LA Congressional Candidate State Sen. Troy Carter Discusses Key Issues and Addresses Concerns in Interview

Louisiana has seen dramatic demographic and political changes in the last thirty years. Once reliably Democratic, the state has mirrored the larger urban/rural realignment in the rest of the United States and now supports Republican candidates by some of the widest margins in the country.  Following the 2010 census, Louisiana lost a congressional seat, shrinking from seven to six, and with that reapportionment came the modern era of Republican bare-knuckle power politics. The district lines, state and federal, in Louisiana used to be drawn with some consideration of compactness and community. Different groups were represented. After 2010, the only goal by the Republican majority was maximizing their power. To that end, as much Democratic strength as could possibly be concentrated in the Louisiana 2nd District was so crammed, and all other Democrats in the state were carefully divided into the other five districts but held below forty percent. Thus, the hyper-Democratic 2nd District was born.

Following the election of Joe Biden to the Presidency, New Orleans’ own Cedric Richmond was elevated to a Special Advisor role in the White House. As a result, one of the most liberal, most interesting, safest-for-Democrats seats in Congress is open, to be filled via special election on March 20th, 2021.  We have reached out to the Democrats running for the seat and hope to present you with the information you need to choose your voice in Washington.

Troy Carter is a well-known figure in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, having served as a State Representative, State Senator, and a City Council member in his long career in public service. Sen. Carter served as the Executive Assistant to Mayor Sidney Barthelemy for six years, and in 1991, Carter became the first African American to be elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives from the 102nd District (Algiers). In 1994, Carter was elected to the New Orleans City Council representing District C, which includes the French Quarter and Westbank. During his tenure on the City Council, his district, which includes Algiers, experienced a revitalization with new business development and a dramatic reduction in crime and homelessness. In 2015, Mr. Carter was elected as Senator in District 7. Again, he was the first African American elected as Senator in that district. He is also the Managing Partner of Policy & Planning Partners, LLC in New Orleans as well as the CEO of Commonwealth Investments, LLC. Some of Sen. Carter’s key endorsements include former Congressman Cedric Richmond, City Councilwoman Helena Moreno and the New Orleans Advocate.

Big Easy Magazine asked Sen. Carter questions about the most pressing issues affecting voters of the 2nd congressional district, and we also provided him an opportunity to clear up some key concerns from many voters. We discussed issues related to the environment, criminal justice reform, inequities regarding the vaccine rollout, healthcare and other key areas of President Biden’s agenda. Mr. Carter also addressed some concerns from voters about his endorsement of a school board candidate who expressed anti-lgbtq policy views, and he attributed the issues with his blighted property to a complicated permitting process which he believes needs to be reformed.

Editor’s Note: Some of Mr. Carter’s responses have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.


President Biden has said recently that he has some reluctance toward cancelling $50,000 in student loans through executive action… but he suggested that Congress was free to do whatever they wanted to do. Do you support any sort of legislation for relief of student loans and which side (executive action vs legislative) do you personally support?

I think that an executive order to eliminate the debt is what should happen. It’s one that I fully and firmly support. If the President, for whatever reason, doesn’t want to use an executive order I would be one of the first members to sponsor legislation to move it through the process. I think it’s easier, I think it’s faster if the President does it through executive order, and the larger number not the smaller number if we really want to impact student debt and really give our students a head start on debt forgiveness and rebuilding our economy, on buying homes and starting businesses, we should go for the whole thing. Listen, if we’re going to encourage citizens to be the best they can be, get educated, it seems to me that debt forgiveness goes a long way to putting our money where our mouth is.  If instead of paying back ten, twelve percent on student loans, you forgave those loans and allowed people to buy homes and spend money in the economy… You want to talk about a stimulus?  That’s a real stimulus.  That’s how you invigorate an economy.

Senator, during your time on the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee you endorsed a candidate who could be seen as anti-LGBTQ.  That is hard for us to overlook when it is an issue of great concern to so many of our readers.

Well, let me say, in my thirty years of public service I have never been on the wrong side of that issue. I was arguing for LGBTQ rights in the early nineties in Baton Rouge when that was not a popular position.  I fully support the LGBTQ community and I believe my record supports that. For the endorsement of that particular individual, you served on OPDEC, you know how chaotic those endorsement meetings are and how many conflicting values you have to balance. We spoke several times during her race and she admitted to me that she had a change of heart and her views had changed. I believed her. I would not, now, endorse someone who held anti-LGBTQ views.

Editor’s note: Despite the controversial endorsement, Sen. Carter does have a record of supporting the LGBTQ community. In 1993, Troy Carter introduced the state’s first employment nondiscrimination act, which offered protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. He also filed similar legislation in 2017.

