By Malcolm Butler
Prior to the start of Tuesday night’s Lincoln Parish Police Jury meeting, State Representative Richard Nelson (R-District 89) addressed members of the room about his upcoming campaign for governor.
Nelson, a graduate of Mandeville High School and LSU, was elected to the legislature in 2019 to represent St. Tammany Parish. He recently announced his candidacy for the Louisiana governor’s race for the upcoming election in October.
Nelson said he was in north Louisiana for some meetings and just wanted to stop by and introduce himself.
“I have done a lot to tackle some of the bigger issues in Louisiana,” said Nelson. “I don’t just like naming bridges. The truth is if Louisiana was just average we would all live four years longer and get a 33 percent raise. If we were just average in the country, we would all live four years longer and get a 33 percent raise. That gives you the scope of what type of problems we have here.
“It’s crazy when you think if you drive across the border to Texas, you get most of that back … three and a half years of your life and basically a third of your income. It’s a huge opportunity that Louisiana has had for a really long time.”
Nelson spoke about the fact that the state of Louisiana hasn’t grown faster than the rest of the country in more than a century.
“1910,” said Nelson. “It was actually 1910 was the last time (Louisiana) added a congressional seat. It was the last time we grew faster than the rest of the country. The problems that we have have been here for a really long time. A lot of it is based on our structure. How we raise money. How we spend money. A lot of that goes back to Huey Long.
“Huey Long said ‘I don’t want any local government in Louisiana being able to do anything unless you come down to the capitol and kiss the ring. He set that up about 100 years ago and we have been stuck ever since then.”
Nelson said he wants to give the ability and responsibility back to local governments.
“I think you have to look at what other states are doing successfully,” said Nelson. “States like Texas and Florida. They both grew six times faster than us in the last 10 years. The state of Texas added basically the entire population of Louisiana in the last 10 years. I think it’s time we do something different.”
“One of the bills that I brought was to get rid of the income tax,” said Nelson. “Just completely restructure the tax code. What that does is it gives local governments the ability to solve your own problems. You don’t have to go call your rep and say we need money to fix that bridge. Hey we need money to fix that school. Hey we need money to pay the cops. It’s a system where local governments can solve their own problems. That’s what Texas has. That’s what Florida has. That’s what Tennessee has. That’s why they are so successful.”
Nelson, who has a degree in biological engineering and a law degree from LSU, said education is his other huge concern for the state and feels that changes have to occur on the elementary school level to make a real impact.
“Education is something that is really important to me and my wife,” said Nelson. “My kids go to public school down in Mandeville. It’s a good school, but at the same time I can see the struggles and the challenges if you don’t have a good education system. It’s really a foundational problem.
“We are not going to get good companies. We are not going to get good jobs. We are not going to get people college degrees if for example they don’t know how to read.”
Nelson said he worked within the legislature last year were bills to help literacy within elementary schools.
“You can either teach kids how to read or you can build more jails,” said Nelson.
Nelson pointed to the steps that the state of Mississippi took in 2013 that has allowed it to move up nationally in literacy in elementary school.
“Mississippi in 2013 in fourth grade literacy was 49th in the country,” said Nelson. “They passed some bills and as a result of those bills, now they are 21st in the country. It’s still a big struggle for us. About half of our fourth grades can’t read on grade level.”
Nelson said he brought three bills before the state legislature last year where two passed and one “died in the senate.”
“I am going to bring that bill back this year,” said Nelson. “It basically said that if you can’t read in third grade, we are going to hold you back and we are going to give you extra tutoring so that you learn how to read before we pass you forward. In reality you are going to be held back in third grade or you are going to be held back for the rest of your life.”
Nelson said a similar bill made a huge difference in the state of Mississippi.
For more information on Richard Nelson, go to NelsonforLA.com.