Incumbent U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond faces challenges from local community activist Belden Batiste, and Baton Rouge resident and financial advisor Shawndra Rodriguez, and Jefferson Parish businessman and military vet Jesse Schmidt in the race for the second congressional district, which encompasses much of New Orleans and a portion of Jefferson Parish then meanders west through parts of St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, St. James, Assumption, Ascension and Iberville parishes before snaking north to capture part of Baton Rouge. Richmond is the lone Democrat in the race, with the others either identifying as Independent or citing no party affiliation in their bids to represent the second congressional district, the state’s only predominantly Black congressional district. Home to both the Port of New Orleans and the Port of Baton Rouge, the district has the state’s highest unemployment rate, the second-lowest median income at and the second lowest graduation rate at –making issues around jobs, economic development and parity, living wages and quality educational opportunities critical ones on which its next representative must focus. Repeated attempts to schedule an interview with candidate Belden Batiste were unsuccessful.
“We just want to keep building on the success that we have,” he says. “Just in the past several months of the last term, we waived over $200 million in loans that Dillard, Xavier and Southern University would have had to pay back. So that’s $200 million that they don’t have to worry about, which stabilizes those campuses. In the river parishes, which I also represent, we’ve secured almost $700 million in flood control assets there.”
Richmond, who served as the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus during the last term, says another reason he is running is to continue to provide leadership at a critical time.
“The other thing is making sure that we have a voice for underserved communities and for Black people,” We need strong voices in Congress to make sure we are advocating for those issues that affect our community.”
Among those issues, he mentions healthcare, education, wages and the economy. Criminal justice reform remains at the top of Richmond’s priorities, calling it an area in which we need to keep “making sure that we keep moving the needle.”
Specifically referencing the softer approach that has been taken in dealing with the opioid epidemic in comparison to how the criminal justice system treated crack cocaine addiction, Richmond says more still needs to be done to create more fairness in the system.
“As you look at the opioid addiction, the answer to that is a loving, nurturing approach, which is the right approach. But when we look at crack cocaine, you got mandatory minimum sentences… you got three strikes and you are out…you got that if you were convicted of an offense your grandmother was evicted from public housing. Since we have found this new help in the area of substance abuse, we need to go back and fix what we did back then.”
Richmond, who has also traveled across the nation in recent weeks, campaigning for his Democrat colleagues in an effort to swing control in Congress, says he feels confident that his party will take back the House of Representatives.
“I expect to get the House back. But getting the House back for the sake of getting the House back doesn’t mean much to me. What I look forward once Democrats are in the majority is reminding Democratic leadership what it means to be so. Our first bill should be raising the minimum wage. Our second bill should be restoring the voting rights act. Our third bill should be criminal justice reform. Our fourth bill should be paid family leave and making sure we have equal pay for equal work for women. Those are the things we don’t need bi-partisan support for. We can pass them with 218 votes. Let’s be unapologetically Democratic and let’s fight for those things that we believe in and not for anybody’s permission to raise the minimum wage and do those things. Then we can tackle the big things, the things we need to be bi-partisan in like immigration, infrastructure and healthcare.”
“A lot of things are going to go through the state legislature and the school board here, so we must work together. When they ask whether or not you agree with the federal government implementing a certain curriculum—that is where my voice will come in.”
Rodriguez says crime and drugs are hard issues, not just in Louisiana, but around the country. She plans to combat these issues on a federal level with programs. “There is a hopelessness that our children are facing, and they’re turning to drugs.” Citing a large prison reform measure currently being explored by our current administration, she is looking closely at various programs that are “coming from the heart” rather than supporting ‘frivolous’ programs that are not working.
When it comes to healthcare, Rodriguez is not for universal healthcare option but adds that “everyone should have access to healthcare without outrageous deductibles and restrictions. I am glad to say the current administration is backing a healthcare reform that will not restrict pre-existing conditions.”
As the representative for the 2nd Congressional District, she would specifically look at bringing in a more competitive platform to Louisiana.
“Healthcare is a business. We need more competition. We need more companies to be attracted to the state of Louisiana.”
Schmidt feels one of the top priority issues for the city is that of flood protection. While he acknowledges there were great efforts put back into the city after Hurricane Katrina, there is much more that needs to be done.
“We’re losing a lot of our coastline and we’re losing it fast.”
On the subject of poverty, Schmidt will work to implement strategies to empower people to give them the educational and job skills needed to move further and promote self pride. He believes there are those who feel we should give money to those in need while there are others who don’t believe in giving funds which are viewed as handouts.
“The answer is not just to give money. We have to address the causes of poverty. We have to remove barriers.”
Schmidt is for the legalization of marijuana.
“So many people are in jail for 20 plus years from every research I’ve seen…and, many states have taken away their right to vote once they’ve returned to society.”
He vows to work at the federal level to create ways to effectively reduce recidivism.
“The whole point of the criminal justice system is that if you do something wrong, you’re supposed to be punished for it. And when that punishment is over, that’s supposed to be it. We’re creating a group of people that feel they have no place in society.”
The married father of five says he is not interested in being a career politician.
“At the most, I would serve three terms, and then, step aside to allow someone new to come in and share their ideas.”