Fireworks at Forum: Pay Raise Vote, BREC Land Deal Become Issues In Senate Race

Fireworks at Forum: Pay Raise Vote, BREC Land Deal Become Issues In Senate Race

CENTRAL — An otherwise routine Candidates Forum sponsored by the Republican Women of Central Club turned heated Monday night when Senate candidate Mike Mannino said his opponent,  Rep. Bodi White, used his influence in the legislature to enrich his business partners.

White was a co-owner of a 60-acre tract of land at Hooper and Lovett roads in May 2008 when he reached a legislative compromise with BREC to build parks in Central.  BREC subsequently bought the land but White told the audience, “I lost $100,000” on the deal.

The forum was held at Pit Crew Barbeque on Hooper Road.  It was standing-room only for the event, as statewide, parishwide, and legislative candidates and their supporters packed into the main dining room.

Club spokesman Betsy Barnes said she wanted to keep the event totally positive, but Mannino said his main purpose for running for the Senate was to bring honesty and integrity to state government.

He said, “I am an anti-tax, small government Christian conservative, and I’m part of a growing movement to cut back government where it should be cut.”  He said he disagrees with Rep. Bodi White’s vote to raise his own pay to $62,000 for what Mannino described as a part-time job.  He also said White has used his official capacity to enrich his business partners.  He specifically cited the sale of the tract on Hooper to BREC and the creation of the Central Auction House.

Mannino said White’s business partners started Central Auction House to serve local governments who want to buy and sell through on-line bidding.  Then White, operating from the same office at 444 Wooddale Blvd., passed HB 610 in 2008 to require local governments to use the services of companies like his partners have.  “There’s a pattern here that has grown more and more evident,” he said.

Rep. White said, “I’ve lived in Central all my life.  Now I write the laws.  I’ve helped more than 500 people get their retirement back.  Our community was dying.  I wanted to do better for my community.”  He heralded the accomplishments of the City of Central and the Central school system.

White made no response on the payraise issue or the Central Auction House, but on the BREC land deal, White appeared to choke up a bit and said, “My wife and I lost $100,000 on that so the people of Central could have a park.”

White drew loud applause for his remarks as he took his seat.

Billy Nungesser, Lt. Governor.The evening opened with statewide candidates.  Since none of the gubernatorial candidates were in attendance, the first speaker was Billy Nungesser, the president of Plaquemines Parish, who is running for Lt. Governor against incumbent Jay Dardenne.

Nungesser said, “After the oil spill, I saw a cooperative spirit.  I don’t think an elected official should say, ‘That’s not my job!’  I’m not an expert on tourism but I can hire experts, and they won’t be from out of state.”

Nungesser said, “In Plaquemines Parish, everybody has a job.  We had a $17 million surplus this year.  As Lt. Governor, I’ll do the job that needs to be done.  I’ll do the right thing for the right reason, and I would really appreciate your support — there, 2-1/2 minutes — my shortest speech ever!”

Attorney Gen. Buddy Caldwell asked for everyone’s support — only to find out that night that his only opponent, Congressman Joseph Cao, had dropped out of the race.

Caldwell said, “You need to decide in each race what is required and see what that candidate’s qualifications are.  I’m not a policy-maker.  I’m a lawyer and a prosecutor.  I’ve tried everything from murder and armed robbery to reapportionment and school board matters.  Please give me your consideration.”

Secretary of State Tom Schedler, who was appointed by Jay Dardenne, said his first act was to begin a canvas of voters under state and federal law.  He purged 122,000 voters who had to be removed.

Now Schedler said he is working on a plan which would allow voters to go to their cell phones and quickly determine who’s on the ballot in their precinct.  He said he has been working to reduce the number of special elections.

In the Corporations Division of his office, Schedler said he is working to provide entrepreneurs with all the local and state forms needed to open a business.

Derek Babcock, Senate Dist. 3, said he has four children, aged five to 13.  “So I’m older than I look!” he said to laughter.  Babcock is on the Executive Board of Louisiana Family Forum.  He said he is especially interested in fiscal and family issues.  He is chairman of a citizens committee in Livingston Parish that has been fighting for good roads.

Babcock is a health insurance agent and “comes from a family of small businessmen.”

Sen. Dale Erdey, also District 13, was on crutches for the event and started by saying, “I’m going for the sympathy vote!”

“I’m proud to represent Central.  What a wonderful community you are.  I’m proud of what we’ve done in education, especially the creation of the Central school district. I’ve supported $627 million in teacher pay raises.  I’m pro-business.  We’ve promoted Bass Pro, North Oaks, and Juban Crossing.  I’m against the Loop and have led the charge in the Senate.”

“As vice chairman of the Transportation Committee, I have brought $423 million in road improvements to our area,” he said.

Barry Elkins, House Dist. 64, said he has a degree in biology, taught school, went into business, and then studied law at Southern University.  He now operates Magnolia Title.  “I don’t want to get into a discussion on the Loop, but we do need the Hooper Road bridge,” he said.

Valarie Hodges, House Dist. 64, said she is a native of Central and first cousin to Donald Ray Kennard.  Her mother was the sister of Sterling Kennard, Donald Ray’s father.  She attended Central High until the 12th grade when he was shipped to Glen Oaks under the busing plan.

She’s been married to her husband, a pastor, for 39 years, and she is a mother and grandmother.  She’s on the Executive Committee of the state Republican Party and has been president of the Denham Springs Republican Women’s Club.

“I volunteered for Jindal and Vitter but this is my first time to be a candidate.  I’ve working for the betterment of our community for many years.  I didn’t just show up,” she said.

She has been endorsed by the Tea Party of Louisiana and  As a missionary to Latin America, she said he has seen what socialism can do to a country, and she wants no part of it. She is committed to improving our roads, especially a bridge over the Amite River at Hooper Road.

Other candidates who spoke included Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, BESE member Chaz Roemer, the coroner, Dr. Shannon Cooper, and his challenger, Dr. Beau Clark.

The Central City News will report on their remarks next week.

By Woody Jenkins, Editor, Central City News


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