|Run up to runoff|
Early voting continues through Saturday, November 12, with the election following Saturday, November 19.
While there are few seats on the local ballot, the election of District 10 state representative, vacated by term-limited Jean Doerge, is at the top of the list.
In an effort to make a trip to the polls more enlightening, The Minden Press-Herald asked both candidates, Republican Jerri Ray de Pingre' and Democrat Gene Reynolds the same five questions about issues important to voters in District 10.
Jeri Ray de Pingre'
What makes you the more qualified candidate to represent District 10?
It's important that we have a representative who has experience in a number of areas. Not just one dimensional. I have experience in education, having been a classroom teacher for 15 years. Having been a businessperson for 30 years brings a little something extra and special to the table because we have dealt with the economy. We have dealt with difficult situations, we've dealt with taxes, we've dealt with regulations and we know how hard it is to be in small business. I don't have to talk to businesses about what they need and what their issues are. I AM a businessperson. When I wasn't teaching school, I was still working in the company.
Having had a child with a critical illness, I've had more experience than I'd like dealing with the state health care system, and I think that's extremely important. And being a woman – women are better at doing different things at the same time. I am a fighter and a hard worker and don't ever tell me "no." The fact that so many people told me I was getting into the race late, and here I am in the runoff. I will take that same tenacity to Baton Rouge and work equally – and more so – hard for the people of District 10.
What are the top 3 issues in the Legislature and which is the primary issue facing District 10?
Number one is spending. We are over spending. We don't have a revenue problem in Louisiana. We have a spending problem. We've got to get our spending under control, and that will take care of the other problems. Because of that, we are more attractive to business and industry, and more attractive to getting new companies to come into the state.
That addresses the second issue which is jobs. Education is also a top priority. My take on the state's role, as opposed to individual parishes' education systems, is "send us the money and leave us alone." We can't cookie-cut curriculums because what works in Jefferson Parish is not going to work in Webster Parish. You're looking at two completely different cultures; two completely different kinds of people, and you have to free up the individual schools systems and allow them to do what works best in their individual areas.
Another thing that our area desperately needs is a dual curriculum in high schools. We have Northwest Technical College right here in Minden, and we're about to build a brand new campus. That school is world-known. We literally have students that come to that school from all over the world, yet our own students in Webster Parish schools don't have a curriculum that says "okay, maybe by the time you're a sophomore in high school, you don't think you're going to be college-bound." Not everybody is a four-year student. We need to allow our students to be able to choose a high school curriculum that's going to help them look toward their future. It's going to improve our numbers because we're not mass-testing ACT scores for all these kids, some of whom never intend to go to college. If you free up those students who are not college-bound and no longer have to take the ACT, that's going to raise our numbers on the national average. It is already legal – it's in the Louisiana Educational System that you can have dual system. All we can do as state legislators is make it easier and encourage our local systems – in particular Webster Parish – to pursue that dual curriculum.
Education is going to be at the very top. It's interesting that on a state level it's going to be there while we're dealing with such difficult circumstances as an individual parish. Not all parishes are dealing with it like we are and have made the drastic changes we've made. It's going to go hand-in-hand, but that's going to be the governor's number one thing when the session starts in March.
Which committee assignments would you like and why?
At this point, it's nice for me to say what I think I would get. I know that's not the way it works. I would hope I would be asked to serve on committees where I have some experience. How many freshman legislators actually get to be on the Appropriations Committee? I know that's not likely.
Education is going to be such a hot button issue, I think people will be running for the hills to keep from being on those (committees) because they're going to have to make some unpopular decisions. They are going to have to do some things that are not going to make some of the state population very happy. I've never backed down from a fight. That's not in my nature. So, if the Powers-that-Be feel like that's some place I would serve well, then absolutely, I would be happy to do it.
I would like to get some input from my constituents. Once elected, I wouldn't be opposed to some kind of survey that said, "where would you like to see 'her' serve?" Because it's not about me. It's about serving the people of District 10. Where would you like to see your legislator serve? What committees would best serve the people of our district?
