2019 Louisiana Democratic Socialist Voting Guide
4-year term, limited to 2 terms
Incumbent Governor John Bel Edwards (D) pulled off an unlikely “Long Shot” victory in 2015, overcoming the doubts of many professional political observers as well as the initial skepticism of several powerbrokers in his own party to upset formidable (although politically damaged at the time) Republican kingpin David Vitter.
Edwards had very little time to celebrate his victory as the Republican legislative majority broke with tradition and acted as a true opposition party, electing its own independent leadership in the House. As a result, Edwards' term was characterized by an increasingly absurd budgetary game of chicken, often with multiple special sessions per year. The result has been a state budget balanced only through the most painfully regressive means, offering little relief from the deep cuts to our public health services and higher education system enacted by Edwards’ predecessor, Bobby Jindal.
While much has been made of the seeming anomaly of a Democrat holding a Deep South governorship during the Trump era, the two major parties have alternated stints in Baton Rouge since the 1980s. So it’s not entirely counterintuitive that a Democrat should occupy the Governor’s mansion now. And since Edwards has managed to triangulate a significant portion of the conservative establishment into his corner, the Republicans appear prepared to concede his reelection.
As of early September, polls show Edwards on the cusp of the “50% plus one” he needs to win outright in the primary. If for some reason that doesn’t happen and one of the top Republican candidates pulls into a runoff, the dynamic could change. But for now they seem far more focused on expanding their legislative majorities and keeping Edwards in check than they do in running an all-out effort to defeat him. The fact that many high profile Republicans—most notably John Kennedy, Jeff Landry, and Steve Scalise—declined to enter the race this summer confirms that the field Edwards faces is made up of Republican B-teamers plus a few vanity candidates.
Apart from the fiscal bickering and the occasional display of partisan theatrics, Edwards has largely gotten along with his ostensible Republican antagonists. Governing as a near straight-line conservative, he has left them with very little to complain about.
Speaking to a room full of right wing lobbyists gathered for the ALEC1 conference in New Orleans last year, Edwards told the audience, “I think you’re going to find out that a lot of what you’re about, and a lot of what we’re doing here in Louisiana, we have in common.” At that time, the governor was backing an ALEC bill to criminalize protest actions against “critical infrastructure” projects including the Bayou Bridge pipeline. Edwards would further support Bayou Bridge by smoothing over the process by which Energy Transfer Partners could hire paramilitary surveillance and security firms to keep critics and protesters at bay.
Of course, Bayou Bridge is far from the only petrochemical project to have received special favors from Governor John Bel Edwards who says the state can continue to embrace natural gas production for “20, 30, 40 years.” The Governor may want credit from environmentalists for marginal changes he made to the Industrial Tax Exemption rules, but the fact is Edwards’ Economic Development agency continues to hand out millions of dollars in grants and tax subsidies to Formosa plastics, BASF, Methanex, Sasol, and many other petrochemical companies that gave “Cancer Alley” its name. "We are a natural gas state," the Governor tells reporters. And he’s doing everything he can to make sure it stays that way.
But this does not mean your massive corporation needs to be in the fossil fuel business to gain favors from John Bel. This year he also gifted $17.5 million in tax breaks to telecom giant CenturyLink, awarded $450 million in stadium renovations to billionaire heiress Gayle Benson, and delivered a sweetheart energy privatization contract to serial disaster profiteer Jim Bernhard.
It’s no wonder, then, that so many of the state’s fattest cats, Republicans and Democrats alike, are supporting, or at least considering, Edwards. As late as last October, developer Joe Canizaro was holding fundraisers for Edwards. Canizaro, who co-chairs the Trump 2020 effort in Louisiana, has since switched his support to Ralph Abraham. But many other Republicans are sticking with the Governor. As are, apparently, Jim Ward and Fred Heebe, owners of the River Birch landfill infamous for having delivered bribes to former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, although Ward and Heebe were never successfully prosecuted.
Probably the Governor’s biggest endorsement of all comes from LSU head football coach Ed Orgeron who says “I know the state of Louisiana believes in him just like a championship quarterback.” Edwards’ campaign ads will not let us forget he played quarterback in high school. But to carry Coach O’s metaphor just a bit, we aren’t sure he is the guy you want in your starting lineup if you are looking for a champion of the people.
