The four candidates for the open District 91 seat in the Louisiana House of Representatives — Carling Dinkler, Shawn “Pepper” Bowen Roussel, Mandie Landry and Robert McKnight — answered questions posed by the Carrollton Area Network about health care, taxes, criminal justice and other issues in a forum on Monday, Sept. 16.
A video of the entire forum is below.
The four candidates are vying for the seat held by Walt Leger III, who is term-limited.
Candidate Robert McKnight, an attorney with the Orleans Public Defenders, arrived late to the Carrollton Area Network forum so was not available to answer the questions highlighted below.
The Democrats focused on the issues throughout the forum, steering away from taking jabs toward their opponents. They started with discussing what their first priorities would be once they reached the state Capitol.
Carling Dinkler, a former Capitol Hill aide, is an executive at Enhanced Capital, which invests in businesses with strong public policy initiatives. He said he would start out with reform to the redistricting system. After the 2020 Census, the Legislature will make redistricting decisions that will affect Louisianians for the next 10 years.
Other legislative priorities Dinkler named are a green infrastructure tax credit bill and a family medical leave bill.
Shawn “Pepper” Bowen Roussel — an attorney specializing in food, water and environmental issues — said she would focus her early efforts on lowering the EPA thresholds for lead levels for Louisiana children. “Lead levels are a huge issue because it can lead to ADHD,” she said. “Elevated lead can put kids on the school-to-prison pipeline because they have aggression issues.”
Mandie Landry, a local lawyer who grew up in a union family, said she would start out by improving workers’ wages in Louisiana, taking steps to raise the state minimum age. She would also find ways for the state to invest more in early childhood education.
Roads, drainage, infrastructure
Among the local issues the candidates discussed were how the legislature can help New Orleans improve roads, drainage and other infrastructure.
All three candidates said New Orleans needs a larger share of state money designated for repairing infrastructure.
“We are the economic engine of Louisiana,” Dinkler said. “We deserve money to fix our streets. The truth is, it’s going to take a long time, and I believe there are long-term and short-term solutions.”
Dinkler brought up his plan for a green infrastructure tax credit, to give incentives to do measures like replacing concrete with permeable pavers and installing gutters and rain barrels.
Storm-water management needs to be used together with other solutions, Roussel said. “Pumping is not the answer,” she said. “We are sinking while the waters are rising around us. What we have to do is make very hard and very necessary investment in the infrastructure around our pipes and our drainage.”
The state benefits financially from the city’s tourism industry, Landry noted. Recurrent problems with flooding and lack of clean of potable water could keep tourists away, she said. “We need more our tax money back from the tourism industry — for roads, for sewerage, for flooding, for a million other things.”
The legislators have to work together with the mayor to do that, she said, bringing up Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s Fair Share pledge.
Candidates were asking about another issue that is close to home in New Orleans: moderating the steep rises in property taxes.
Landry said she supports rent control in the city and would work to apply the same idea to property-tax control. She wants to limit the property-tax increases to no more than 5 percent per year, for example, for people living in their home. The assessment would not go up to market value until the house is sold.
Dinkler and Roussel brought up changes to the assessment and appeals process. Homeowners need more time to appeal their assessments, Dinkler said. The entire assessment process needs to be more transparent, Roussel said, so that homeowners know how the Assessor’s Office arrived at their home value.
The candidates noted that property taxes are part of a complex problem in the city. “We need to remember that this is a symptom,” Dinkler said. “We need tax reform to really get into this.”
Redistricting for fair representation
Whoever ends up representing District 91 in Baton Rouge will be involved with redistricting the congressional map.
Dinkler wants to make the entire less political by designating an independent commission to draw up the maps.
“In New Orleans, we are at a disadvantage,” he said. “We need to work with people on the other side of the aisle to make sure our political clout in the city is not diluted.”
Roussel wants draw lines around neighborhoods, so that the individual needs of the New Orleans neighborhoods can be better met. In addition, she said, those who returning or currently in prisons should be counted where they will be returning to, not where they are inprisoned.
Landry also supports an independent commission and more education so that people understand the importance of the Census.
“What we are giong to need is some tough negotiators,” she said. “Whoever is up there in Baton Rouge can’t stop fighting for New Orleans.”
Watch the video for more candidate responses. The questions are listed below, along with where you will find them in the video.
(video by Uptown Messenger)
- 9:00 What would be your first bill?
- 12:50 How can Louisiana address mortality rates for mothers?
- 17:15 How can Louisiana continue to expand Medicaid?
- 21:25 What should the legislature do about rail traffic through neighborhoods?
- 25:10 How can the legislature help New Orleans improve roads, drainage and other infrastructure?
- 29:20 Can the state use tax credits to improve housing, solar power, or lead abatement?
- 34:05 What can be done to lower property taxes?
- 38:10 What is your outlook for state redistricting after the 2020 Census?
- 42:20 How can we better protect the civil rights of minority groups in legislation?
- 47:10 How can the state further reduce its incarceration rates?
- 51:20 How can the state fund public defenders without relying on court fines?
- 55:10 What are three ways to improve children’s quality of life?
- 59:30 How would you create more public input into charter schools?
- 1:03:55 Are you in favor of raising the gas tax?
- 1:06:45 Would you have supported the fetal heartbeat bill?
- 1:14:10 How would you address laws criminalizing specific activity by HIV+ people?
- 1:18:00 How should the state spend the budget surplus and diversify the economy away from oil and gas?
- 1:24:40 What is your plan for finding housing for the formerly incarcerated?
- 1:32:10 How would you reform inheritance laws to keep disputed properties from falling into neglect?
- 1:38:05 How would you improve funding for the court system?