Candidates debate Congress preparation

It was kumbaya time on issue after issue when two of the many Republican candidates running for the Baton Rouge-based congressional seat addressed a local GOP group Tuesday.

But they did disagree on whether experience in government or in business was better preparation for working in Congress.

GOP candidates for the 6th congressional district who previously have spoken before the Ronald Reagan Newsmakers Luncheon, which is hosted by the Republican Party of East Baton Rouge Parish, have talked up their lack of political experience.

But that was before Republican U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister, who won last fall in his first political race running as a businessman outsider, was caught kissing an aide and announced he would not seek election to a full term as the congressman from the Monroe-based 5th U.S. Congressional District.

Tuesday’s gathering of about 25, peppered the two 6th District candidates attending this luncheon with questions about their abilities to work with the 434 other members of U.S. House of Representatives.

Without naming names, candidate Garret Graves acknowledged how voters in northeast Louisiana chose a newcomer who “was overwhelmed” once he arrived in Washington.

Working as a congressional aide and then as the director of the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities, Graves said he knows how political systems work and how to accomplish goals among a wide variety of people who disagree. He said he learned how to negotiate and knows that success comes incrementally.

Craig McCulloch says that as a political newcomer he can best articulate and defend traditional values. The owner and operator of Baker Physical Therapy Clinic for the past 30 years, he says he knows the practical aspects of balancing a budget. He also has learned that being successful in business requires working with all different types of people.

Both candidates described themselves as conservative and agreed that the Affordable Care Act should be scrapped, that illegal immigrants shouldn’t receive amnesty because they broke the law, and that President Barack Obama probably has acted in a way that could lead to impeachment.

McCulloch said he would vote to replace U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Graves agreed that Republicans in the House have “played their cards poorly” but would wait to see who challenged the GOP leader.

Both agreed that all the other candidates are vying for a place in the runoff with former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards, who as a Democrat likely will have enough votes in the Nov. 4th election to make a runoff. But the 6th District was redrawn in such a way that it is ranked by The Cook Political Report as the 24th safest Republican seat in the country.

The district, with 358,555 registered voters, is 74 percent white, 33 percent Republican, and voted for GOP presidential candidates by wide majorities in 2008 and 2012.

The runoff is scheduled for Dec. 6.

Also running as a Democrat is LaPlace real estate broker Richard Dean Lieberman.

Libertarian Rufus Craig is one of many candidates from the Baton Rouge area. The others are running as Republicans and include Graves and McCulloch, educator Charles “Trey” Thomas, tax lawyer Cassie Felder, state Sen. Dan Claitor, business owner Paul Dietzel II and Robert Bell, a retired U.S. Navy Reserve officer and Tea Party of Louisiana columnist who calls himself Captain Bob.

State Rep. Lenar Whitney, R-Houma, also has announced her candidacy.