In the competitive race for the U.S. Senate seat soon to be vacated by David Vitter, attorney Caroline Fayard sought to distinguish herself in a New Orleans campaign stop Saturday by focusing on two themes that have played a role in this year’s Democratic Presidential primary — reducing the burden of student debt to spur small-business creation, and promoting equal pay for women.
Fayard’s rally and fundraiser — hosted at Urban South Brewing on Tchoupitoulas Street by council members Susan Guidry and Jared Brossett, as well as other local Democrats — began with an introduction by brewery founder Jacob Landry that could not have fit better with her themes. The brewery has been open only four years, Landry said, but the journey to its creation began years ago when he was able to attend college debt-free through the state TOPS program.
After college and graduate school (funded by AmeriCorps and scholarships), Landry was able to begin saving his wages immediately to buy a house, and then later was able to use that house as collateral to open the brewery, he said. Had he been burdened with student debt, however, his now-growing business would never have gotten off the ground.
“Opening a business is really hard, and really hard when you’re a poor kid from rural Louisiana,” Landry said. “I think you should be able to rely on more than just luck to be able to graduate debt free and be able to open a business.”
One way to immediately help students with their debt is to change the law to allow those loans to be refinanced when rates are low, as they are now, Fayard said. More financial support for students through expanded federal Pell grants and other measures will be even more crucial as the state cuts the TOPS program, she said.
“One of the signature things in my platform is college loan forgiveness and college-debt refinancing,” Fayard said. “We have got to continue to make education affordable in Louisiana.”
Reducing — or actually eliminating — the cost of a college education was a key Presidential campaign issue for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also adopted some of his ideas as she seeks to unify the Democratic Party leading into the general election. Fayard said she has been exploring ways of decreasing college costs through expanded work-study programs and eliminating tax loopholes on stocks obtained through inheritance.
“People aren’t going to college to not work. They aren’t going to not know how to work. They want to be a part of the economy. We have to allow people to invest in themselves,” Fayard said. “If we’re going to bail out Wall Street and big corporations, we need to be able to allow people to invest in human capital, meaning themselves.”
The other issue Fayard addressed in her brief remarks was that of equal pay for women. Women in Louisiana make only 65 percent of what men do, and with so many homes led by single working women, Fayard said that raising their wages would immediately stimulate the economy and lift children out of poverty.
Until Congress passes the pending “Paycheck Fairness Act,” Fayard promised to take only 65 percent of her salary, donating the rest to charities benefiting women.
“If all we can do is level the scales and pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, we would be able to deliver $17,000 annually to each household in Louisiana,” Fayard said. “Think about what it could mean for small businesses. Think about what it could mean for putting food on the table. That’s a $11 billion in stimulus to our economy right here in Louisiana.”
The race to replace David Vitter has drawn a number of high profile contenders prior even to the official qualifying period this week. So far, Fayard faces two other Democrats, Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell and businessman Josh Pellerin, and numerous Republicans: U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany from Lafayette, U.S. Rep. John Fleming from Minden, state Treasurer John Kennedy, former U.S. Rep. Joseph Cao and retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness.
Recent polls show Kennedy and Campbell in a narrow lead for the two runoff spots, with Boustany, Fayard and Kennedy on their heels. Fayard concluded the rally with another promise — to work tirelessly across the state until election day Nov. 8.
“If this year’s election has taught us in anything, there is a power in community,” Fayard said, citing new technology making it easier than ever for people to share their beliefs and organize. “It’s not about ideology or party affiliation. It has to be about what’s best for the country and who is going to work hard for the families and the future of Louisiana.”