Mar 21, 2013 19:13 GOP hopefuls tout experience, faith GOP hopefuls tout experience, faith by mark ballard| Capitol news bureau March 21, 2013 Comments Both the Republican candidates for the Louisiana House seat representing Central and much of southeastern Baton Rouge called themselves “conservative” at a Monday night forum. But the newcomer, Barry Ivey, argued his religious faith better qualified him for the House District 65 seat, while Metro Councilman Scott Wilson countered his experience in government better suited him for the position in the Legislature. They spoke at a candidate forum attended by about 50 people at the Republican Women of Central club. The candidates gave short speeches. No questions were allowed. The race is for the remainder of the term of state Rep. Clif Richardson, R-Central, who resigned for health reasons. Early voting continues through Saturday. The election is scheduled March 2 and should decide the winner in the two-candidate contest. The Legislature meets for its annual general session on April 8. Both candidates praised Central’s independent public school system, which has scored well in statewide systems that grade the quality of the schools in a district. A graduate of Central High School, Ivey said Central’s focus on quality education was one of the reasons why the community is a good place to raise a family. Ivey said he hopes for a seat on the House Education Committee, if he wins. Central set the benchmark for other school districts, said Wilson, 44, a councilman for East Baton Rouge Parish Metro District 4 and president of Conker Drayage, a shipping company. He said giving parents taxpayer dollars to help pay for private school tuition, called vouchers, is a way to help families whose children go to lesser-quality schools get a better education. Ivey, 33, has served in the Republican Party but is a first-time candidate for public office. He is president of Pinnacle Precision Services, an energy supply company. “I’m a businessman,” Ivey said. “I’m familiar with what it takes to get people to work together on major projects. This is the background I bring in business and in politics.” Ivey said he also relied on religious faith. Ivey said he went on a church mission trip as a child with state Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs. He was a volunteer camp counselor at a church-affiliated summer camp. Ivey said he and his wife reviewed Scriptures and prayed before deciding to run. “I did not make this decision lightly,” Ivey said. “I don’t have any friends in politics. I don’t have anyone asking me for favors.” Wilson said his work as a councilman for the past four years better qualified him to be a state representative. “I am the only candidate in this room that has a track record and I am proud of my track record,” Wilson said, ticking off controversial issues he opposed, such as the downtown library and red light cameras. Wilson said he has practical experience cutting and balancing a government budget. “I have been there and have been a good steward of your tax dollars,” Wilson said. “I’ve been there when we’ve had to cut costs.” Wilson focused most of his speech on the road-widening and infrastructure improvement projects taking place in the fast-growing Central area. He said he was involved in raising seed money and starting projects on Joor Road, the Hooper Road extension and the Central Thruway.