In addition to his favoritism toward polluters and the corporate donor class, this year Edwards issued an executive order banning state agencies from contracting with any business participating in the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions2 movement. Edwards also ignored the protests of constituents by signing an extremist anti-abortion bill that, if it survives court challenge, would criminalize virtually all abortions, causing severe, tangible effects on physical health and wellness in our state, as well as undercutting worker power and autonomy.
The Governor’s defenders tell us, well, it’s not as bad as it could be. After all, Edwards did work to provide some local control over the Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP). He did secure pay raises for Louisiana teachers and school support workers. He at least tried to boost the state minimum wage, even if he never demanded anything higher than $9 an hour. He did work with some national NGOs and the Koch brothers to enact criminal punishment reforms that dropped Louisiana to the second-most incarcerated state in the nation. (Or so it was thought until we learned the drop in rankings was based on an accounting error. We’re actually still the prison capital of the world.)
The centerpiece of Edwards' reelection argument rests with his decision to accept the Medicaid expansion offered to states as part of the Affordable Care Act. And there is no denying this has led to real, positive change. According to a recent Tulane University study, the expansion has led to a significant decrease in the number of people unable to see a doctor and a further decrease in the number of emergency room visits. This month, the US Census Bureau announced that more Louisianians have some form of health insurance than ever before. These are positive steps. At the same time, until it is replaced by a single payer Medicare For All plan, Louisiana’s healthcare system will cause suffering for the sake of private profit.
In Louisiana, Medicaid is privatized. And the managed care organization contracts, in addition to being just an inefficient means of shoveling money to for-profit insurers and providers, amount to one of the biggest slices of political patronage a governor can hand out. This year, Edwards decided to cut out Aetna and Louisiana Healthcare Connections and turn their shares of the $8 billion pie over to Humana. The dispute over those contracts has left over half a million Medicaid patients in a wholly unnecessary state of uncertainty just as the start of open enrollment for next year looms. In another curious development, Edwards’ Health Department has a $7.5 million contract with a “rehab center” called Cenikor whose business model involves farming patients out to industrial facilities and even state agencies as virtual slave labor.
Meanwhile, Louisiana remains among the nation’s worst states in terms of wealth inequality, life expectancy, food insecurity, and housing cost burden. Our coastal communities are especially vulnerable to the ravages of climate change. These are life and death challenges for our state’s working class majority. We deserve a government in Baton Rouge ready to confront these issues with vigor and urgency. At his best, John Bel Edwards is happy just to go along to get along. At his worst, he has been hostile to the progressive change that would make life in Louisiana better.
Ralph Abraham (R) is a third term US Representative from Louisiana’s 5th District, which includes the cities of Monroe and Alexandria but is otherwise a largely rural district. Abraham himself is from Alto, near where his family owns a large amount of farmland (between 750 and 2,300 acres depending on the source) worth as much as $5 million. According to the Bayou Brief, Abraham Farms has received upwards of $2.6 million in federal subsidies to produce corn, soybeans and cotton (precisely the sort of industrial-scale commodity farming that Agriculture and Forestry candidate Marguerite Green says we need to move away from). We also find it ironic that the Congressman should derive such wealth through federal handouts while spending his time in Washington demanding work requirements for food stamp recipients.
Beyond his bio and record, Abraham’s campaign lacks anything like a coherent message. In an August ad he declared, “as a doctor, I can assure you there are only two genders,” an assertion he found himself backing off from a week later, telling reporters, “I have not one discriminatory bone in my body.” Doctor Abraham has yet to clarify for us just where in the body the “discriminatory bone” is typically located much less how he thinks physiology determines gender identity. Abraham describes himself as a “country doctor.” The Bayou Brief has reported that two pharmacies in which he has held an interest and continues to derive income from have dispensed an unusually high number of opioid prescriptions during the height of an explosive addiction epidemic.
In any case, Abraham’s personal income is substantial, which is one reason he was able to make a show of refusing to accept a salary during his first term in Congress and donate it instead to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Since that time, Abraham has, in fact, been collecting his salary. While he claims to have donated some amount to the hospital, neither the Advocate nor the Bayou Brief can confirm that amount or say whether it comes anywhere near to even one year’s worth of a Congressman’s pay.
Abraham is the closest thing to an establishment Republican in this race, but the state party has refused to choose between the two main GOP candidates. As mentioned above, Abraham has attracted the aid of Republican money man Joe Canizaro, and apparently George W. Bush’s former Chief of Staff Karl Rove recently showed up at a party hosted by the influential donor. However, Abraham continues to lag in overall fundraising from conservatives.
