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Wesley Bishop seeks full term as House Representative

10th October 2011   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

Just under a year ago, SUNO Administrator Wesley Bishop beat a crowded field of candidates to win the special election to replace State Rep. Cedric Richmond, upon the latter’s election to Congress.

Just after his swearing in, Bishop was engaged in conversation in Speaker Jim Tucker’s office, when both men learned that governor Bobby Jindal was pushing for a merger of the University of New Orleans and Bishop’s Alma Mater and current employer Southern University at New Orleans. It was a move that the governor had specificially ruled out three years before in a meeting with African-American legislative leaders.

“I was thrown into a fight,” Bishop recounted to The Louisiana Weekly. “Most of the people that were advocating the merger didn’t understand that students had the ability to take classes at both schools right now…And, there was little duplication. SUNO has a School of Social Work. UNO has a School of Counseling. And, so on.”

In rejecting the merger, Bishop explained, “We currently offer many different partnerships between SUNO, UNO and Delgado that gives us a great deal of bang for our buck.” There was very little savings, in other words, in merging the schools.

It is his educational expertise matched with his connection to his district that Bishop maintained, qualifies him for a full term. “My past experience uniquely qualifies me to serve as state representative because I feel that it has allowed me to become keenly aware of the needs of the district. I have lived, worked, played, worshiped and grown up in District 99.”

His merged district contains all but eight precincts of the District 101, New Orleans East seat he won a year ago, along with the District 99 precincts in the Ninth Ward and its environs currently held by Rep. Charmaine Marchand Stiaes. Effectively, it is a merger of equal sized seats, thanks to the population loss both areas endured after Hurricane Katrina.

The addition of the Ninth Ward, though, is hardly daunting for Bishop. Besides the fact that Marchand Stiaes decided not to run for re-election, Bishop grew up in the Ninth Ward. It is the neighborhood that formed and shaped him. The merger of District 101 with 99 simply joins his current home with that of his past.

“I am seeking re-election to finish the job that was begun back in March of this year,” Bishop outlined, “I am looking forward to continuing to work with the community leaders to craft an aggressive agenda to move the [combined] district forward.”

He does so with three top campaign platform planks: “Work with all law enforcement agencies to aggressively fight crime; Aggressively enforce laws regarding residential and commercial blight; and Encourage Economic Development in all areas of the district.”

On many specific questions of policy, though, Wesley Bishop was hesitant to take a stand. For example, when asked he supports a single board for the Port systems of Louisiana as State Senator Conrad Appel has proposed, he replied, “Not sure. I will form my opinion after weighing the pros and cons.”

When asked, if the choice for Speaker of the House is a Republican from North or Central Louisiana, or a conservative Democrat from New Orleans, how would you vote, by party or region, Bishop replied, “Neither. I would vote for the candidate that I feel would work in the best interest of the people that I represent,” but specifically refused to answer towards which of the five candidates in the Speaker’s election he was leaning.

When asked if he backed efforts by Gov. Jindal to change the law allowing the executive branch to be able to cut across the board 10 percent of budget in times of deficit, he did take a definitive, “No, I do not.” But, then when queried how he solve the budgetary shortfall without raising taxes or hobbling higher education and health care, he simply said, “I would look to tap other sources outside of health care and higher education.” No other elaboration of specific answers were rendered.

Bishop also replied, “No,” to the questions, Should the governor be allowed to cut across the board beyond the current four percent he is allowed unilaterally, and would you support a constitutional limitation of growth in the budget, similar to Colorado’s TABOR, which limits state governmental growth to the rate of inflation. However, when asked for details again, and specifically, whether he would agree to spending limits in all areas outside of educational spending, he simply said the one word answer, “Unsure.”

When asked where he stands on the new LSU/VA Hospital in Mid-City, what should become of “Big Charity,” and will state funds be there to convert it? Again, Bishop replied, “Unsure.” To the question, should it be the new City Hall? The New Orleans East State Rep. replied, “Haven’t formed an opinion yet.”

There were some issues on which Bishop took firm stands. “I do not support abolishing the Lt. Governor post,” arguing such a move would concentrate too much power in the Governor’s office.

When it posed to him, considering how many local government bodies have rolled forward millages after rolling them back thanks to higher revenues from rising assessments, do you support a state law that would require a public referendum and voter approval before millages could be rolled forward? Will you support the bill to mandate that? He firmly stated, “Yes I do. Yes I would.”

Speeding up hurricane recovery in his district remains a priority for Bishop. “[We must] work with citizens and business owners to provide them with all the resources needed to get them back on their feet as quickly as possible. In addition, continue to work on behalf of residents to help them through the Road Home process to ensure they are made whole.”

He also argued that the legislature must “Provide creative legislation and incentives to lure various types of businesses to re-consider locating on Canal St.,” legislation that if written correctly could help revitalize main streets across Louisiana. And, he would you revisit the post-New London constitutional amendment that outlaws the use of Eminent Domain to take blighted properties, a critical need in his still storm-damaged district.

Almost uniquely amongst candidates in this election year, Bishop refused to take a no new taxes pledge outside of tobacco taxes? And, when it came to backing a continuation of the Recovery School District, the State Rep. maintained, “I feel that local schools should be returned to local control.”

He went on to argue that the RSD was not a model for school takeovers outside Orleans. Though when asked if the state should mandate a Charter Magnate School in every parish, he answered, “ No stand yet. The charter school mandate is still a work in progress.”

Concluding, Bishop reflected, “During my first session I worked hard to assure the defeat of the SUNO-UNO merger proposal and to bring the signature signage program to New Orleans East. I would like to thank the citizens for electing me back in January and I look forward to continuing to work hard to rebuild all areas of the district.”

The election is October 22, 2011.

This article was originally published in the October 10, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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