By Natchitoches Times Staff
On the eve of his final legislative session, Senator Gerald Long anticipates many of the same recurring issues of past sessions, i.e. the budget, education and the increase in minimum wage to top the agenda. Yet, he said he doesn’t see a lot of substance to take place. The underlying concern for most legislators will be of the Fall Elections. That’s not entirely the case for the Winnfield Senator who is finishing his 12th year in the Louisiana Senate and can’t seek re-election because of term limits. It’s only a 60-day session that starts Monday, April 8 and historically, in election years, lawmakers try to zip through it without much controversy or fanfare so they can focus on re-election. Long believes that will be the case this session also.
Although he won’t be on the ballot in the fall, Long has strong feelings about the future of his district. “I’m a big supporter of Louie Bernard,” for the 31st Senate District seat. “Natchitoches Parish needs to keep a State Senator,” Long stressed. He said with reapportionment coming in the next four years, it is imperative that Natchitoches Parish has a local Senator. Long added that Rapides Parish, which makes up a large percentage of voters in the district, already has four state senators.
He stressed the future of Natchitoches Parish’s representation in the legislature is critical this election. Another thing the senator would like to see happen is more women involved in the legislative process. He said 53.8 percent of the voters in Louisiana are female. However, the women only hold five of the 39 Senate seats, while on the House of Representatives side it’s only about 25 percent. He said the legislature needs their prospective insight on the issues they face. He added we owe a lot of gratitude to them for their leadership at home as well as in our community and business.
Some of the issues that will be facing the legislative session are: the budget which is in question because there’s no consensus on how much money to expect in revenue next year, teacher pay raises, minimum wage increases, an increase in the gasoline tax and where to allocate the money from sports betting and the Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP). Long said education hasn’t been cut the last two years and he doesn’t see it happening in this session.
In fact, Long sees a teacher pay raise passing. It is one of Gov. John Bel Edwards major pieces of legislation this session. Long said he could support the gasoline tax. He said legislation last year prohibits lawmakers or the governor’s office from raiding those funds dedicated to our infrastructure. That’s something former Gov. Bobby Jindal did. Long, who is also an ardent supporter of Edwards, said Edwards has been a good steward of the state’s money. He said when Edwards came into office he inherited a $2 billion deficit. “Today,” Long says, “we have a small surplus. Surplus is not a dirty word.” He also praised Edwards for his administration’s transparency. “No longer do we spend one time money on recurring expenses.” Long said it’s been an honor and privilege to represent the residents of the 31st District.
“I have no future political plans,” he said. “I’ll probably continue to contribute my services. I’m not one that can just do nothing.” One of the things Long is most proud of is the stability he’s seen at Northwestern State University. He said 12 years ago NSU had 7,000 students. Today it is over 11,000.
Long has a strong love for NSU and said about $500,000 in unspent campaign funds have gone to NSU for scholarships, as well as $500,000 raised for the Rose Landry Scholarship Fund.