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Candidates Present Ideas At Forum

Photograph:  Members of the St. Landry Parish Federation of Democratic Women seen here hosted a Democratic parish candidate forum Tuesday night at the Opelousas Civic Center. (Photo by Bobby Ardoin.)

Editor/Consulting Writer

The 2023 October election fervor continued Tuesday night, as state and local Democratic Party candidates spoke during a St. Landry Parish Federation of Democratic Women-sponsored candidate forum held at the Opelousas Civic Center.

Although early voting has already started, the forum provided a final opportunity for Democratic candidates to present their campaign ideas before a well-attended audience.

Prior to their presentations before the audience, each of the candidates who attended was available for informal discussions and photo opportunities.

In addition to the parish and municipal candidates, the program also featured several state Democratic office seekers that included Arthur Morrell, who is running for Secretary of State and Dustin Granger, one of three State Treasurer candidates.

Sandra Wilson, mother of gubernatorial candidate Shawn Wilson, also spoke at the event.

Each candidate was allotted four minutes to speak. Here’s what they had to say.

District 8 Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Incumbent Preston Castille gave insight about his St. Landry Parish roots, which included childhood residencies in Port Barre, Plaisance and The Hill area of Opelousas. Castille discussed his journey from those places to becoming a law professor and judge. Castille also mentioned his partnership with the SLP School District, which includes a $100 million charter school project for the Opelousas area.

Candidate Dolores Cormier-Zenon explained that she is a 25-year veteran of teaching in public, charter and parochial schools. Zenon, who has also taught at the university level,  added that she wants to be an advocate for children and families. In addition Zenon claimed she will work to focus on providing assistance for students’ mental health and trauma.  

District 40 State Representative
Candidate Allen Guillory said if elected, his primary focus will be on community issues. Guillory, who said he was “speaking from the heart,” stressed the need for creating a more orderly way of life in District 40. That mission includes, Guillory said, more discipline in the school system, where Guillory indicated teachers are scared of the parents, parents are scared of their children and the children are scared of nobody.

Incumbent Dustin Miller added that during his two previous terms, he has helped provide state funding for parish transportation and infrastructure needs such as roads and bridges. “We still have a long way to go, but let’s have a discussion about how much progress has been made,” Miller told the audience. Miller said funding has been appropriated for $2.2 million in bridge work, another $50 million for a new Opelousas water plant, $2,1 million for water meters in Opelousas and expanded nursing programs at T.H. Harris, Southwest Louisiana Community College and Southern University.

State District Judge Division C
Candidate Jarvis Claiborne said he has 39 years of experience as a trial lawyer and explained that in many instances, he has worked as a defense attorney, assisting indigent clients. “I am going to let my record speak for itself. I want people to look at my entire record. I also would like to thank the other candidates for running a positive, clean race,” Claiborne said.

Candidate Charles Cravins recalled his childhood and talked briefly about his father, who couldn’t read or write and his mother’s sixth grade education. Cravins emphasized that his family experiences taught him the meaning of right from wrong. Cravins also reminded those attending of how the phrase, “and liberty and justice for all,” applies to the judicial system. “People that we vote for don’t always do what we expect them to do. Are we going to let that happen again?” asked Cravins.

Candidate Scherri Guidry said that throughout her 20 years of experience as an attorney, she has advocated fairness and impartiality. Locally Guidry said that she serves as the attorney for the parish drug court program and understands the need for local veterans. Guidry said that she represents the 27th Judicial District as an attorney review board delegate and has experience in civil and criminal litigation.

Clerk of Court
Candidate Jan Deville said he plans to provide, if elected, Clerk of Court Office leadership and the willingness to work with all the parish communities. As a certified electronics graduate of T.H. Harris, Deville added that he plans to make electronic upgrades for the Clerk’s Office and provide better data backup and transfers.

Incumbent Charles Jagneaux said he has developed an experienced office staff that functions competently and cordially. Jagneaux said that he has recently completed an integrated electronic network – the only one statewide – which connects the Clerk of Court Office with the Sheriff and District Attorney offices in order to provide easier access to criminal and civil cases.

Parish Council District 1
Candidate Jody White, a retired Opelousas police officer with more than 20 years of experience, said the electoral base in District 1, “is tired of being ignored, with no answer to the questions they might have.” White said if elected, he plans to work to answer the questions of people within District 1 and work with other council members and state officials to solve issues.

Parish Council District 9
Incumbent Wayne Ardoin reminded the audience that he worked for 30 years as a parish official and since then, he has provided District 9 with good roads and drainage. The District, Ardoin added, has recently experienced the completion of overlay projects for several parish roads with the help of district, road district and parish funding. “I feel good about what’s being done and I have always made myself available to answer calls 24-7. My wife will answer those calls too,” said Ardoin.

Opelousas Aldermen District A
Candidate Victor Lewis was represented by his wife, Tiffanie Lewis. Victor Lewis is a principal at J.S. Clark Leadership Academy and Tiffanie Lewis added that the parents there have always trusted Lewis as an administrator. Her husband, Tiffanie Lewis said, is dedicated to District A and “passionate” about helping the needs of the area. “He knows the needs of the district and the concerns of the people there. Victor has always been an active member of the community,” Tiffanie Lewis said.

Candidate Vanessa Brown Sostand noted that she grew up living in “the heart of the district.” Sostand said she has examined the infrastructure in the district and she is aware of what she thinks is wrong there. “We have an urgent need for water, streets and right now. Our neighborhoods are also in need of repair,” Sostand said.

Candidate John Guilbeaux said he thinks the entire city is in need of help. “People are scared to walk out of their houses. We need to hold people accountable and be together, like an old-time village,” said Guilbeaux. District A neighborhoods, Guildeaux said, do not resemble the ones where he grew up. “You can’t expect an area to fix itself. You have to be willing to help and I am going to work to make sure it gets done,” said Guildreaux. 

Sandra Wilson, mother of 2023 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Shawn Wilson, spoke about the candidacy of her son during the Tuesday night forum of the St. Landry Parish Federation of Democratic Women candidate forum at the Opelousas Civic Center. (Photograph by Bobby Ardoin.)