Contenders bob, weave in 6th Congressional District forum

Even though neither Common Core nor the City of St. George are federal issues, these local concerns were among the few areas of subtle differences Tuesday among the eight Republican candidates for the Baton Rouge-based congressional seat.

Speaking over the clinking silverware of more than 100 eating lunch, all the announced Republican candidates met for the first time on the campaign trail.

The election for the 6th congressional district is set for Nov. 4, with a Dec. 6 runoff, if necessary. A Libertarian and two Democrats, including former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards, also are in the race but they were not invited to the debate sponsored by the Republican Party of East Baton Rouge Parish.

Each GOP candidate was asked a question and the others could choose to also answer, if they wanted. Few of the queries were answered by all. But, in general, all eight extolled their conservatism and agreed on the need to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

All also agreed that immigration reform should start by enforcing existing laws.

“We need to follow the laws on the books. We need to build that wall down on the border,” said Paul Dietzel, a Baton Rouge businessman. “I’m tired of hearing about comprehensive immigration reform.”

And they said President Barack Obama has overstepped his constitutional authority by issuing executive orders that circumvent the will of Congress.

“We have a president who is out of control. He like a Roman emperor of old ruling by decree through executive orders,” said Bob Bell, a Baton Rouge lawyer who was also in the U.S. Navy Reserve and writes a column for the Tea Party of Louisiana under the moniker Captain Bob.

“It is unbelievable to me how dysfunctional this Congress has become, to the point that they president can sit there and serve as a dictator,” said Garret Graves, a former aide to Gov. Bobby Jindal. “We’ve got to restore the functionality of Congress.”

That prompted a question about whether Jindal overreached his authority by issuing executive orders to sidetrack the tests that go with the controversial academic standards called Common Core. The Louisiana Legislature repeatedly defeated efforts to revamp the standards that many think were drafted with too much federal input.

Cassie Felder, a Baton Rouge tax lawyer, said Jindal is now saying he opposes Common Core but that he endorsed the standards in 2010.

“I do not think that executive orders ... is what our governor should be doing,” Felder said, adding that if the decision is made to pull back from Common Core, it should be done while working with legislators and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“I’m not sure the governor is overreaching,” countered state Rep. Lenar Whitney, of Houma, She said state law allows the governor to pull out of Common Core and the tests that go with it. Critics have disagreed with Jindal’s legal reasoning.

She said she supports Jindal and would like to abolish the U. S. Department of Education.

State Sen. Dan Claitor, whose south Baton Rouge district includes some of the unincorporated East Baton Rouge Parish neighborhoods that could be part of the new City of St. George, said those people should be given the chance to vote on whether to incorporate a new city.

Officials in Baton Rouge have opposed the effort, saying it would strip resources. Woody Jenkins, who moderated the debate, has filed a lawsuit challenging the city-parish’s efforts to incorporate the Mall of Louisiana and thereby remove that property from possibly being part of the new city.

“Our voting rights are the most sacred things we have. And when somebody manipulates, the process to take away our right to vote, that’s simply wrong,” Claitor said.

Charles “Trey” Thomas, an educator and former LSU football player, agreed that area voters should be able to choose at the ballot box.

“My concern is regardless of how much I think your choice hurts me, it’s my responsibility to do what I can to improve my situation and not take away your right because I believe it hurts me,” Thomas said.

Republican State Rep. Valarie Hodges, of Denham Springs, asked if local ordinances that forbid businessmen and landlords to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation would infringe on religious liberty. The Baton Rouge Metro Council has such a proposal on its agenda.

Craig McCulloch, a physical therapist from Ethel, said he thought it did.

“I don’t have a problem with people bringing their applications,” McCulloch said. “But they are not going to infringe on my religious rights, my religious beliefs to hire somebody that is totally against what the Bible says.”

In addition to Edwards and the Republican candidates, also in the race are Libertarian Rufus Craig, a Baton Rouge lawyer, and Democrat Richard Lieberman, a real estate broker from LaPlace.