Wednesday, February 6, 2013

District 79 Candidates Discuss The Issues

At a candidate forum sponsored by the River Region Republican Women, the four candidates (all Republicans) vying to fill the remainder of former District 79 State Representative Tony Ligi answered questions and tried to make their cases for support. Ligi resigned effective January 1st to become the Executive Director and Legal Counsel of the Jefferson Business Council. 

The four candidates are:
-          Allison Bent Bowler, the Chief Financial Officer of Benjamin Franklin High School and daughter-in-law of former Harahan State Rep. Shirley Bowler. This is her first try at public office.

-          Jack Rizzuto, the CEO of a family-operated hospitality business with interests in daiquiri shops and real estate. He ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2007 receiving 20% of the vote and also lost an earlier campaign for Jefferson Parish Council.

-          Julie Stokes, a CPA and small business owner. This is her first try at public office.

-          Paul Villalobos, an Attorney and also a first time candidate.

Bowler, Rizzuto and Villalobos reside in Metairie, while Stokes lives in Kenner. District 79 encompasses the area of Kenner and Metairie north of West Esplanade Avenue, east to the Suburban Canal and west to the Jefferson/St. Charles Parish border.
The candidates each gave an opening and closing statement and answered pre-selected questions on Gun Control, what specifically they would do to improve District 79, and if they supported Governor Jindal’s proposal to eliminate the state income tax.

In their statements, three of the four (Bowler, Rizzuto and Stokes) touted the importance of small business. Bowler and Villalobos also shared a common connection: St. Clement of Rome Catholic School.
Bowler, who just recently moved into the District, discussed the fact that she grew up in Metairie, about 1 mile from the District. She said she would make reforming the state’s pension systems a priority to make them solvent and “Louisiana has a lot of continuing educational reforms” that would be aided by her background.

Rizzuto said, “I can be the most successful in the legislature” and that he would “focus on jobs and small business, the lifeblood of the community”.
Stokes, who touted the endorsement of former Rep. Ligi said, “We need to elect someone to continue the statesmanship” that Ligi had. She also pointed out that she is a life-long resident of the District.

Villalobos discussed his background as an attorney and said, “I do feel a certain duty to this community”.

On Gun Control, all said they support the 2nd Amendment. Bowler took it a step further saying, “We need to address schools being gun-free zones”.
Regarding the District’s priorities, Bowler said she would continue growing the economy by reducing state government; Stokes specifically discussed drainage issues, increased funding for the Laketown section of Kenner, and improvements to Williams Blvd; Rizzuto said he would promote jobs and opportunity and help the Esplanade Mall improve to increase the sales tax base; and Villalobos said he would focus on retaining jobs and businesses.

On Governor Jindal’s income tax plan, all said that they wanted more information before determining if they would support the Governor’s plan. Rizzuto called for a “Sales Tax Summit” in Baton Rouge to look more deeply into the subject.
Rizzuto and Stokes each touted their endorsements with Rizzuto claiming support from many Jefferson Parish and Kenner elected officials including Sheriff Newell Normand, the Jefferson Parish Council, Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni and Police Chief Steve Caraway. Rizzuto has also received the endorsement of the Alliance For Good Government (of which he is a longtime member). Stokes countered by mentioning the endorsement of several business groups, Ligi, Harahan State Rep. Kirk Talbot, State Senator Conrad Appel, and several Kenner City Council members. Stokes is also endorsed by the Jefferson Parish Republican Party.  

The primary is March 2nd. A runoff, if needed, will be in April. The legislative session begins on April 8th.