Lafayette real estate attorney Jean-Paul Coussan announced in October his candidacy for term-limited Rep. Joel Robideaux's seat in House District 45. KPEL sat down with Coussan — who also serves on the Cajundome Commission, the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce and under-40 leadership group the705 — for a quick Q&A during a March 27 fundraiser at Petroleum Club.

During your speech tonight, you were talking about an "energy" that you wanted the state to recognize. Is it the youth energy you're focusing on?

Well I don't necessarily think it's a "youth" thing. I think it's an energy that pervades every generation. My grandfather, when he moved here from New Orleans, he was 85. Lost his house to Katrina. He comes over here, and he swears he wishes he would have moved here 20 years before because of how much he loved Lafayette. He made more friends over here as an 85-year-old man than he had in many years in his smaller community. It's a very welcoming community, but I think it's because of the energy that everybody has. So no, I don't think it's a youth thing. I think it's multi-generational.

You work with the Chamber of Commerce. Are there some industries that are coming up in Lafayette that you would like to get noticed in Baton Rouge?

The industries that we have here have the ability to be catapulted to an even higher level. It's not necessarily new industries, but we can allow people to have the confidence to open new businesses in health care, to open new businesses in oil and gas, to take risks. And I think from a policy prospective, you just have to be able to foster that economic growth. There's any number of ways that could be done, but it's not necessarily just for Lafayette: I think in the whole state we can do these things. And it's going to take state legislators to do it. But if we allow that to happen in the state, Lafayette is a place that's going to be able most to take advantage of it because of our entrepreneurial spirit. Because of the energy that everybody has over here.

One thing you've been working on is combating blight in Lafayette. What ideas do you have for doing that here? A lot of things I see happening involve government grants. What alternatives are there to doing that?

I think that's one of the great roles that the Chamber of Commerce might be able to play, relative to spurring economic development in areas that might not have seen a lot of development. I think it could start with private property and people that just want to do something great, and as long as they feel comfortable that there's the proper infrastructure in place — that they're gonna have economic development in and around their area — that will spur the growth. You won't need public-private partnerships. You won't need the grants. I think the first stop is to start with the owners and how to incentivize them to do something great with their property to add value to the community.

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Let's talk about tonight's event.

This was a special event. I think there was a lot of excitement here. I personally don't think it's about me. I think it's about the people that were here. There were all different generations represented here, and everybody was excited about it — excited about getting their involvement to the next level. One thing I can tell you is that any generation that was here, they may not have been involved politically in their lives. They've been focused on their families, on their businesses. So I'd like just to be a mechanism for them to have a voice.

What are they saying at this point?

They want somebody that — number one — they can trust. That's gonna go to Baton Rouge and make sure that Lafayette's voice is heard. I think we have pretty good momentum with our current delegation right now. But you can see some of the other delegations from around the state — over the course of history — have gotten more done for their areas because of their ability to coalesce. I think I could take the momentum that our current delegation has and, with guys like (Rep.) Stuart Bishop, take that to the next level. For the oil and gas industry, for the real estate industry, for the construction industry, for the health care industry — those are the drivers of Lafayette.

I'm in the real estate, banking and title insurance industry. So right now, there's bills pending that affect all of those industries, so I don't have to go too far out of my wheelhouse — oil and gas, real estate, construction — to have an impact. Even as a new legislator, should I be elected. At the same time, Lafayette is a city that gets a lot of attention. But in Baton Rouge, you still have to fight to be recognized from a policy perspective. They do sweeping changes that may affect other areas more than they affect Lafayette — which is good in a way, because in some cases, you just want to be left alone. I'm not talking about over-legislating, but in any case, we want to do things that spur economic development locally.

Anything particular in mind?

I've got some ideas.

You did mention that Lafayette gets a lot of attention. Would you agree or disagree that it sort of leads the way for the rest of the state?

I really think that as Lafayette goes, so goes the state. Economically and culturally. Lafayette: geographically centered, culturally centered, oil and gas-centered, healthcare-centered. Because of all those things, Lafayette could be the force for the rest of the state to follow. I think thats what's important and why everyone should pay attention to who the leaders are. The business leaders, the political leaders, and the civic leaders.