the parish. This increased accessibility often saves residents living in both the central and southern parts of the parish the long drive to the Bossier Parish Courthouse in Benton. Assessor Edmiston also talked about the many improvements, efficiencies and conveniences brought about by the Geographic Mapping System technology that his office has implemented.

Up next was Dodie Horton, candidate for the District 9 seat for state representative. Mrs. Horton made it clear that she is opposed to the Common Core Curriculum that Louisiana now employs. She also stated her intention to put children first in terms of supporting legislation surrounding a multitude of issues relating to the treatment of children in our state. Mrs. Horton also stated that it is our duty to help children any way that we possibly can. She supports drug testing for welfare recipients and also realizes that Louisiana’s corporate tax code needs to be restructured. Mrs. Horton also vowed to fight hard against additional federal government intrusion brought about by such initiatives as Common Core. Finally, she mentioned her belief that constituent services (serving people) is by far one of the most important aspects of this position or any public service position.

Next, Mike McHalffey (also a candidate for the District 9 state representative seat) described his views relating to where he thinks Louisiana needs to be on several issues.

Mr. McHalffey discussed his opposition to Common Core and went on to say that Louisiana was just fine before Common Core and in his opinion, will be just fine after it is gone. Mr. McHalffey also spoke against federal government control and strongly urged the audience not to compromise for adjusted Common Core standards. Mr. McHalffey believes that Common Core must go by the wayside as a part of Louisiana’s educational system.. He also mentioned Louisiana’s budget problems and adjusting Louisiana’s corporate tax structure with an additional emphasis to be placed upon spreading the tax burden amongst a wider segment of the population so that more people are participating in the tax system.

At this point in the progression of the political event, attention turned to the race for the State Senate District 36 seat left open by the fact that current State Senator Robert Adley is term limited and can not run again for this position during this election cycle .The first of this candidate group to speak was current District 9 State Representative Henry Burns. Rep. Burns talked of what a ministry his current political office position has been to him over the last  eight years. Rep. Burns also said that as a legislator, you have to find peoples needs and serve them. Find out what constituents need, listen to their problems and take action. Rep. Burns also detailed the importance of building strong relationships with fellow legislators in order to get the job done – to get something accomplished.

Attorney Ryan Gatti got his turn at the microphone next. Mr. Gatti is also a candidate for the District 36 state senate seat. He stated that he started watching the legislative process in Louisiana very closely during the last legislative session which ended in June. In his observations, he said that he noticed a big budget problem and the resulting impact that our state’s perpetual budget shortfall has made upon our higher education system in Louisiana. Mr. Gatti also mentioned that he was the lead attorney on the Camp Minden explosion situation and as such, he was vehemently opposed to the planned “open burn” that was on the verge of happening at Camp Minden.

The last speaker of the night was Todd Hollenshead, who is also a candidate for the District 36 state senate seat. Mr. Hollenshead spoke of how he has kept a close watch upon Louisiana’s campaign finance reports in the past. In this regard, Mr. Hollenhead remarked that Louisiana now has the best politics that money can buy. He spoke of how he desires to represent both the “haves” and the “have-nots.” Mr. Hollenshead informed the audience that the north Louisiana town of Cullen was listed recently as being in the Top 10 poorest U.S. cities. In terms of specific issues to which he is committed, Mr. Hollenshead mentioned:  equal pay for women, , education, no special interest involvement, closing the loopholes in Louisiana’s current corporate tax structure and senior citizen funding.

At this point, a short break was taken after which all of the candidates responded to questions from the audience. As reported in last week’s Bossier Press-Tribune (both in print and online), St. Jude Catholic Church wanted to hold this Candidates Forum event in order to foster an understanding as to the issues in the upcoming election. The event was held from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.. Attendance was free and open to the public.

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