Louisiana gubernatorial candidates on crime, education | Local Elections | #schoolsaftey

Five candidates running to be Louisiana’s next governor answered voters’ questions today at a live town hall meeting in New Orleans, hosted by the Times-Picayune, The Advocate and

Louisiana’s governor’s race is heating up.

State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, Attorney Hunter Lundy, Treasurer John Schroder, former business lobbyist Stephen Waguespack and former Department of Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson accepted their invitations to participate in the gubernatorial forum.

Attorney Jeff Landry did not accept his invitation. His campaign team has told forum planners before that he will only attend forums if he can speak alone, two event organizers said. State Rep. Richard Nelson dropped out of the governor’s race last week. 

The five candidates who participated in the hour-long forum addressed, in part, their primary goals for the state as governor, crime and safety and education. Watch the full forum here.

Priorities as governor

Question from resident Victor Kowalski, of Baton Rouge: If you were to rank the top three areas that you would focus on during your time as governor to make Louisiana citizens happier and healthier, what would those priorities be?

Lundy: Education, crime, poverty. They’re all linked. We can use education to resolve of illiteracy and incarceration, run hand-in-hand. We want our children to be able to read and write. We know that the brain of a child is 80% formed by the time they’re three, 90% by the time they’re four. We will invest the resources in early childhood education if we need to do that.

We have to attack poverty like never before in the state of Louisiana. No one wants to talk about it. I’ve been talking about it since day one. If we attack poverty, we reduce crime, most of the drug deal. Most of the crime is committed in impoverished blighted areas. Those three are connected. I will attack them. We will reduce incarceration. We will educate our children. We will see that those that are incarcerated when they get out, they have a GED, they have a trade and they can make a living. Thank you.

Wilson: Well, Victor, thank you for that question. A part of my campaign is to address four primary issues: to make us safer, smarter, healthier and wealthier, and it speaks to those priorities that I will lead as governor.

First, to make us safer, we’re going to be focused on public safety, dealing with the immediate present crisis in terms of crime all over the state of Louisiana, and make sure we’re being smart and sustainable in those efforts.

We’re going to work to make our communities and our state smarter by investing in early childhood education and fully funding education, to make sure that throughout the educational process from zero to four, as well as K through 12, and into the university system, that we are making the right kinds of investments to build an economy, to build a workforce that is going to make us effective and smart and successful.

And then, of course, being healthier. I’m committed to making sure that we maintain the Medicaid expansion, broadening that to ensure that we address the mental health crisis that we have, as well as other behavioral issues and ensuring that women and seniors and children are well-protected.

Those three issues alone, working together in concert, will make us a more wealthy society. Those are my commitments and my promises as governor.

Hewitt: We know that we have a migration problem in Louisiana. We’re losing population and states all around us are exploding. In my governorship, we will give families a reason to stay in Louisiana instead of reasons to leave.

We’re going to do that with a few basic things: better education for our kids, good high-paying jobs for our kids and our grandkids, safe neighborhoods, good jobs, a growing economy and affordable cost of living, which means zero state income tax, affordable insurance and a government that works for the people instead of the other way around, in addition to safe neighborhoods.

Those are basic fundamental things that every family and every business want. Education is the silver bullet. We’re going to do that by investing in early education, getting our kids reading, getting our kids working with math and building an education pipeline that delivers jobs to Louisiana citizens, so they stay right here in our state. 

Schroder: Good morning. I’m happy to be here. Let’s have a little reality conversation. First, there’s a generational problem. Born and raised here, outside of New Orleans, in the public school system.

My wife’s a retired teacher and administrator. We want teachers to do what God intended mom and dad to do. It doesn’t work with dropping kids off at schools, expecting our teachers to fix the beat of salvation to everything. We have a fundamental problem in our families that has to get addressed because then it causes a crime problem and other issues.

I’m going to tell you something a little different: I don’t think there’s any new ideas. If fighting crime in early childhood is our priority, I’m going to call a special session, and we’re going to look at this budget over again. I think there was too much money wasted this current fiscal year that we’re in. We’ll have six months left in the session when I’ll take over.

I’m going to call a special session and readjust that budget, and then put the money on our priorities like early childhood and law enforcement.

Waguespack: There are more than three priorities for any incoming governor, and I think we have to understand that, but here’s the top three.

I’ll tackle first of all the affordability crisis in Louisiana. It’s too expensive to live here right now and it’s not fair. It needs to change. It starts with insurance reform. That means attracting new insurers, fortifying communities and also reining in some of the excessive litigation costs that are raising rates up for everyone in this state.

The second thing is education. We’ve tried to force every kid to be in the same box over the decades and it doesn’t work. We have to bend the bureaucracy and meet kids where they are. Whether you’re going to a four-year school, a two-year school or straight to the workforce, it’s all a great pathway. I want to make high schools truly launch points here in Louisiana.