Meanwhile, Baton Rouge industrialist Eddie Rispone (R) will have plenty of money to spend as long as he continues to self-fund. He is the founder of a multimillion dollar construction firm, ISC Constructors, that builds electronic control systems for refineries and chemical plants. This puts him among the largest profiteers from the pollution of Louisiana’s air and water, the poisoning of its people, and the acceleration of the global climate crisis. It also makes him a major beneficiary of the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) that subsidizes these activities. The very slight change Edwards has made to the ITEP approval process, allowing local boards to reject these subsidies, is near the top of Rispone’s complaints against the Governor.
Rispone has been an active donor to conservative candidates and causes. He is a member of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), the state’s most powerful business lobby. Among his notable funding efforts, we found a $200,000 donation to David Vitter’s PAC in 2015, along with financial and verbal support for the St. George secession movement, which would create a new city from a cluster of wealthy, predominantly white Baton Rouge neighborhoods.
Rispone has also contributed generously to political action committees (PACs) and lobbying groups that promote charter and voucher “education reform” in Louisiana. Rispone says charters and vouchers are a “passion project” for him. But they also have benefited him financially. According the Bayou Brief, Rispone has taken advantage of the state’s tuition donation tax credit in order to turn a million dollar “donation” to a voucher distributor into a $300,000 profit. Rispone is also a close associate of anti-labor fanatic Lane Grigsby. In a candidate profile piece, Rispone told the Advocate that he and Grigsby cast about for candidates to back against John Bel Edwards this year. But since no one they talked to stepped forward, “he believes God was waking up to tell him to run against Edwards.”
Despite his “passions” and his alleged higher calling, Rispone’s campaign has not given much play to school vouchers or to ITEP. Instead he has spent most of his time emphasizing his great admiration for President Trump. Which is why we found it a little ironic this past week when the IRS sued Rispone’s main backer and buddy Grigsby over $750,000 in misappropriated tax credits. Grigsby told the press, “I know the IRS has been used against other conservative people…. Why me? Maybe because I do raise my mouth a little too loud.” Strange that the Trump Administration would test Rispone’s faith by striking at his right hand during this critical moment. But, then again, it does work in mysterious ways.
Gary Landrieu (No Party) is a cousin of former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and former U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu. He frequently runs for office as something of a hobby. His other hobby is filing lawsuits based on things that happen when he runs for office.
This year, he has already threatened to sue the Secretary of State’s office for not allowing his name to appear on the ballot as “Go Gary.” In 2014, he ran for Congress and lost against Cedric Richmond. He also sued Richmond for defamation after Richmond had filed his own suit aimed at disqualifying Go Gary from the race. In 2012, Go Gary ran for City Council promising to remove New Orleans’s traffic cameras even “if I have to personally go get a garbage truck from the department of garbage and go run them over with a garbage truck." He lost. No lawsuits were filed that time.
Go Gary is significantly further to the right than his more famous cousins. For example, Go Gary’s continuing grievance over the removal of New Orleans’s Confederate monuments has sometimes led him to troll his cousin Mitch and his “commie lies” on Facebook.
Patrick “Live Wire” Landry (R) is a New Orleans-based folk artist. On qualifying day, he appeared at the Secretary of State’s office with a series of animal drawings he said represented various complaints about John Bel Edwards and liberalism in general. According to the Advocate, among those complaints were “Liberalism is a really bad things,” and “Most liberals are atheists.”
Oscar “Omar” Dantzler (D) is a school bus driver, bail bondsman, private investigator, and former police officer from Hammond. He ran for mayor of Hammond in 2018 and lost. In 2015 he ran for sheriff in Tangipahoa Parish and lost to John Bel Edwards’ brother, Daniel. After that election, Dantzler filed a lawsuit alleging that Daniel Edwards had offered him $10,000 to drop out of the race. The suit went nowhere and now Dantzler is running against Edwards who, presumably, did not pay up either.
4-year term, no term limits
In 2015, journalist and historian Robert Mann wrote a column titled, “Does Louisiana Really Need a Lieutenant Governor?” It’s a question that probably warrants further consideration. The core responsibility of this office is basically to serve as a glorified hype man for the state.
