Zion Hill hosts 16 candidates in Rapides Parish forum

Zion Hill Church’s Governmental Affairs ministry hosted a candidate forum ahead of the upcoming election.
Published: Sep. 12, 2023 at 9:20 AM CDT
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - Zion Hill Church’s Governmental Affairs ministry hosted a candidate forum ahead of the upcoming election on September 11, having 16 candidates in and around Rapides Parish make their pitches for public office.

At the local level, several candidates are strangers to political office. For Josh Pace, one of two candidates running for Rapides Parish Tax Assessor, being new to politics is a perk.

“It was a cool morning, this morning, you know. It was fresh air. That’s what our parish needs is fresh air,” said Pace, a Republican business owner.

However, incumbent Rick Ducote, who has been tax assessor for 12 years, experience is what he is riding on to keep him in office.

“I am the most qualified candidate,” argued Ducote. “I’ve been there 30 years. I have lots of experience doing my job. I have lots more to give.”

For the Rapides Parish Police Jury, it is a similar story. Current Jury President Joe Bishop of District B, who has been on the jury for 16 years wants to keep serving. However, his challenger, former state representative Randy Wiggins, believes it is time for a new vision.

“Have any of you ever heard of the vision for Rapides Parish? I have not,” said Wiggins. “We need a vision, and that’s what I want to do.”

Also looking for a change is Travis Herrington, a 29-year-old, lifelong Rapides Parish resident living in District E who said he is tired of seeing his friends and family leave.

“I think there’s some things we can do differently, you know, innovation,” said Herrington. “I hope to bring new ideas, a fresh mind, new blood. I’ve been knocking on doors and that’s stuff I hear.”

Joey Short and Danny Bordelon, both also running for District E, believe that there are changes that need to be made. For Short, that means more community involvement in the jury’s process, and for Bordelon, that means really focusing on road repairs and maintenance.

Infrastructure is, of course, the main issue for current and future jurors. Bishop and Oliver “Ollie” Overton, both current jurors, are optimistic about the work that has already been done. However, potential jurors, like Clarence Reed who wants to boot out Overton in District F, believes that there are areas being overlooked, especially when it comes to sewage and water systems.

“It has not been taken care of. It has been neglected for too long in the Martin Park area and Sonia Quarters area, but also, all areas need to be taken care of, so we all got to work together,” said Reed.

Ultimately, unity was a point of emphasis for all candidates running for police jury.

However, a sense of camaraderie would not be the way to describe the two candidates running for Rapides Parish Sheriff. The 2023 race is a repeat of the 2019 race for sheriff, but now Kris Cloessner hopes to take over the office from current Sheriff Mark Wood, who beat out Cloessner in a 2019 runoff election.

“Elections are mean. I have people jerk my hand and tell me, ‘Don’t shake my hand anymore.’ And I’ve had people smile and hug my neck and say keep pushing hard,” said Cloessner. “That’s what I’m gonna do now. That’s what I’m gonna do in the future. And that’s what I’m gonna be as your sheriff. The person that never looks back, keeps pushing forward, and makes sure that our streets are safe.”

“We’ve taken over 17 pounds of fentanyl off the street, 140 pounds of cocaine, over 500 illegal guns off the street,” said Wood about the work done during his term. “That’s just the tip of the iceberg. $1.5 million we have taken from drug dealers. That’s how you hurt them. And it’s going right back into the fight to hurt these drugs. And I can tell you this, as your sheriff, I will continue to do that fight.”

Meanwhile, candidates running for a wider-reaching office also laid out their visions.

Toby Brazzel and term-limited State Rep. Lance Harris are both vying for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) District 5 seat. Brazzel, a father of eight children, wants to see more accountability in the education system and less regulations. Harris echoed those desires but focused much of his remarks on funding early education and expanding school choice.

For State Representative District 25 and 26, Trish Leleux, Sandra Franklin and Ed Larvadain, III all fielded questions on education, crime, gun control, abortion and redistricting.

All candidates had slightly different ideas about education, specifically teacher pay, which has become a top issue in the state legislature in recent years.

“Yes, I will be in support of increasing that. Yet, at the same time, I have to realize that I have to be responsible with that. I would like to make sure that we have all the funds that are available,” said Franklin, a challenger in District 26.

“I’ve always supported teachers, and I have no problem giving them a pay raise, but I don’t know if we can get them to the southern average,” said Larvadain, the incumbent candidate for District 26.

“We absolutely have to get our teachers up to where they need to be and all the support staff. They’ve got to be at what a market rate needs to be,” said Leleux, one of two candidates vying to fill the District 25 seat vacated by Harris.

Both Jason Dewitt, a Republican candidate for District 25, and Reddex Washington, a Democratic candidate for District 26, were unable to attend the forum.

For a full list of candidates running for office in the Oct. 14 primary election CLICK HERE.

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