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Sunday, June 23, 2019

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Candidates tackle issues in public forum

Candidates tackle issues in public forum

Candidates for the upcoming appellate court seat and Lafourche Parish School Board participated in a public forum Monday night in Mathews.

Sponsored by the Lafourche and Thibodaux Chambers of Commerce, the two forums kicked off a series of such meetings ahead of the Nov. 6 election.

Sixteen School Board candidates fielded questions ranging from how to improve education in Lafourche to retaining quality teachers in the wake of budget reductions.

The following candidates participated in Monday’s forum. Incumbents are denoted with an asterisk (*), Republicans with an (R), Democrats with a (D), independents with an (I), and Libertarians with an (L).

District 1: Christine “Tina” Naquin Babin (I); Donald Johnson* (D); Pamela McCann (I); Frank Pasqua (D).

District 3: Alfred “Al” Carter (I); Cheryl Thomas (D).

District 7: Valerie Bourgeois, D-Raceland; Terrolyn “Terri” Mitchell, D-Raceland.

District 8: Lawrence Autin, D-Raceland; Tyler Dufrene, R-Raceland; Barry Uzee, R-Raceland.

District 9: Cally Hebert Bonvillain, I-Raceland; Julie Breaux,*

District 12:Robby Gisclair, R-Cut Off; Ann Bouvier Sanamo,* I-Larose.

District 15: Calvin Duet*

Although most of the candidates agreed on certain issues such as encouraging local spending to boost sales tax revenue, it was the final question moderator Marguerite Knight asked that proved to be the most contentious.

“In your opinion what is the ideal size of the Lafourche Parish School Board and why?”

The board has considered the issue for more than two years, voting several times against reducing its size from 15 members to nine. Some blamed voters’ defeat of a 1-cent sales tax for workers’ salaries last year, at least in part, on the board’s resistance to reducing its size.

Breaux said she feared reducing the board to nine members would dilute the voices of the people within the parish.

“I know if it went down to nine it would be considered representation, but I view it as voices,” Breaux said. “I’m not in favor of a reduction of voices. I want every voice to be heard.”

Bonvillain was in favor of reducing the board due to the recent budget cuts.

“It has to be done,” Bonvillain said. “I think that you can represent people no matter how many board members there are. Those voices are still going to be heard.”

Sanamo feared such a reduction would hurt smaller communities in the parish.

“Our parish is 100 miles long and we represent a lot of land,” she said. “It’s a number, but when your number is done away with because your community is small, it is a big thing.”

Sanamo called for reducing the board’s compensation but keep the number of members at 15.

Gisclair said he has been a proponent of School Board reduction for a long time to increase efficiency.

“I think the people of Lafourche Parish have spoken and this board has not allowed people’s voices to be heard,” Gisclair said. “It should be left to the public to decide. It’s time to let people’s voices be heard.”

Duet said such a reduction would not be fair to the people living in south Lafourche.

“The north would have four members, central would have three and the south would only have two,” Duet said. “If the south only has two voices, it would be easy to ignore those two rather than the present four.”

Johnson, who’s served on the board since June, also voiced his disapproval of the measure.

“If we reduce, what’s the plan?” he asked. “What School Board member is going to be impacted and how will the constituents be impacted?”

Carter championed a board member reduction because he said it’s what the public wants.

“By doing so it would mirror the Lafourche Parish Council, so it would be the same representation,” Carter said. “It would not make a big difference.”

Thomas called for a study to be conducted before making a decision about the board’s size.

“I think around 2020 we should have a new census, so that may redistrict everything anyway,” she said. “Before we do that we need to make sure that this is the right thing we’re doing. I don’t want my district to get lost in the pile.”

Bourgeois said Lafourche has three unique cultures and each needs equal representation on the board.

“We are a unique parish,” Bourgeois said. “We have three distinct and unique parts of our parish. They need to have their voices heard.”

Dufrene said the board should work together for the betterment of the students as a whole and not just for its districts.

“Since when did we start treating all of our schools differently from one another?” Dufrene said. “We did not let one school go without while another was thriving. As a board we look out for all students and all schools.”

Two candidates vying for an open seat to fill a vacancy on the First Circuit Court of Appeal also fielded questions during the forum.

Assistant District Attorney Ellen Doskey and Lafourche Parish District court Judge Walter Lanier III are hoping to succeed Judge John T. Pettigrew, a former Terrebonne Parish district judge who has reached the court’s mandatory retirement age of 70.

The First Circuit Court of Appeal has 12 judges who handle criminal and civil appeals from 16 parishes, including Terrebonne, Lafourche and Assumption.

Doskey said a personal tragedy has fueled her passion for justice.

“When I was 21 years old my father was murdered on Main Street in Houma,” Doskey said. “That case went unsolved for 25 years. It wasn’t solved without the help of the State Police and the DA’s Office. Because of that I have found peace in my life and would like to serve on the Court of Appeal so everyone can find that peace and have that justice in their life.”

Lanier said he has rendered verdicts on thousands of criminal and civil cases over the last 16 years.

“I’ve worked really hard on all sorts of matters in the law,” Lanier said. “It can be something as trivial as a speeding ticket all the way to something as serious as murder. It’s what you do in the district court. You handle every and all types of law. You don’t get to choose the types of law you address because it comes to you. You have to be prepared and dedicated to know what’s there and respond to it.”

Both candidates had ideas on how to improve court procedures and efficiencies.

Doskey said courts should move quicker on misdemeanor cases to reduce the number of people sitting in jail.

“Often times people end up in jail on a misdemeanor charge and they cannot make bail and don’t have another court date for another six to eight weeks,” Doskey said. “That means they’re spending six to eight weeks in jail. That’s unfair to the people who are sitting in jail simply because they cannot afford bail. I would ask district courts to bring misdemeanor cases to court faster on arraignments so they can resolve their cases quicker and not sit in jail.”

Lanier called for technology to reduce the number of inmates in the courthouse to better protect the public.

“We have worked diligently to make the court more efficient,” Lanier said. “In an effort not to have prisoners brought to the courtroom we are starting video arraignments, where prisoners remain in the jail and are Skyped in. Anytime you transport those prisoners to and from the jail, there’s a risk.”

The election is on Nov. 6. Early voting runs from Oct. 23 through Oct. 30.

-- Daily Comet Staff Writer Dan Copp can be reached at 857-2202 or at Follow him on Twitter@DanVCopp.