One of the Lieutenant Governor’s duties is to oversee the Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board. Our incumbent, Billy Nungesser (R), takes that as an opportunity to putz around Louisiana promoting Billy Nungesser and also our shrimp and oysters. That travel is not free, though, and Billy recently came under fire for claiming an annual $8,400 stipend for his personal vehicle despite having the state police drive him nearly everywhere he goes. The Lieutenant Governor is also the head of the Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism. Frequent radio ads feature Billy’s voice urging Louisiana residents to “feed their souls” by visiting other parts of Louisiana. But don’t take Billy’s invitation to enjoy the state’s natural and cultural bounty as mere hospitality. He sees dollar signs. One of Billy’s dreams has long been to privatize our state parks.
Though he is perhaps best known for antics such as greeting Donald Trump on a tarmac while wearing colorful Trump-themed socks, there is more to Billy than his public persona as an oafish court jester. Nungesser has been under FBI investigation multiple times for various financial improprieties, stemming from his tenure as president of Plaquemines Parish.
In a way, Nungesser is heir to a mode of political leadership stretching back to the days of Leander “Judge” Perez in the 1920s and subsequently his sons. The Perez Dynasty ruled Plaquemines with an iron fist for 70 years by exploiting its considerable natural resources and sowing racial hostility to consolidate political and economic power. Nungesser’s path to maintaining power is not dissimilar.
Billy got his start by borrowing money from his parents to start a business that housed offshore oil workers in shipping containers. He was a founding member of the Plaquemines Association of Business and Industry (PABI), the parish’s very own version of an industry lobbying group. But Billy probably owes his political career more to his father, the former chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, and to the dumb luck of being born in a frequent disaster zone than he does to his good ol’ boy business acumen. The parish’s once bountiful oil reserves, which propped up his business, started declining long before Billy took over as parish president in 2006. Disaster recovery brought a deluge of federal dollars into the parish and provided new opportunities for Nungesser to curry political favors, award lucrative contracts, and buy up huge swaths of land.
Billy became famous statewide for his ability to strongarm the federal government into directing more FEMA money to the parish after Katrina. He later became famous nationwide on CNN as a recurring character they called “America’s Bubba” after the BP oil spill. Not wanting to let a good tragedy go to waste, Billy rented out one of his numerous properties to FEMA for trailers to house the victims of Hurricane Isaac in 2012. John Bel Edwards appointed Nungesser to be the state’s disaster recovery consultant in 2016. Calling Billy an expert at rain-making during the press conference, the Governor said, "If anyone knows how to get money out of the federal government, it's him."
But not all have been grateful for Billy’s business savvy in the wake of natural disasters. The Advocate reported on a lawsuit brought by Plaquemines Parish against Nungesser that sought “to recoup hundreds of thousands of dollars it says were lost to a ‘pattern of fraud’ and Nungesser's ‘thirst for absolute power’ during his eight years in office.”
Another hallmark of Billy’s reign in Plaquemines was his enthusiasm for welcoming new industrial development. Though his immediate motives likely have more to do with venal cronyism, Billy also considers industrial development a flood prevention strategy. He correctly observes that the federal government often uses cost-benefit formulas when choosing infrastructure projects. Nungesser’s idea is that bringing the most capital-intensive industries possible like petrochemical refineries will also bring federal levee improvements because the government will literally value Plaquemines more highly. The logic there is difficult to argue with. The problem with this strategy is that the oil and gas industry Billy courts has caused much of the land loss in Plaquemines, and promoting those industries will only wipe the parish off the map more quickly. Meanwhile, when whatever land in the community we will have managed to “save” is suitable only for use by coal piles and chemical vats, what would have been the point of saving it in the first place?
Billy’s sole opponent is Willie Jones (D), the owner of a transportation company that serves the disabled and elderly in New Orleans. He’s a claims adjuster who drew praise from Karen Carter Peterson, one of the most powerful Democrats in Louisiana, for his work on the Orleans Democratic Parish Executive Committee. Jones promises to “bring new ideas to promote our seafood industry and offer solutions to environmental problems facing the industry.” He also has the advantage of not being Billy Nungesser.
Secretary of State
4-year term, no term limits
As the third highest ranking official in Louisiana, the Secretary of State oversees a number of administrative tasks, including the registration of businesses and record archiving. Most importantly, the Secretary is in charge of all elections. 36,000 people with felony convictions were supposed to have their voting rights restored this year in accordance with a recent change to state law, but only 581 have registered, indicating some procrastination by the incumbent Kyle Ardoin (R).