How would you restore public trust in government?
It starts with the individual. I believe the voters that voted for me in the primary (election) as well as the ones that will elect me in the general election know my character. They know the kind of person I am. They know we're working really hard to meet as many of them in different parts of the area because, of course, Minden is my home, so I'm trying to meet as many people in the other areas as I can.
All I can do on an individual basis is assure people I will stand by my convictions, I will do what the voters want me to do. I understand you have to bend a little bit to play the game, but without compromising my morals or my standards, I understand that needs to be done. I don't have a magic wand that I can fix everybody in Baton Rouge. All I can do is assure the people who elect me that I'm not going to change when I get down there.
I'm 52 years old. I've been through a lot in my life. I still stand by my faith. I still stand with my family. I love this area, and I'm going to stand for this area. That's all I can do individually. Possibly, as time goes by, I'll have some influence with other legislators in Baton Rouge. I like to think I am going to be able to do that.
In classroom teaching, you have a platform every day. In 15 years of selling office equipment, you have a bit of a platform in that. People begin to know that I am the kind of person who does what I say I'm going to do. If I say that desk is going to be delivered on Friday, that desk is going to be delivered on Friday. If I tell the students, "if you cross this line, this is what's going to happen to you," they better know if they cross that line, something's going to happen to them. Being a person of integrity and a person of your word with a strong faith in God who directs your path, that's the best I can do and hopefully have influence over others.
What would be your primary goal to accomplish by the end of your first term?
It goes back to the three priorities. We believe education is going to be one of them. We believe jobs is always an issue, and, of course, spending. My primary goal would be to see some progress in any or all of those three areas that I feel are of deepest concern to the state. I know it's a little at a time.
By the end of my first four years, there's no telling what we can accomplish by then. We just have to start somewhere. We start cutting spending – that's do-able. Look at some of the plans that are out there, especially the plans our state secretary John Kennedy has put forward. He's got great ideas. He just needs more people down there helping him get them implemented.
We can cut spending in the state. There's a lot of waste, and there are ways to get that done. That goes hand-in-hand with other things. You cut spending in one place, and you have more to spend in education, if we deem necessary to spend more on education. I'm not necessarily one of those who believes that if you throw money at it, it's going to fix it. That's not always the case.
By the end of this, making progress in our state budgetary issues, make progress in taking some really serious difficult and unpopular steps to get our education system back on track and then the jobs will come. It's a cycle. They all go hand-in-hand. I believe if we have success with one, then the others will follow.
What makes you the more qualified candidate to represent District 10?
I think with my extensive service in the educational system – 15 years in the class room where I was teacher of the year several times, also with four different principalships and science and math supervisor in another parish which gave me different perspective. I think that gives me a unique view of what's coming up. Governor Jindal has already said that educational reform is at the top of his list. Having gone through past educational reforms I know for a fact that a lot of times things that look really good in Baton Rouge don't look really good or don't work too well and it ends up costing the local system a lot of more money. So, I think the big issue items that he has on his agenda, there's a whole bunch of small things that go along with them – for instance teacher tenure. There are lot of little things that go along with that. The insurance part, the group insurance. There's a whole lot of small things. Little things people don't think about but as a principal, I lived it. I had to do it.
As far as the business part goes. I've handled millions of dollars in grants, I had 900 employees over a long period of time, so I've had to deal with many employee issues. I think I can handle the business part, too.
But the government down there (Baton Rouge) is not all business-like. You have some business things, but then you also have a lot of moral issues, ethical issues, you have education issues, natural resource issues. There is a whole lot that you have to deal with down there. And the next four years are going to be tough.
What do you think are the top 3 issues in the legislature right now, and which is the primary issue facing District 10?
I've done a lot of talking to a lot of businesses. Governer Jindal – I think he's done a pretty good job in creating a good business climate here. We have $7.2 billion in tax incentives every year for businesses to come. Having done that we're in the top 10 now of locations that businesses want to come to and they want to locate here because of that. The reasons that they don't – and this is comes straight from businesses from the south part to the north part – is we do not have a trained work force. We got kids coming out of school that do not have a clue as to what skills are needed in our jobs.