The vaccine rollout is proceeding in Louisiana, but vaccination levels are still lagging in minority communities. The Black community has been especially hard hit across the country. Do you think this disparity in the Black community is due to inequality in the delivery of healthcare in this country or to well-earned suspicions in the black community of governmental health programs?

I think it is both, but more due to inequality. Yes, there is some mistrust in the Black community, but that isn’t going to stop people from wanting to take care of their families. The real problem is the lack of health care, the shortage of vaccines. Not everyone has a car or can take time off of work. Some folks don’t have internet access to make appointments. There are large communities that can be hard to reach, but we have to. This isn’t going to work unless everyone who needs the vaccine can get it. 

Senator, do you support President Biden’s energy policy, and do you think we can end the Keystone pipeline without destroying Louisiana’s energy sector? Can oil and gas companies adapt to this new reality, or do you think we’ll see a substantial loss in revenue from oil and gas due to Biden’s energy policy?

I think the temporary moratorium that President Biden has placed is fine as long as it’s just that – temporary. My  understanding is that it’s very temporary to have the opportunity to get their arms around where we are. I’m hopeful that will be lifted soon. 

Oil and gas exploration are very important in our state; however I firmly believe and will fight for the regulations that will make sure that we are minimizing the harmful environmental issues that we know are real. I think that the petrochemical companies may not like further regulation, but further regulation is required. I have met with all sides of this issue and I will tell you that I totally understand the significance of the economic value of oil and gas. I understand what it means to our economy, what it means to our world in that a substantial portion of our strategic oil reserve is right here in Louisiana. So, there are a lot of moving parts but none of those moving parts should be so important that we forget the importance of caring for the people who live in those communities and making sure that they are safe and making sure that they’re not literally dying for their jobs, dying for an economy. 

I think we can have both working with the EPA making sure that we have state of the art regulations, state of the art monitoring. Under my plan, I would suggest that we have independent third-party monitors embedded in each of the plants to make sure that regulation is at the forefront – and I emphasize independent third party monitors. Not monitors that work for the petrochemical companies. We can’t necessarily have the fox guarding the hen house. I think by doing that – exercising true regulation with the EPA that’s fully enforced – we can enjoy the economy of oil and gas while not causing further harm to the people who live in the area and, in fact, we can reduce emittance – the footprint – of what we have now by having effective monitoring and regulations.

Looking at expanding access to health care, do you agree with the Biden administration that we should make incremental changes and have a public option added first, or do you think we can go straight to Medicare for All?

I’m a pragmatist, and I’ve been in this process for a long time. I understand the process very well having been a member of the House, Senate, and member of the New Orleans City Council. Any legislative body requires negotiation. If I had my druthers, what I would push for first is Medicare for All, that everyone would have a baseline of medical insurance. They would be covered at a baseline of medical access. But if we had to negotiate to get to the 60 votes then so be it, but that would not be my first position. My first position would be a public option. For those who want to maintain their own private insurance they can do so. We can tweak Obamacare but then we should have a baseline of access for everyone. In America  healthcare should not be a privilege. It’s a right. We’re the richest country in the world and we should – at a minimum – provide a baseline of care for our citizens.  

You recently announced support for the legalization of marijuana at the federal level. You think the time has come for that. What do you see as the chief benefits of the state and the country pushing toward decriminalization and legalization?

Well, decriminalization there is a multitude. One is, of course, there are people that are serving hard time, people are jailed, people are arrested. We talk about criminal justice reform. We’ve got people that are in jail now for having marijuana when 17 other states have recognized that it’s not even – they’ve decriminalized it. And we know that many of those people that they arrested look like me, they’re Black and Brown people who’ve been arrested for simple possession while many others have gotten breaks. So it’s a way of unclogging a criminal justice system and making way for those hardened, violent criminals. We save on money, we save on resources, we create an opportunity for people to be rehabilitated.

Second, of course: taxation. We create an opportunity to tax a commodity that so many people are walking around using. We legalize and we tax it and we make sure that it’s good and pure and doesn’t have harmful additives. Number three is we create a whole other economy of people who can be certified to work in the industry as farmers on the agricultural side, on the dispensary side. There are a number of positive factors to come from it: criminal justice reform, economy, taxation; a huge advantage for the State of Louisiana.

Senator, your property on the West Bank has been cited for code violations related to blight for several years. You faced some recent criticism for failure to act on the property and personally cited the city’s complicated permitting process for the delays. Construction crews were around the site two days following a joint investigation with WWL. What do you say to critics who say you’ve only acted in response to the investigation, and what would you say to voters who questioned how seriously you want to take on blight in the district when you have had difficulties addressing it in your own property?