Ardoin initially stepped into the office last year after his former supervisor Tom Schedler stepped down amid allegations of sexual assault. Ardoin then defeated Gwen Collins-Greenup (D) in a special election held last December. Ardoin states a commitment to “stop any attempts to compromise our democratic process,” but he has opposed attempts to waive public transportation fees on election day, so Lousianans dependent on public transportation face additional barriers to voting. Recently, resolved to “fight the radicals who wish to change our election laws.” Democracy demands a steward of elections committed to ensuring the right to vote is inviolable. Louisiana voters deserve a more committed steward than Kyle Ardoin.
Collins-Greenup did well last election, considering her opponent outraised her by a large margin. That she has historically agreed with conservative counterparts about requiring photo IDs for elections causes us to question her readiness to push back against increasingly aggressive voter supression tactics, but she has combatted Republican fearmongering regarding undocumented immigrants voting. With a history of community organizing, she is an advocate for increasing Louisiana’s low voter participation rate “through voter education, community outreach, and social media” which strikes us as rather weak tea given the all out attack on democracy emerging from the right. Automatic voter registration is a good bare minimum for restructuring our democracy.
Amanda Smith (R) currently operates the Facebook group “Rebels Against Government,” which is mostly dedicated to memes about protecting confederate history. She proclaims to be “boycotting NOLA” since confederate statues have been removed, and fears for Trump’s safety visiting the liberal city. Thomas Kennedy III (R) seems to have no campaign platform other than his desire to be a “fresh face” following the Schedler scandal.
4-year term, no term limits
In his first term as attorney general, incumbent Jeff Landry (R) joined a parade of prosecutors who suddenly lost their lust for prosecution when Baton Rouge police officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II shot Alton Sterling to death for selling CDs. He didn’t lack that appetite when he invented a Violent Crimes Task Force that proceeded to make mostly marijuana arrests in the Quarter. Then-Mayor Mitch Landrieu and then-NOPD Chief Michael Harrison criticized Landry for failing to coordinate this decision with the city.
Landry opposed the Unanimous Jury amendment, an overwhelmingly popular measure passed last year to end Louisiana’s Jim Crow-era law that nullified 2 votes on every 12-person jury. Landry claimed “efficiency,” not racism, motivated the original act.
He has a point about the efficiency but is entirely wrong about the racism. Louisiana’s non-unanimous jury tradition traces back to the 1898 Jim Crow state constitution where its stated rationale was to “perpetuate the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon race in Louisiana.” The more “efficient” rate of convictions was meant to feed the convict-leasing system which amounted to slavery in all but name.
Landry does have some personal experience with the broken criminal punishment system, but the outcome was quite different for him for some reason. When he was a 23-year-old St. Martin Parish deputy, Landry’s home, which he shared with other deputies, was found with $10,000 worth of cocaine stashed underneath it. His colleague went to jail, while Landry was never charged and simply handed in his badge a few months later. As Landry noted in a campaign ad referencing the incident, “Making the right decision isn’t always easy, and doing the right thing is tough, especially when it involves someone you know.”
As attorney general, Landry dragged the state into a Texas lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, seeking to strip millions of Americans of their healthcare. Landry demands the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival immigration bill (DACA), has erroneously attacked New Orleans’s “sanctuary city” policy3 with the false claim that sanctuary increases crime, and opposes the ban on discrimination against LGBTQIA+ state government workers.
Although Landry formerly claimed to be a Gulf War veteran, he has actually seen more action in the troughs of conservative special interest groups. Landry was previously elected to Congress as a “Tea Party” candidate with endorsements from the oil and gas lobby, wealthy conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum PAC, and Citizens United, the plaintiff in the 2010 Supreme Court case that opened the floodgates for corporate money to pour into our elections.
After the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion killed 11 people and caused the largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters, Landry represented Louisiana at the subsequent State of the Union with a folded-up poster that he clearly smuggled in his pocket, reading in all-caps “DRILLING = JOBS.” Condemnation from pro-choice groups, environmental and conservation groups, the NAACP, and even the American Library Association round out his profile.
