On October 22, Big Easy Magazine with Lamar White Jr. of The Bayou Brief hosted Making Progress: NOLA’s Progressive Candidates Forum at the Propellor Center. Among those participating were Congressional First District candidates Jim Francis, Lee Ann Dugas, and Tammy Savoie, along with Second District candidate Belden “Noonie Man” Batiste. The three Democratic candidates for Congress are vying for the seat currently held by Republican Representative Steve Scalise. Independent candidate Belden Batiste is running for the seat currently held by Democratic Representative Cedric Richmond, who did not take part in the discussion.
While all the candidates hold progressive viewpoints, there were subtle differences.
Clad in his Bobby Jindal shirt, “Tanned. Rested. Ready,” Lamar White, Jr., contributor to Big Easy Magazine, asked some hard-hitting questions. Some of the highlights of the event follow.
White wanted to know what kind of compromises the candidates would make to get their own agenda passed.
Of all the candidates, when the subject of Trump’s border wall came up, no one was more passionately disinclined to support it than Batiste. Batiste, a passionate Mardi Gras Indian in a hyper-stylish sports jacket covered in pink roses, said: “The wall is not going to be built. Children should not be kept in cages!”
Jim Francis, a former computer programmer said: “What would we give up to get our agenda passed? Donald Trump is like a small child. I will be more than happy to build his wall if it will rebuild our coast.”
Lee Ann Dugas, a Gulf War veteran, said: “If it wasn’t for the Affordable Care Act, my mother would have been forced in a live in facility.” She added, “I know what it’s like to make a decision on whether you’re going to be able to afford groceries; able to pay the bills.”
Jim Francis: “I have a 10 year-old son and I’m deeply concerned what kind of future we’re leaving my son. We do not have a moral compass in healthcare. We are seeing a systematic voter suppression out in the open. The Republicans have no message. We do.”
On balancing one’s ideals and values with what a congressional representative needs to do to get laws passed
Tammy Savoie, a psychologist, and Operation Enduring Freedom veteran said: “Dreamers deserve a path to citizenship. We’re not gonna cut social security, and we’re not going to cut health care.” She made it clear that the wall was conditional on how citizens were going to be treated. She said if they want to cut Social Security, “We’re not going to build your border wall.”
Lee Ann Dugas: “This nation was founded by dreamers, our founding fathers were dreamers. That’s how our country got started. This is not America, what we have seen in the last 18 months.”
Belden Batiste: “I’m willing to give up the wall. I am not willing to give up the poor. As an independent, I’m gonna give him a run for his money. I will dance on his desk doing an idiot second line. The wall is not going to be built. Children should not be kept in cages.”
On civility in politics
Francis: “I have studied Steve Scalise’s voting record over a year now and it is alarming. I believe civility checked out in 2016. If we can get rid of the extreme right and the extreme left, yes, the extreme left, we can get things done. He voted against the violence against women act. Who does that? Stop with the extremes.”
This was not a debate against each other, so much as sharing their views. If there was anyone they were debating tonight, it was Steve Scalise.
Savoie: “He voted 70 times in his 10 years to strip healthcare from the Louisiana people. He voted against funding rural teachers. That nice guy persona that he pushes on us – we have to dispel that myth. He’s not [a nice guy]. We must expose Steve Scalise for what he is.”
Dugas: “In 2013 when the assault weapons ban came up for renewal… the guy who shot up the stadium… with an assault weapons ban he would not have been able to get a long gun due to his record.”
On the systematic suppression of voting rights
Batiste: “We gotta fight hard and make sure people have the right to vote. Every vote counts. Everyone have rights to vote. Votes count, every vote matters. We will be on top of the Russians. All jokes aside, Trump and his son in law will go to jail for cheating.”
Francis: “The moment a person turns 18 they’re immediately registered to vote. It is never revoked. You have to mandate a holiday for people who want to vote. The freedom to vote remains free.”
On Women’s Reproductive Health
When White asked, “Is there anything congress can do to ensure women’s access on a state by state basis, in the even Roe V. Wade gets rolled back,” perhaps the most passionate answer came from Tammie Savoie:
“…our infant mortality rates are off the roof in comparison to the rest of the industrialized world. We have to have a public option. You have to have affordable health care. It is important to not have women dying on delivery tables. We have a problem with women’s reproductive health; setting up community clinics. Can you imagine if 50% of our congress were women? We would solve it.”
On what the federal minimum wage should be
Lee Ann Dugas said that $15.00 an hour was a good start.
Savoie agreed but pointed out that, “What’s good in Bunkie, Louisiana might not be good in New Orleans, Louisiana. It has to be a livable wage.”
Francis made it clear that whatever new wage standards would be created, they would have to be scalable, based on economic conditions.
Batiste: “I think the minimum wage should be $17-18 an hour. Hospitality workers – they are making $2.83. Give them real affordable housing. We have to give these workers $18. All workers. The women gotta get the same as the men, or maybe a little more.”
On the gender pay gap
Dugas made it clear that the answer was within reach, saying that we needed to “reintroduce the Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA has already been signed. We need to resubmit it. It is time we get it ratified, and I think now we can get those 35 states and get it ratified.”
On Cannabis Legalization
Probably two of the biggest moments of contention between candidates Savoie and Francis were on the topics of white-collar crime and marijuana legalization.
On white collar criminals running for office, Dugas, Batiste, and Savoie, had little patience for criminals, making it clear they weren’t inclined to allow them to run for office again.
Batiste: “I think if it is a white collar crime, the answer is no. If they have done this before, and we put them in power, what makes you think they won’t again?”
Francis disagreed. While making it clear he had no fondness for criminals, he spoke of how people who have served their time should, at some point, be allowed to run again, adding, “We are a nation of laws.”
Everyone was in favor of legalizing marijuana: with Batiste saying, “If it makes my grandma see straight it should be legal.” Savoie said the laws against marijuana are not administered equally. “Minorities are arrested in larger numbers. We need to level the playing field with marijuana and make sure it’s an equal law.” Savoie made it clear while she supports legalization, we need to prepare for an increase in DUIs and other dangerous behavior.
Francis responded: “Against everything she just said – crimes drop, DUIs drop.” He pointed out that Colorado proves otherwise.
On Replacing Confederate Monuments
White directed a particular question at Batiste about Lee Circle asking: “What the hell needs to go there?”
Batiste had a unique answer: “We’ll make this big pot with the gumbo pot. Who can fuss about a gumbo pot? I would put the gumbo pot there, because why do people come here? Everybody comes for gumbo…”
White: “Who is your favorite Louisiana historical figure of all time?
Francis said: “I don’t mean this as a cop-out, but for me, it’s got to be Jon Bel Edwards…” talking about on the first day he signed the bill expanding Medicare into law…”
Francis: “All of us need to get Steve Scalise under 50 percent. Your vote is the one thing standing between the demolition of Medicare and Social Security and not. You are the difference. Please vote.”
Dugas: “This is how forums should be. A good communication of ideas. Time for change is now. The simple thing you gotta say, and that is yes. Yes, to real change. Yes, to equality for all. And yes to Louisiana first.”
Michael David Raso has worked as a writer, editor, and journalist for several different publications since graduating from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. If you like this piece, you can read more of his work here.