The third thing is the unsafety crisis we have in the state. Too many people feel like they don’t have safe communities. That has to stop. That means a lot more law enforcement. That means more technology. That means finding facilities to bring people off the streets that need to be removed, to be detained and retrained so they can go back into society and be more productive.


Question from resident Don Gary, of Broussard: What do you feel is the top priority for our education system and what plans do you have to address that specific concern?

Wilson: Thank you, Don. The first action is going to be paying teachers what they actually deserve. The legislature gave them a one-time stipend, and if we expect those teachers to do the things that we need them to do, we need to reward them appropriately, as well as law enforcement officers, firemen and public employees, making that long-term commitment. I am committed to fund them, index them and ensure that we don’t use them as a ping-pong ball in future legislative sessions to address budget priorities.

We also have to fund early childhood education and make sure that it’s meaningful and make sure that it’s sustainable. There are 159,000 children in the state of Louisiana that are working, that are studying to better jobs and learning how to read and write, do all the things we need children to do.

Additionally, investing in higher education means assessing what we have in the workforce, building a curriculum that will train them for the jobs that they need and deserve, but also ensure that we’re bringing folks to the state that will hire them and pay them the wages, so that they can stay in Louisiana, and not travel all across the state of Louisiana or outside of Louisiana to get good compensation for the work that they do.

Hewitt: We have to reinvent how we deliver education. We have 185,000 job openings right now. People cannot find businesses, cannot find people who want to go to work. We have to identify what are those skills that our businesses need, and those industries that we want to attract, and make sure we’re building the education pipeline so that we’re providing those jobs for the people right here in Louisiana.

It starts in high school, and of course, we have to start earlier than that with teaching kids to read and teaching (them) how to do math, but in high school, we need to make sure there are multiple pathways to success.

I will have more dual enrollment to give kids a head start that want to go to college. I also will offer more industry-based certifications and two-year degrees while they are in high school that allows students to graduate with both a high school degree and something that they can go right into the workforce.

We have to have many opportunities for success. We have so many industries in Louisiana, and we want to make sure those jobs go to our citizens.

Schroder: It’s early childhood, and we can’t afford to wait to the next legislative session to address it. If we’re going to invest in it, it needs to happen now. I don’t want to wait eight, nine, ten months, until next August, before you sign new laws into play, so you have a new budget.

We need to come in at the first of the year and adjust this budget. There’s a lot of money there. Some of it may be one time money, but I think there’s areas that you can invest infrastructure-wise and education if stock moved us down the road.

We have big problems. We’re a poor state with 1.9 billion people on Medicaid. You have to figure out how do we attack the one, two, three-year olds, four-year-olds.

We have bad mental health problems that leads to crime problems. We have to address that early on in school, maybe even before they get in school. There are some models in our own state that look like they’re working. It’s all about getting kids prepared to go walk into the schools and everything else leads from that.

Waguespack: I think the top thing we have to do is empower parents and families to take control. I think that’s good for a number of reasons.

When you talk to employers and families, they say the same thing. What we need is young adult who can read and write and stay off drugs and have good, soft skills and work as a team. Those are very simple requests that the economy and families are asking for, and it’s our duty to change the K-12 system to provide those types of skills. That is doubling down on early education, but also early soft skill development and early career pathway advice and counseling.

And then yes, in high schools, I’ve talked the entire campaign about Pathways to Prosperity, meeting every kid where they are. There’s no shame in whatever your future holds: four-year, two-year, straight to the workforce. High schools have to be launch points for all of those children. That’s good for those families, it’s good for sustainability and it’s good to fuel the economic boom that we need to go out and recruit new industries. If we can get that workforce right, that’ll help stabilize communities, but also allow me to go around the country, recruit new industries here because they’re dying for that workforce that’s ready to come in and then work on day one. 

Lundy: First thing is we’re going to get rid of the LEAP test. I’ve said that from the beginning of time. Our teachers are spending too much time teaching kids to take a test and they’re taking them out of the classroom when they need to learn, so we’re going to get rid of the LEAP test.

It’s about priorities. I’m the only outsider in this race. I’m not part of a political party. I’m not beholden to anybody. I’m not a lobbyist. I’m not a politician. I’m not a bureaucrat, but I come from a family of educators. My mother’s a kindergarten teacher, my sister’s a kindergarten teacher.

We’re going to fund lower elementary. We’re going to fund pre-K education like we promised we would do. We’re going to fund that education, and we’re not going to cut it the end of the term. We saw what happened this past legislation. What do they do? They always cut education, they cut healthcare and nobody knows what’s happened. That’s what happened this past session. We will fund pre-K to the best of our abilities and see that our children learn from the beginning. On another note, I will undo what the Waguespack-Jindal years did to our UL system.

Crime and safety

Question from resident Linda Tuten, of Ruston: How would you clean up our major cities—New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport—to make them safe to visit again?

Waguespack: Crimes hitting every area of the state, not just our major cities, and the good news is there’s some common denominators.