That leaves Ike Jackson (D). He ran in 2015 and lost with 11% in the primary. Jackson was previously general counsel for the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources until 2013, where he worked for Trump’s current head of oil regulation Scott Angelle, who ran the department as a rubber stamp for the petrochemical industry. As general counsel, Jackson would have been involved in the decision to fire an environmental whistleblower who was awarded $750,000 in a retaliation lawsuit before the judgment was thrown out by an appeals court on the grounds the whistleblower was technically an independent contractor and therefore not eligible for whistleblower protection.
Jackson also worked as chief of the natural resources division of the AG’s office, and was an assistant attorney general for six years. His expressed priority is protecting those with pre-existing conditions by ending Landry’s lawsuit against the ACA. In August, Jackson confronted Congressman Garret Graves at a public meeting to ask where he should take his cell phone, which he claimed contained evidence that Russians had meddled in the 2016 election. So maybe Jackson could get a job at MSNBC if this whole attorney general thing doesn’t work out.
4-year term, no term limits
The State Treasurer’s office is not, technically, as grand a post as its occupants like to pretend. While decisions that actually shape the state budget are made by the legislature and governor, the treasurer's duties basically amount to coming into the office every few weeks to sign some checks. Ironically, it's the relative lack of importance that makes this such an attractive office to ambitious Louisiana politicians. The responsibilities are few, so accountability is negligible.
It's a statewide office, so the process of simply getting elected to it is a significant networking and base-building exercise. The successful candidate establishes contacts and name recognition in every corner of the state. They then have access to a big public platform from which to advocate for, well, whatever could earn them the most attention. It's basically politics for politics' sake and a pretty nifty stepping stone to higher office. Former U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu and current U.S. Senator John Kennedy both launched their unfortunate careers while occupying this office for nine and seventeen years, respectively.
Though the treasurer’s unclaimed property program sometimes finds its way into the news when the legislature is looking for extra cash to raid, it’s probably the control of the state’s $5 billion in financial investments and overseeing of the State Bond Commission that makes treasurer a lucrative position for fundraising and networking. Parish and municipal governments have to go through the commission anytime they want to borrow money to finance infrastructure projects. The treasurer also gets to use their position to performatively scold the legislature on “fiscal responsibility.”
Incumbent John Schroder (R), a Northshore real estate developer, is campaigning on “Louisiana has a spending problem, not a revenue problem” even though we give away billions of dollars in revenue to corporations, and are repeatedly ranked dead last in national quality of life rankings. Schroder testified at the state budget hearings earlier this year that “We’re on a path to disaster,” but Louisiana ended the fiscal year with a $500 million surplus. It seems that either Schroder’s talents as a budget prognosticator are suspect or he’s a conservative ideologue looking to score political points by advocating for the starvation of schools and social programs. Schroder has vastly outraised his two opponents.
Teresa Kenny (No Party) is new to Louisiana politics. She has an accounting firm in New Orleans that works with small businesses and nonprofits. Kenny has expressed support for the Green New Deal and has co-hosted campaign events with our endorsed candidate, Marguerite Green for Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry. Her campaign is almost entirely self-financed.
Derrick Edwards (D) is the lone Democrat in the race, but this time around, the Democratic Party didn’t wait until just three weeks before the election to endorse him like they did last time he ran for this position in 2017. Edwards has racked up additional endorsements from faith groups, the AFL-CIO, and the Alliance for Good Government. In his day job, he’s a motivational speaker who talks about living as a quadriplegic after becoming paralyzed playing high school football.
Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry
4-year term, no term limits
The New Orleans DSA has endorsed our first candidate in the chapter’s history, Marguerite Green (D), in the race for Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry. Green is a native Louisiana farmer as well as agricultural advocate, educator, and organizer.
As commissioner, Green would seek to encourage new farmers, allow small- and medium-sized farms to flourish, and give consumers greater access to affordable, quality local food. She wants a more efficient and self-sufficient Louisiana that grows a greater variety of crops and feeds its own population instead of focusing on industrial farms growing one or two commodity crops for export.
In the age of climate disaster, we put ourselves at great risk by relying on an imported food supply. Green is the only candidate in this race seriously prioritizing climate change, and as commissioner would form a task force to address this issue’s causes and effects, from incentivizing smarter farming practices to increasing carbon sequestration through responsible forestry.