So here comes the dual enrollment thing. It's all in place. We just have to push it. There is a dual enrollment tract, about 65 to 70 percent of your kids won't go to college. They'll say they will but you know and I know that that's just not true. So what we've got to do at the end of the 10th grade year is convince these kids that we need to dual enroll and use our vo-technical center.
And at the state level we need to make sure that's funded completely. I'm not talking about new taxes or anything like it. In Springhill area, if we get enough interest up there, we could even have a pilot station to teach the kids what needs to be done in the work force so that when they graduate they got a diploma, and they got a school certificate.
This worked very well in Cameron Parish. We did it in Cameron Parish even though we had to bus some kids. We got with all the people in the refineries and things, we found out the skills they needed. And that's what we need to do here. We need to go to Hunt (Powell, Blazer Construction) we need to go to James Madden (Madden Contracting) and all that bunch and ask what skills do you need. And then pursue that and I think that right there is the key to getting more businesses to locate here. I've done a lot of research on that. That's number one.
Number two, education. Everyone wants to lay everything at the feet of the teachers, and it's just not true. They say, well, we've got bad teachers that's the problem. But then in the next breath they'll say, most of our teachers are good teachers. Well, if most of our teachers are good teachers and we only have a few bad teachers in our schools and their scores are flat-lined then it can't be that because we've got good teachers out there doing a good job – but our scores are still flat-lined.
Bloom of Bloom Taxonomy set up a hierarchy of learning. Memorization– straight memorization – is on the bottom row. And that's what we're doing when we teach to the test. Because it's not retained. It cannot be retained. That's the reason when Miss So-And-So in the second grade teaches skills and Miss So-And-So in the third grade has to teach the same skills again, that's because we have not gone out there and reached a little higher on the Bloom's Taxonomy. We've not done evaluation and census.
When I taught school, you had to have a concept like the human heart. You have to reach the kid with the concept of the human heart – the anatomy of what works six to eight times in three different ways. Our kids now-a-days are auditory learners, visual learners and fast-paced learners.
So my recommendation would be let's back off of this teach-the-test. Let's give some more control at the local level because teachers who are trained can make local adjustments and that will go a long way. And not only will you see your test scores – which is a dog-and-pony show (you can make that data look anyway you want to), but the more important thing is your ACT will come off 20, go to 23, 24 for college bound kids and your technical people, you'll have kids that can read a tape, they can do math, and they can read blueprints because they've retained it.
And to me, that's the main reason I got in this race. Because before I retire from education, before I die, before I get out of here, I want to make sure I've done everything I possibly can in the form of education, to help as much as I can.
The other thing that people in north Louisiana don't think about is that we're losing our coastline at a rate that you would not believe. I've seen it, lived it, been there. When they talk about coastal erosion I have seen up to 400 yards in a single storm disappear.
What happens now is when you get a small storm of any kind, we get water all the way up to I-10. What's going to happen in time is when that salt water gets in there, it kills the vegetation. The marshes are dead, your fisheries and trees are dead.
You've got thousands of miles of pipelines out through that marsh. And then they're going to be covered up and you'll have all kinds of problems. So keeping our coastline safe and keeping it where the saltwater intrusion doesn't get in there has to be addressed. We cannot go on losing our coast the way it is. And I think I can work with folks down there (Baton Rouge) because I've been there; I've seen it.
Which committee assignments would you like, and why?
Education. I think I can do more in an education committee than I could in any other one because of my experience and the way I see things.
Retirement. The way our retirement systems are set up, I don't think we should mess with anybody's retirement that's in the retirement system now. But we may have to look at some issues on down the road. We may have to make some changes on down the road that will require different groups to come in and help out with their own ideas.
People are living a long time now. Right now we have 450,000 centenarians. People that live over a 100. By the year 2050, we'll have 4.5 million. The largest, fastest growing group is 80-plus. So people are going to have to work longer, they're living longer and healthier so naturally retirement systems are going to have to be adjusted over a few years because people are living longer. That just makes sense to me.
