Gubernatorial candidates debate education, healthcare at forum

Together LA holds forum

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The candidates for Louisiana governor met Friday at a forum put on by the organization Together Louisiana.

From the poverty rate to academics, the organization, composed of community and religious leaders from across the state, told candidates they are tired of Louisiana always falling behind.

"There is a problem. This is an atrocity," said one participant.

"Governor Edwards, Governor Vitter, we can do better," said another.

The candidates faced questions on a variety of topics, including education.

"I see people all the time in fourth grade but not being at the fourth grade level," said Bobbie Clark.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter called for more vouchers and charter schools. State Rep. John Bel Edwards called for the elimination of "tax giveaways," insisting that the excess money could be used to increase school funding.

A key point of contrast between the two candidates was Medicaid expansion. During the event, one father shared the story of his daughter, who he said faced problems getting insurance because of the reduced access to Medicaid in Louisiana.

"Instead she had to pay an exorbitant fee to a health insurance company here in our state that has now closed," he said.

Vitter said he would not rule out expanding Medicaid, but would prefer to put conditions on it first.

"I would only do it on solid, sound Louisiana terms - not on the federal government's terms," he said.

One of his reservations about accepting the expansion, he said, was a fear that it would create a "disincentive to work for able-bodied folks."

Edwards, who supports accepting the Medicaid expansion, strongly disagreed with that point by Vitter.

"The reason people don't qualify for Medicaid today is because they work. If they didn't work they would already qualify," he said. "These are people that are working hard every day. They don't make enough to buy insurance and their employers don't offer it."

Audience reaction to the event was mixed.

"I was happy to hear that Senator Vitter has conditions, but is interested in expanding Medicaid," said Father Mark Watson of Lake Providence, La.

"I have heard Vitter before and I don't see any changes. At this point in time, I'm looking for change," Clark said. "I'm looking for something that takes Louisiana and makes it look like other parts of the United States instead of us always being on the bottom."

Early voting ends Saturday. Election day is November 21.

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