Three Livingston Parish candidates will battle it out in the polls this October for the Louisiana House seat currently held by Rep. Valarie Hodges, who is term-limited.
Kellie Alford, Kellee Hennessy Dickerson and Garry “Frog” Talbert — all Republicans — are vying for the job, each touting a business-friendly, conservative platform.
Hodges has served three terms in the state House of Representatives, making this the first time since 2011 there will be a new face representing the district.
The election will be held Oct. 14.
Alford, a 48-year-old political newcomer, describes herself as a committed conservative who has dedicated her life to her family and the small landscaping business she and her husband founded.
She moved to Denham Springs from Little Rock when she was a toddler, graduating from Tara High School in 1993. Alford was a young mom, having her first child at the age of 16.
“I was faced with abortion and said ‘no.’ I’m extremely pro-life,” she said. “I had him my junior year, finished by senior year. College was not in the books for me. I went to work and started raising my son.”
She later met her husband, married and started a family. Though she initially stayed home with her three children, when the couple founded their business in 2008 she would do bookkeeping after her kids went to bed.
Eventually she went full-time, setting up the office, developing policies and procedures, handling marketing and overseeing contracts.
She first felt the pull to become involved in government during the coronavirus pandemic shutdown, which she opposed — particularly for churches and small businesses.
“Because I’m not a career politician, I have no agenda,” she said. “My only desire is to represent the people of District 64 and what they want to see done in our district, as well as our state. As a business owner, I understand a lot of the struggles and pressures that people have to deal with.”
She criticized how the government has been spending taxpayers’ money and said she is “tired of losing people” to surrounding states as they seek better opportunities.
“We have to have tax reform, we have to have a pro-business atmosphere that encourages businesses to want to come and set up shop here,” she said.
Alford also expressed concern for the rising cost of insurance rates and believes “market-driven solutions” could be the answer to bring people relief.
As for education, she spoke harshly against critical race theory and argued government has become too involved in Louisiana classrooms.
“We need to go back to reading, writing and arithmetic. Parents and students are frustrated,” she said. “We need to get the government out of our education and protect our students and educators from a woke curriculum.”
Not a career politician, Alford argues she will be willing to make hard decisions.
“We’re supposed to be the voice of the people and go with what their concerns are,” she said. “I truly want to be their voice.”
Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 4, Alford’s campaign raised $32,376 and had raised $30,670 before that, campaign finance records show. She still had $35,562 on hand as of the latest report.
Kellee Hennessy Dickerson
Dickerson, 53, is a longtime Livingston Parish School Board member who says she’s eager to bring her experience to House District 64.
“I have not been afraid to go against the establishment to be a voice of the people — to be a strong leader but also a voice of the people with integrity,” she said.
A lifelong Watson resident and graduate of the Live Oak school system and Southeastern University, Dickerson spent the first almost two decades of her career as a reporter and anchor for WAFB-TV. She also owned a small business that served as a gift shop and ladies’ boutique in Denham Springs for ten years.
She has been a member of the school board for the past 12 years.
“I have fought for this community my entire life,” she said. “Growing up out here I have watched the community develop. I have felt the needs of the people because my whole family has been a product of the school system.”
Dickerson plans to use her experience as a business owner and work in the communications industry if elected to address the needs of her community.
“Our state really needs to be shaken upside down,” she said. “We really need to go back to fight for our faith, our family and our freedoms.”
She bemoaned local graduates leaving the state for other work, declaring they need to be brought back home, lured by more jobs and opportunity.
Prior to a sales tax failing in Livingston Parish that would have provided raises to school district employees, Dickerson spoke out against the tax and urged leaders to look elsewhere for the money — a move that earned her ire from some teachers and support personnel.
“I was very outspoken about that tax,” she said. “I think we’ve got to work to lower taxes. I have always been a big proponent of our teachers.”
She also discussed allowing “our teachers to teach again” and fighting “a woke agenda” in the school system. Insurance, too, is a key issue for her, as well as honoring veterans for their service.
Dickerson spoke, too, of the portion of her district that falls in East Baton Rouge Parish, saying she will fight for better cell phone service, garbage collection and communication with the City Parish.
“The folks in the unincorporated part of the parish feel like they have been forgotten,” she said. “I see them! I won’t forget them!”
Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 4, Dickerson’s campaign raised $69,744 and had raised nothing before that, campaign finance records show. She still had $27,288 on hand as of the latest report.
Hodges, the representative whose seat the three candidates are vying for, has contributed $200 to her campaign, the report shows.
Garry “Frog” Talbert
Talbert, 61, believes his time as a Livingston Parish councilman has positioned him to put up a strong fight for his district if elected.
“The legislature’s going to require a bulldog,” he said. “You’re going to have to make hard votes at times that are unpopular with certain interests. If you look at my experience on the council, I’m not afraid to make a hard vote. I’m not afraid to be controversial.”
Born in Georgia, Talbert graduated from Tara High School in 1979 before attending junior college in Mesquite and then transferring to LSU. He ended up dropping out to work at a plant with the Ethyl Corporation.
After a brief stint, he was laid off and moved into running convenience stores, which led to him owning and operating his own truck stops.
Talbert, who says he has lived most of his life in either Pride, Greenwell Springs or Denham Springs, is about to end his second term on the council.
His top issues include tax reform, tort reform, an overhaul of the constitution and education reform.
“Tort reform will bring about a tremendous change to the insurance situation that exists in our state. As an owner of commercial trucks, there’s about two places we can buy insurance,” he said. “We need to make our environment better, because that’s one of the things that’s restricting business in the state.”
He spoke of improving education by creating an atmosphere where students are prepared for jobs in the 21st century, as well as working to find good options for students who are not necessarily pursuing the college track.
Talbert also is advocating for a constitutional convention to streamline the state’s constitution and funnel power to the legislature so elected officials can decide what is effective, which laws are the most important and which expenditures are the most important.
“A constitutional convention will relieve some of the power on the fourth floor and bring it back to the legislature,” he said, referring to where the governor’s office is located in the State Capitol building. “The closer you get to the people, the better off you are. Much better than having one guy on the fourth floor of Baton Rouge holding all the power.”
Overall, his hope is to foster a business-friendly environment for the state.
“The problem with the legislature is it’s run by attorneys,” he said. “The legislature needs to be run by businessmen. It’s ingrained in people it’s okay for government not to be efficient, and that’s not the case.”
Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 4, Talbert’s campaign raised $75,572 and had raised nothing before that, campaign finance records show. He still had $24,574 on hand as of the latest report.
The Layton Ricks Campaign Fund, representing the current Livingston Parish president, donated $2,500, while the parish assessor, Jeff Taylor, contributed $1,000, the report shows.