WASHINGTON — With two incumbent congressmen beating each other up for the right to represent southwestern Louisiana, three political newcomers from Lake Charles are aiming to surprise everyone and upset the established politicians.
Democrat Ron Richard, Republican Bryan Barrilleaux and Libertarian Jim Stark are all trying to attract voters while U.S. Reps. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, and Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, continue attacking each other in the redrawn 3rd congressional district.
The open primary election is Nov. 6.
Richard, a self-described populist and supporter of employee unions, said he decided to join the fray at the last minute partly because all he saw were two Republican congressman throwing insults back and forth.
“It literally was a call to duty,” Richard said. “I know it sounds hokey.
“There was immediately this ugliness between them (Boustany and Landry) just on and on and on and there was no discussion on how to move the country forward,” said Richard, who has the backing of the Louisiana Democratic Party.
Boustany and Landry have combined to spend more than $3 million this election cycle — the majority by Boustany — while Richard only spent about $30,000 by the end of September after joining the race on the final day of qualifying.
Barrilleaux, meanwhile, is running on a moral pledge not to accept or spend any campaign dollars, and Stark has not yet raised the $5,000 minimum that forces him to file campaign disclosure forms.
Pearson Cross, political analyst and head of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette political science department, gives Richard a solid chance of making a runoff as the only more liberal candidate in the race, while the other candidates split the rest of the vote.
“To get into the runoff all you need to do is finish second. Richard has a great chance,” Cross said, especially if a lot of voters decide based only on party affiliation. Stark could attract 5 percent of the vote or so because of the Libertarian appeal, Cross added, but Barrilleaux’s principled stand on campaign finance reform is unlikely to win him much support.
Barrilleaux, a Lake Charles physician, will be the first to disagree with that assessment. He said people are attracted to a principled grassroots and idea-based campaign and that he will prove the doubters wrong and defeat the two “celebrity candidates” in Boustany and Landry.
“When we prove them wrong, the impact in Washington will be seismic,” Barrilleaux said.
“Too many decisions in Washington are based on money changing hands rather than on the will of the people,” Barrilleaux said. “I can serve with no conflicts of interest.”
Stark, a U.S. Navy veteran who served during both Iraq wars, used to be a more Libertarian-minded Republican like U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, but he switched totally over to the Libertarian movement after he saw the way Paul was treated by the Republican establishment in Louisiana during the Republican presidential primary campaign.
“It’s a good alternative,” Stark said. “You take the best of what the Democrats support – or at least what they claim – on civil liberties and the best of the Republicans on economic issues.”
Stark supports gay marriage and the legalization of marijuana, while he also wants lower taxes, downsized government and a reduced federal deficit.
Stark supports a strong U.S. military, but he opposes intervening in foreign conflicts or peacekeeping unless the U.S. is truly at risk.
“I don’t have the campaign war chests of the established candidates, but I feel my message is resonating with the public,” Stark said.
Sharing a name with James Dean’s character in “Rebel Without a Cause,” Stark said he will be the “rebel with a cause” in the race.
Although Richard cannot match the spending of Boustany and Landry, he said he is launching television and radio advertisements and he said he anticipates dipping into his personal funds as well. Once he gets into the runoff, Richard said, he expects the money to flow from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and more.
With a tendency to drop words like “coonass” and populists like former Gov. Earl Long into interviews, Richard said he is the only candidate supporting the “working-class people.”
“I’m born and raised union,” Richard said, noting that he comes from a family of pipefitters, machinists, firefighters and more and that he remembers delivering lunch to his father on picket lines. “It’s in my blood.”
He argued that unions are pro-capitalism because collective bargaining agreements between corporations and employees kept out the government intervention that Republicans hate. “We didn’t have to worry about the dad-gum government for (health) insurance.”
Richard said his top priorities will include coastal restoration for southwestern Louisiana, restoring federal Medicaid dollars for regional medical centers and finding compromises that work best for Louisiana rather than applying obstructionist politics.
Apart from campaign finance reform, Barrilleaux says his top priority is to save Social Security. “Nobody has wanted to touch it,” he said. “I have a proposal that is pleasant for everybody.”
Barrilleaux’s plan is essentially an opt-out proposal that will let potential beneficiaries at retirement age who are well off or still working give up their Social Security funds – on a year-by-year basis – and, in doing so, they will not have to pay income or Social Security taxes each year.
If just 2 or 3 percent of people do that, it could offset the future Social Security shortfalls, he said, without cutting into federal revenues much because retirees do not contribute much in taxes to the U.S. Treasury anyway.
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