First of all, we need more police on the streets, quite frankly. As inflation has driven up wages, it’s harder to compete to draw people to law enforcement. You have to pay them, you have to train them, you have to back them up as a leader whenever they do such a dangerous job to keep us safe. I will do that with training academy, the state police and help the local levels as best I can.

Second is technology. We need body cams, license plate readers, street side cams to prove cases. People are scared to testify, even if they know something these days. Video evidence can do that. Keep families safe, put perpetrators in jail. That’s a huge piece.

The last thing is we know that juvenile violent crime crisis in the state. 14 to 19-year-olds are creating crimes all across the state. We have to develop regional facilities that can take those folks off the streets, detain them first, then retrain them. Give them a GED or drug treatment. Whatever it takes to actually hopefully roll them back into society, but right now, the catch and release program is broken, it’s unsustainable and it will stop when I’m elected governor.

Lundy: I looked at the program that New York City did in the 1990s and they called it the Window Breakers Program. They went after the young criminals. We have to reinstate our juvenile justice system. That way they rehabbed them. That way they didn’t become hardened criminals.

We have a lot of 14, 15, 16-year-olds committing crimes. We got to reach out and get them. We can’t let these older criminals groom them or give them guns, and we got to go after these older criminals. That’s going to be a priority. We go after, we educate, we equip, we do all the things that are necessary for our law enforcement.

I’ve said from the beginning of this race. We’ve got to pay our teachers. We got to pay our law enforcement. We got to pay our firemen. We’re 35th on teachers, we’re 48th on law enforcement and dead last on firemen. If we don’t pay the people that protect us, what do we expect the rest of the nation to think about Louisiana?

We’re going to take care of the people that take care of us. We’re going to take care of the law enforcement people and we’ll get rid of poverty. We’ll get rid of crime, and we’ll do it through education, hard work and strong, intelligent effort.

Wilson: To my neighbor in Ruston, thank you for that question. We’re in the city of New Orleans today where I grew up. My mom still lives in the shotgun house where she raised my brother and I as a single mother. I know what it’s like to live in the city and deal with these crises and I understand that it doesn’t have to be this way.

You need a governor that’s going to be firmly committed to making sure that you’re safe. It starts with making the kinds of investments in law enforcement, to be smart, to address these old issues in new ways, to make sure that we have systemic improvements and not necessarily target communities like the attorney general has, to have been derelict in his duties for the last seven-and-a-half years.

The most important thing I will tell you is you’re going to have a governor in Shawn Wilson that will work with mayors, and police chiefs, and district attorneys, and judges and others, to implement justice fairly and consistently, to ensure that our communities have the opportunity to evolve and be what they want to be.

But, it’s got to be a whole government effort. It’s going to involve churches. It’s going to involve families. It’s going to cause us to have to address the Fentanyl crisis and the opioid epidemic in ways that we’ve never seen. It is going to cause us to have to make the kinds of investment in quality of life and government services to do a better job for communities, to be the communities that they can be with the leadership that they elect, and I’m committed to doing that.

Hewitt: Thank you. It starts with more boots on the ground for sure. We have to do a better job of recruiting and retaining law enforcement. 

I will do that by increasing pay for state troopers and more supplemental pay for local law enforcement, and we will have more state trooper academies, so we’re training more people to get them boots on the ground. I will offer state trooper troops specially designed to the locations those large cities, perhaps, that need some extra help in the short term, and we can do that.

We do have to invest more in mental health. We’ve hardly tipped the scales on mental health. We have to get drugs off our street. I passed legislation this session addressing fentanyl where we will throw the book at fentanyl dealers and those that are manufacturing counterfeit pills in their kitchens. We will take care of that.

We also have to look at reentry programs. We did a lot of work in 2017 to try to, again, give new workforce and education skills to nonviolent offenders. We need the data to see what programs are working and which are not. And for those violent offenders, we need to lock them up.

Schroder: For my first professional career, I was a CID special agent, (U.S.) Army. I worked a short time with Ascension Parish Sheriff’s office as an undercover narcotics guy.

I’ve been on those streets, seen these cities you’ve talked about. I’ve been there. I’ve done it. I’ve said my last prayer before I supervise young narcs. I know what it is and what needs to happen to fight crime. You don’t do it by yourself. It takes partnerships. It takes relationships.

I was on a Louisiana drug task force some 30 years ago. We need to reinstate that. But, I want to start with the State Police. We’re going to have the most elite troops in America. We’re going to fund them. We’re going to give them the equipment they’re going to need. We’re going to educate them, but I’m going to hold them accountable. My command staff will be held accountable, and I will oversee that personally.

We will work with these cities because it’s a culture. The criminal has to know that it’s our streets, our neighborhoods and our communities, and you’re not going to do your crimes here. But, mental health is the most pressing thing because you got to prevent crime, the current crime and mental health is paramount.

The primary election to replace Gov. John Bel Edwards is Oct. 14. Early voting starts Sept. 30. 

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