Mike Walker is East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden's most formidable opponent in his run for reelection to a third term.
Walker, who is the current Mayor Pro Tem and a 12-year veteran of the Metro Council, has the backing of the Louisiana Republican Party.
Crime has been the major focus of Walker's campaign, and that's where he started his conversation with WRKF's Amy Jeffries.
JEFFRIES: One of the things that you are proposing to do should you become mayor is to add more cops to the force.
JEFFRIES: So, explain a little bit how you think simply adding manpower is going to address the crime and reduce crime in this parish.
WALKER: Right now you have a major shortage of 73 officers in the city police department, so every shift that goes to work is short police officers. So as they're doing their job during the course of their shift, they are doing their job and part of somebody else's who isn't there. And that's why it is of the utmost importance that we have a police academy for those 73 officers.
JEFFRIES: The mayor is talking about - Mayor Kip Holden - is talking about currently there is an academy of 30 officers and he wants another one for next year. So when you're talking about 73, are you talking about 73 added to the 30 that are already in the academy?
WALKER: Oh, absolutely.
JEFFRIES: Yeah, the chief has asked for 200. He's on video and come before the council and he's made the statement more than once. He's said, "I would love to have 200 officers." He said, "We need that many." You need 30 in narcotics, the drug situation being what it is here in East Baton Rouge Parish. So let's say you took everybody coming out of the academy right now and put them in the narcotics division, well, what about every other division? It's still short. Street operations units - well, they're only operating now with some miraculous overtime funds that the mayor came up with here during election time. They're still only operating five nights a week. Well, the criminals don't stop on the two nights of the weekend. You've got to have street operations units on the streets seven nights a week to be effective. You've got to let the criminals know, we're coming after you and we're going to get you off the street. We want to make it so bad for you that you don't want to live here.
JEFFRIES: One of the ways that you've proposed to do that, which is a little bit controversial - it's certainly sparked some conversation - is this idea of running a "misdemeanor jail" 24-7, 365 days a year, which would go after any number of outstanding warrants. But some are big, and some are small. Those warrants include unpaid parking tickets. So the criticism of this is that it's a waste of resources. So what is the connection that you see between those kinds of misdemeanors and the more serious crimes and the pattern of homicides and violent crime that we see here in Baton Rouge?
WALKER: Sure. It's real simple: You have to take care of the little things in order to prevent the larger crimes in the making. You cannot pick and choose who we allow to break the law and who we don't.
JEFFRIES: What is the crime that you think unpaid parking tickets leads to?
WALKER: Well, it leads to the mentality that, I can just not abide by the law.
JEFFRIES: Are you imagining the people who don't pay their parking tickets are then more likely to go on to commit assault or burglary? What is the slippery slope you think people are on there?
WALKER: The slippery slope is, that if you allow people to get rid of the little things, then they also set themselves up to begin to do larger crimes. That's why we have 160,000 outstanding misdemeanor warrants: because we let them get away with everything.
JEFFRIES: And that brings us over to the education piece, which you've also said is part of the crime prevention program that you would want to enact as mayor. So, and specifically you talked about getting more involved with the public schools in Baton Rouge. So, I wonder, Mike Walker, what it would entail for you to be involved more closely as mayor?
WALKER: Go to more school board meetings. Meet with the school board members more often. Work with them on where they want to go.
It's ok to have the Southeast School District form their own school district if that's what they wish to do, because that's the right of the voters to decide what they want to have and where they want to send their children. But you can never turn your back on the children that are in the public school system.
JEFFRIES: You mentioned the Southeast Community School District that has proposed to break away. It failed on its first attempt. My understanding is that there is a second attempt afoot.
The school district, now-the East Baton Rouge Parish School District in general has opposed that plan.
JEFFRIES: What if the superintendent were to say to you as mayor, "What we really need is for you to back us up against this breakaway program because it's going to pull the rug out from under us."
WALKER: Well, I think he's wrong. It's not going to pull the rug out from under them. The public school district's still going to be there. I would say, "I'm going to work with you to bring your school district up to the level that it should be." It should be acceptable, equal to the new system that's going to be formed. But I would also tell him those people have the right to do that. They're taxpayers too, just like the taxpayers paying for the public school system, and they have the right to choose where they put their money.
JEFFRIES: One of the things that the taxpayers here in East Baton Rouge Parish have been supportive of was the Green Light Plan, which addressed some of the infrastructure challenges here in East Baton Rouge. It widened roads and improved intersections. Is that something you would extend as mayor?
WALKER: Yes, I would. I would like to see it extended and also include all the bridges that need to be repaired and rebuilt. The Green Light Program - the pothole tax, half cent tax - should be extended probably in perpetuity, because we're going to always have streets and roads that need to be built, we're going to always have bridges that need to be rebuilt. So why don't we just keep doing that all the time?
JEFFRIES: Do you think that's all that Baton Rouge needs in the immediate future to deal with the great congestion that we have?
WALKER: Absolutely not. I think we need to go back and mend some fences with our parish presidents in the surrounding areas that don't even want to talk to the present mayor right now because of the way he came to them and tried to be a dictator, and tell them, "This is what we're going to do in your parish whether you like it or not." I think we need to come back, try to mend those fences and build some bypasses immediately. We need to bid that out. There are companies in the United States - private companies - that will build a bypass, they'll pay for it, they'll put a toll on it, and they'll get the money.
JEFFRIES: Are there solutions to traffic other than moving the cars to different places?
WALKER: We need to follow the FutureBR plan on a real transportation system. They've got guidelines for regional transportation, HOV lanes, all kinds of inter-modal transportation.
The only thing we've done is, a gerrymandered district has voted to approve - continue to fund a failing bus company.
Now it freed up $3 million in the city-parish budget. It will be really interesting to see what the mayor wants to do with that $3 million that we no longer have to subsidize CATS for.
Obviously, I'd put it in a new police academy and more police officers on the street.
JEFFRIES: Are you saying that all of the extra money, or surplus funds that might come through the budget you would put into law enforcement?
WALKER: Well, public safety is the number one responsibility of all public officials. So obviously public safety is where you put the money first.
JEFFRIES: You're the mayor, it's January, you're bringing the council members in to start talking about the budget and you're bringing some ideas to the table about how you're going to move the pieces around from what it's been. I know you want to move more funds and resources into the public safety proposals that you're talking about. But what would you take away from in order to do that?
WALKER: That's the first mistake you would make if you went to the council and you did that. The first thing you should do with the council is you should ask them. You make no suggestions, none.
JEFFRIES: But you have just proposed that you would fund a misdemeanor jail-
WALKER: Well, everybody knows that. But aside from that, where do we go? We go to the council and you ask the council what they would like to do. Period.
JEFFRIES: Mayor Pro Tem Mike Walker, thank you for joining me. And good luck with the campaign.
WALKER: Thank you Amy. It's been a pleasure, and I appreciate you very much for asking me.