State representative candidates exchange opinions

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 17, 1999

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / November 17, 1999

RIVER PARISHES – The runoff candidates for Louisiana State Representative, District 56 – Brian Champagne of Luling and Gary Smith of Destrehan – responded to questions regarding issues in the district.

1. What will you do to promote tourism and economicdevelopment in the district? BC: Serving on the Parish Council for the last eight years, I’ve witnessed great expansion of our industrial base. We’ve tried to run government in abusiness-like manner and reduce property taxes in order to attract expansion of our business community. St. Charles and St. John parishes arepoised for growth in tourism, world trade and service industries that will carry us into 2000 and beyond.

Myself, Councilman Dickie Duhe, and G. “Ram” Ramchandran have promotedthe idea of making the Bonnet Carre Spillway a National Park connected to the Jean Lafitte System. The park would be a gateway to the River Regionin attracting tourists and informing them of the many attractions that we have to offer. Historical tourists statistically spend more money whenvisiting areas of interest than any other travelers. Preserving ourhistorical landmarks is of great concern to me, and I also believe that we should revisit Rep. Bobby Faucheux’s concept of a River Region TourismCommission to promote what the three parishes have to offer.

GS: We have been so fortunate in the St. Charles Parish area of theDistrict, with wonderful economic development. We’ve really thrived onthat, but we always have to keep the best interests of the residents at heart. We’re running out of industrial sites and river frontage and we don’twant to hinder the residents’ use and enjoyment of the parishes.

We want to diversify our economy from industrial, as this is a great transportation hub, with water, air and rail.

On tourism, Louisiana has just started to exploit itself. This is anothernon-polluting industry we can promote. This area is ideal for sportsmenand outdoorsmen; it’s an incredible resource we have.

I’m also in favor of developing Home Place Plantation in Hahnville into a state park and developing docks for riverboat visitors. The potential ishere and I look forward to working with that.

2. What are your views on airport expansion?BC: As I have stated in my literature and at forums, I am greatly opposed to expansion of the New Orleans International Airport. The Parish Councilis in the process of commissioning a study to give us the ammunition to properly articulate our position on expanding the airport. Displacing twomajor subdivisions on the East Bank and only offering to insulate homes in most of the Ama area of the West Bank is not acceptable to me or many of the people that I represent. Also, the problem of pilots not adhering totheir flight paths will bring noise to the Mimosa, Lakewood, Davis, Lagattuta, Kellogg, Coronado, Willowdale and Willowridge neighborhoods.

Why not have the vision that a “new” regional airport between New Orleans and Baton Rouge would eliminate the nuisance of the airplanes and allow Louisiana to compete for more tourist and international trade. If wedo not position ourselves for the benefits of NAFTA, then Houston and Miami will gain the trade that so naturally fits with our port, rail, interstate highways and a potential regional airport.

GS: We want to promote a new regional airport, both for the River Region and also for Louisiana as a whole. A 25,000-acre site is wanted for thenew airport, still close enough to help us.

There’s so much potential to spring Louisiana as a whole into the future.

We need to get on with that. I’m against the New Orleans Airportexpanding into this District, because I don’t believe expansion is in our best interest. This is important to our District, and there will be enoughair business for both a regional airport and the New Orleans airport.

3. What will you do to promote education in your district?BC: The Governor is proposing a special session of the Legislature to be held in March to address teacher pay and other education issues. I havestarted to get up to speed on what some of the proposals will be and how they will affect St. Charles and St. John parishes. I am pledging to ourschool boards to work closely with them before and during the special session so that our needs will be well represented. Eduction that preparesour children for the new Information Technology Economy is of my highest priority; it is our hope for the future. Louisiana again lags behind in E-commerce business, we must prepare our children to compete for these jobs. The vo-tech system must continue to be strengthened and adaptedfor the changing economy.

My basic positions on education are to protect the Minimum Foundation funding, support accountability of schools, increase teacher pay to the Southern average, and work to get parents involved with their child’s school. I also strongly support the TOPPS program. School vouchers havebecome a topic during the campaign. Other states are trying pilotprograms. I would like to learn from their experience, but I do support taxcredits for private education.

GS: We are very fortunate in the St. Charles Parish portion of the Districtand, in St. John Parish, we have excellent personnel but I want to get backthere and work with them to help the District and State as a whole.

We need a good educational system and well-educated citizens are our future. We need to direct those energies and efforts. I also don’t believe instopping at the Southern average. Why stop there? I’m definitely pro-education all the way.

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