Head to Head
Two candidates emerge for BR’s newest House district
By Kendra R. ChamberlainPosted Jul 6, 2011
Baton Rouge emerged from the special redistricting legislative session with a few newbies in both the state House and Senate. Now, campaigns for the 101st are heating up, as two prominent community leaders step up to the plate. Democrat Edward Ted James and Republican Harold Williams stand on opposing ends of the political spectrum, and their respective policy proposals reflect their ideological distance. Below, the two sound off on the tough issues that face Baton Rouge.
Meet the Candidates
Name: Harold Williams
Party Affiliation: Republican
Background: Williams has been the chairman of the East Baton Rouge Republican Party for the past three years. Before starting his own insurance company, 1st Team Insurance, Williams was a uniform patrol police officer with EBR PD.
Name: Edward Ted James
Party Affiliation: Democrat
Background: James is an attorney in Baton Rouge. He was recognized by the “40 Power Players under 40” by the NAACP. He is a former staff attorney for the state House of Representatives, and worked with the administration of former Gov. Kathleen Blanco.
DIG: What are the main issues Baton Rouge is facing today?
Harold Williams: There’s more of an [issue] of opportunity as far as job and job-creation. I really believe that we can create more of a business-friendly environment in our communities to give our children of a working age, and the adults, the opportunity. When I was a police officer, I’d see a lot of kids and adults who weren’t working, and there was no job opportunities. I believe that, at the legislature, I’d be able to affect change by making a business-friendly environment.
Edward Ted James: I see a Baton Rouge where all of its residents live in a viable community – safe neighborhoods with the resources necessary to enjoy a high quality of life close to home. Safe neighborhoods start with two things, number one education. Making sure we have solid education, starting with early childhood development, [K-12], and providing jobs. I think that better educated people don’t tend to lead to lives of crime.
DIG: Our education system is often cited as one of the most pressing obstacles for Baton Rouge. What’s wrong with it, and how do we fix it?
Williams: I believe the obstacles facing this city and state is not having enough skilled laborers for the workforce. Reforming our educational system is one way of addressing this obstacle. There is a very educated populace in our community. And as state legislator I will actually go out and spell that fact. We do have an educated populace... Now, some of these people are not skilled, but we will have to do a parallel program working with the schools and technical colleges to get them trained. But they do have the wherewithal to do those jobs. I think because they are not starting early enough in identifying the skill, the aptitude.
James: I think it’s a system failure on some levels. We need to make advancements in public schools, making sure that we work with local government, because of course it won’t all be addressed through legislation. But as a legislator, it is incumbent upon us to work with local education and school board to provide them with the necessary tools from a legislative level – I mean the proper funding.
DIG: Do you think the state legislature is adequately independent and autonomous from the Governor’s office?
Williams: The recent cigarette tax – that’s something that a lot of Republicans voted against the Governor on. That’s just one bill that’s an example of that...I’m a different kind of candidate, I’m conservative, I’m African American, and I believe that the governor has a lot of great ideas on reforming education, and I would like to work with him as much as possible. I want to work with the legislature. We all should try to work together. I’m a unifying type of candidate. I want to be a unifying type of leader. I’m not trying to make waves, but where there are areas where we disagree, we should disagree amicably.
James: Unfortunately, Louisiana has not yet been able to shake the image of being heavy-handed when it comes to politics. Here, with our current administration and much of our current legislature, politics is constantly in the forefront of developing policy. We have to be honest with voters. We haven’t done a good job. Politics have become a big part of governing, and I think that’s something we need to address. And that becomes an issue when you elect new people with fresh ideas. Because we can be honest with voters where our dollars are going, about the needs of the community... This last session, we made some good steps, but I don’t think that we’re there yet. The Governor of Louisiana – no matter who he is – has a lot of power. With the cigarette tax, to hear people say, ‘Hey, I voted for the renewal but I can’t vote for to override the veto, just because I can’t do that to the governor’ – it’s shameful, and it’s laughable. But I do think that we have started to be more independent as a legislature. We saw a lot of the Governor’s proposals that just didn’t make it through the process.