The natural resources. Lake Bistineau is terribly important. We need a representative on that task force that's science-oriented ... that understands sub-emergent, emergent weeds, understands asexual and sexual reproduction of this weed that we have down there. And that's not the only one. You have others too. So I know that ... understand that ... biology was what I taught a lot.
So having a person on the natural resources committee, and understanding that we must stay focused on this area because this little problem is not going to go away. It's going to spread. We have to find a way to stop it.
There is some research at LSU Ag center on a fungus, but they're not sure what it will do when it gets out into the main lake.
It could destroy more than that. So, there is hope that there is a biological way to control this thing. Chemicals are expensive and chemicals are chemicals. And you put them in the environment sometimes they have unintended consequences.
How would you restore public trust in government?
Well, you have to do the right thing. I started in this campaign trying to restore trust. I have not and will not dirty politic anybody. I will keep everything above board.
I'll have integrity in decisions ... in my actions. It's like I use to tell kids when they got in trouble in the principal's office. "Well, you've lost some trust, but you can get it back. But you have to earn it." We have to earn the public's trust again. And we have to do it with integrity, honesty, and doing the right thing ... always.
What would be your primary goal to accomplish by the end of your first term?
Education reforms need to be in place right away – that's a given. Here in our district, we have got to pursue the development of Camp Minden.
Tourism can be a big plus here. And there are plenty of ways to do that. I could talk forever about that, but I won't.
With Camp Minden – remember back when the ammunition plant was there? You had the ammunition plant and little businesses as far as Shreveport that fed in there with products and services and people. That area right there is primed to be a major center for economical development.
And then I think that will bleed over to your Springhill area. People in Springhill can drive down to that. Or we can start working our businesses up there. Trane left up there because of no trained workers. They took to Mexico, they thought they could do a better job. Trane has found recently the Mexicans can't put those things together like they thought. So they're looking at going somewhere else again, back in the United States.
For years jobs left the United States. I think jobs are going to start coming back to the United States. I think we need to be ready for that.
Then there's the Vo-Tech. We've got to secure that. Local education is not handled at the state level with local decisions on everything. But as a former teacher, I would be more than happy to help work with the new superintendent on any items that they may have.
I wouldn't even mind going and teaching a class on dual enrollment – or just things that I'm familiar with. With trying to achieve the best that you can the most that you can.
And then you have a lot of issues we're going to have and here's a very important one. Road projects – and there are several different companies that have road projects – we get out-bidded in Louisiana by Texas companies and Arkansas companies that come in and they bid the very minimum. And the work is not as good, and I've seen this in the construction of schools – the low bid thing.
I would like to come up with some sort of formula that gives Louisiana businesses – doesn't guarantee them now – but gives them an edge in getting these projects. Because if Uncle Joe down here is doing dirt work for a road and all his neighbors are going to drive up and down this road, then Uncle Joe is going to do the best he can because this is Uncle Joe's home.
And I think we need to put Louisiana jobs first. We need to put Louisiana companies first, and we'll get quality that way. So I'm a firm believer in that.
Whenever we were building schools and things, if I had any say-so, I always hired local people because they have pride in where they live. You need that, and we do. This parish has a lot of pride, and it's evident in everything you see.
Tourism – the sky's the limit, and it really is. We've got to get some motels and hotels so then when we have events we can put people here and they'll spend money here.
You could put a multi-million dollar hotel out on Dorcheat and people would go there and stay for weeks. And spend money and go up and down and canoe and fish. I mean, it's all kinds of things like that. Lake Bistineau can be huge – that state park down there is beautiful. All those things right there, I'm ready and willing to work on. And I will, if I'm elected.
We're going to have an office in Springhill two days a week. We'll keep this one open five days a week, and we'll have the same personnel. But for two days a week, my wife and I will go up to the Springhill office and sit there and visit with folks because folks need to have personal contact with their representative.