Evan, my difficulty has been with the City of New Orleans. It has been with a dysfunctional Department of Safety and Permits. If you see, just recently, David Hammer with WWL did a huge expose on the dysfunction of Safety and Permits and the things that happened at Hard Rock Café, that’s happened all over the city. I am just one of many who have been caught in the switches of the issues in the dysfunction of that Department. I’d ask anyone who’s ever had to deal with Safety and Permits, HDLC, or any one of those agencies to tell you their experiences of what they’ve had to go through. 

I have a voluminous stack of papers that I gave to [The New Orleans Advocate|Times Picayune] to demonstrate every step that we took to get our permits. I’ve owned that property since 1998. Never had a single issue with anything on that property until 2018 when I was cited for some issues that we immediately fixed. Sent those issues back to the City of New Orleans, only to come back and have a second set of violations that were exactly identical to the first set. Same photographs, everything. Exactly like what happened with Hard Rock, exactly like what happened as reported by WWL and in The Advocate, where these inspectors were allegedly going out to reinspect and they never were.  

So listen, I own the property. I didn’t run from the fact that I own the property. I had crews out there working as soon as we got the permit. It took us a long time to get the permit. Now granted, that was during Covid, during hurricanes, a whole bunch of things, but the reality is, the first set in 2018, those items were fixed. The second set was a duplicate of items that had already been fixed, and we went back to the city to argue about that, they said, “Well, listen, if you fixed the property we’re gonna remove all the liens anyway.” Under the city’s rules, if you fix the property they remove all the liens. 

I have a beautiful set of plans that show that we’re going to invest a significant amount of money on the property, and you know the irony of it? When [WWL] went out to do the report we had just gotten the permit and people were in the building working at that very time but they didn’t mention it. That’s a fact. It’s a beautiful property on the river and it’s a family property. My niece has on the property, my nephews, several family members have lived on the property. It’s not in my best interest to have this property out of commerce. I still pay a note on it. I still pay insurance for it. Every day that it’s not in commerce, I’m losing money. 

We were fighting with the city to get a permit so we can do the work. Each time we got closer to getting the permit they’d say, “Oh, no, do this too.” So we’d do that. “No, we needed to see one more drawing.” So we did another drawing. I spent a small fortune on drawings with architects trying to honor and adhere to every step. Listen, I’m a public official. I understand that I’m held to higher standard. That’s why I was working so feverishly to get my permit. I find it pretty ironic that here I am, running for Congress, and all of a sudden it becomes a news story. It’s okay, I understand. I live in a public bubble so I accept that. I’m not running from that. I’m not running from my responsibility, but I want the facts to be known that I did everything I could to get my permit. 

Now here is the next part: If I – a former member of the New Orleans City Council – had that much difficulty in getting my permit, imagine what happens to John Q and Susie Q Citizen who don’t know how to navigate through the maze of bureaucracy at City Hall. It really speaks to a bigger issue. My property is being repaired. My property is going to be one of the best-looking properties on the river there’s no doubt. But there are a lot of people out there that are in a situation where they’ve been given the runaround, they have been mistreated by this Department and made it very difficult to get a permit. If you talk with almost anybody who has tried to get a permit they’ll tell you the same.

On raising the minimum wage as part of budget reconciliation in the COVID-19 Relief act versus waiting:

Carter expressed strong support for an increase to the minimum wage and for including it in the budget reconciliation process now as opposed to waiting for a later time and seeking a more bipartisan approach. 

“If we don’t do it now, it may never get done, and it is long overdue,” Carter said. 

On Republicans blocking Biden’s agenda: 

It was the same playbook under President Obama, whom I admire greatly, but we’re not going to fall for it this time. The people want results, and we need to produce them.

Louisiana and Georgia couldn’t be more different in their political trends in recent years. Clearly, in Louisiana a decision was made to take a more moderate position and to reach out to independents and conservatives.  Do you think that Republicans are interested in reaching across the aisle, and will this approach work?

I do not. We only have a short window to accomplish real goals for the American people. We should not waste time trying to soften our approach, trying to work with people who have no interest in working with us.  Democrats are pushing for some very good ideas right now that are broadly supported by a majority of Americans. We need to raise the minimum wage, pass real Covid relief, expand access to health care, and protect voting rights. We can do that without the Republicans, who oppose all of that, and we should.

Jenn Bentley contributed to this article.

Editor’s note: Some of the interviews in our series of interviews was conducted by different staff members. The interviewers had a degree of autonomy with regards to style and questioning of the interviewees. Thus, the length, format, and style of the content presented largely reflects the approach and style of the interviewer. 

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