BATON ROUGE — Three of the main Republican contenders for Louisiana’s U.S. Senate seat said Wednesday they oppose proposed federal legislation to require companies to collect sales taxes on Internet purchases.
U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, U.S. Rep. John Fleming and state Treasurer John Kennedy participated in a candidate forum hosted by small business groups.
Supporters of the online sales tax collection proposal describe it as an issue of fairness that involves treating online retailers the same as brick-and-mortar stores.
Boustany said he had problems with the current proposal but left open the door for considering future ideas. Fleming said that although he wants to see a “fairer playing field,” he didn’t think a tax increase was the right response.
Kennedy was the most direct in his opposition: “Here’s what I think the United States Congress should do with the Internet: Leave it alone.”
Eleven candidates have filed federal paperwork to run in the Nov. 8 election for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican David Vitter. Only four reached the polling requirement set by the organizers of Wednesday’s event. Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, a Democrat, didn’t attend, citing a scheduling conflict.
The three GOP contenders included in the event didn’t differ much on policy positions, opposing the federal health care overhaul championed by President Barack Obama, describing the federal government as too large and pushing to shrink federal regulations on business.
They tried to draw distinctions on their background and experience.
Boustany, in his sixth term in office representing southwest Louisiana, described himself as a “conservative who’s actually gotten things done,” passing bills under both Republican and Democratic administrations. He pointed to Wednesday’s groundbreaking of a new Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Lake Charles, a project he fought for years to achieve.
“It’s not time to put a rookie in this position,” he said.
Fleming, a tea party favorite who has represented northwest Louisiana since 2009, talked of his membership in the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus and its work to help drive former House Speaker John Boehner from Congress. He said Republican and Democratic leaders in Washington are out of step with the country.
“People all across this country are hurting from Washington is doing to — and not doing for — you,” he said. “I think we need somebody who is really an outsider, if not an outcast, to go to the Senate and shake it up.”
Kennedy, a statewide elected official for 16 years, also positioned himself as an outsider, reminding the crowd of his frequent disagreements with Louisiana’s governors during his tenure. Although he didn’t directly attack Boustany and Fleming, he lambasted Congress.
“There’s some wonderful people in the United States Congress. But for the past eight years, as a group, as an institution, I can’t figure out what they’ve been good for,” Kennedy said. “They’ve done a lousy job for the American people.”
Other Republicans in the race include former U.S. Rep. Joseph Cao and retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness.
Democratic candidate Caroline Fayard, a lawyer and small business owner, slammed event organizers for excluding her, disagreeing with the poll data used. She described it as insulting and said “it smacks of insider, good ole’ boy cronyism.”
The candidate forum was sponsored by the Louisiana office of the National Federation of Independent Business, the Louisiana Restaurant Association and the Louisiana Retail Association.