Green supports adult access to cannabis and the right for Louisiana farmers—as opposed to out-of-state companies like those associated with the state medical cannabis industry—to earn a sustainable living growing the plant. Legal cannabis farming could also generate revenue for coastal reforestation efforts. She recognizes legalization as a necessary step to expunging prior convictions and reducing our prison population. Green wants to do right by the population most affected by our cannabis laws, which means ensuring that farmers from communities disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs can enjoy some of the prosperity this new crop would bring.
Incumbent Mike Strain (R) has been our Commissioner of Agriculture for the last twelve years and has prioritized profitability for agribusiness and the logging industry. As Commissioner, Strain has focused on the large-scale production of commodity crops for international export and pared down the size of his department. He has voiced support for President Trump's tariffs on trade with China, despite their negative effect on Louisiana's agricultural industry. On the topic of climate change, he has mentioned the state may need to start growing warmer-weather crops. Strain has shrunk the budget of the Department of Agriculture and Forestry by reducing salaries and the number of department vehicles, as well as eliminating nearly half the department's staff. He ended a public tree nursery program in favor of privately-owned nurseries. Over the last four years, Strain has presided over medical cannabis' slow march from legalization to the product that became available this July. Part of that delay has been limiting growing operations to sites at LSU and Southern University.
Charlie Greer (D) is a retired longtime employee of the Department of Agriculture, working as a forestry enforcement agent after his role as Chief Criminal Investigator for the Evangeline Parish Sheriff's Department. Greer unsuccessfully ran a revenge campaign against Strain last election cycle after Strain laid him off. He has criticized Strain for his department cuts and the slow development of medical cannabis, but still supports only growing cannabis at the two current grow sites.
Peter Williams (D) owns a large-scale tree nursery and has previously run unsuccessfully for several offices, including State Representative for the 6th district and U.S. Congress. His platform is mostly unclear, but he has said he wants to develop the statewide hemp industry and establish satellite Department of Agriculture offices to educate farmers and foresters on safety and environmental issues.
Bradley Zaunbrecher (R) is a rice and crawfish farmer who wants to give greater support to new farmers, but is generally supportive of Mike Strain's work as Commissioner.
Commissioner of Insurance
4-year term, no term limits
Insurance commissioners are basically intermediaries between the general public and the insurance industry. As regulators they have the power to protect us from price gouging by passing rules and hearing consumer complaints. They’re also supposed to educate us about how long you need to buy your flood insurance before hurricane season starts. In a perfect world, the commissioner would be fighting tooth and nail against rate hikes from greedy insurance companies. What we have instead is an obscure position filled by people from the insurance industry who end up serving the interests of the insurance companies.
Three of the last four insurance commissioners have been convicted of federal crimes and served time in prison. The current commissioner, Jim Donelon (R), previously accepted a $20,000 donation from someone who was arrested by the FBI for bribing the North Carolina insurance commissioner, doing nothing to counter the notion that the office is basically a kickback factory.
Tim Temple (R) is spending more than $1 million of his own money to take on three-time incumbent Jim Donelon. The issue of our high insurance rates has been a topic of interest in the Louisiana Legislature and local news. Donelon is eager to blame trial lawyers for high insurance premiums while Temple is blaming Donelon.
Donelon has less cash on hand but has been outraising Temple by a wide margin thanks to contributions from industry. But Donelon also made headlines by taking on the Orleans Parish bail bonds industry over fees that they have passed onto customers. Though he was pressured by the Southern Poverty Law Center to act in that case, Donelon did have a choice between quietly siding with the industry or sticking up for those directly affected by the prison-industrial complex. To his credit, he chose the latter.
Both candidates are clamoring to be the most business friendly, so which flavor of Republican do you prefer: old establishment types who are benefitting from the broken system (Donelon) or the newer breed of political performer who is super-charged with cash from having worked within the industry and looking to disrupt business as usual for some nefarious/personal reason (Temple)?
Associate Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court
North Shore and part of Orleans Parish
10-year term, no term limits
This is a special election to fill a seat vacated by Greg Guidry who was recently appointed to the federal bench by President Trump.This is a heavily Republican district and it is noteworthy that a lawsuit challenging the Supreme Court districts as racially discriminatory is currently making its way through the courts. The four Republicans competing for the seat participated in a televised debate where they were asked about issues like abortion rights and the death penalty.
One of the frontrunners is Will Crain (R), an appellate judge endorsed by labor unions (AFL-CIO) and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI). In the debate, Crain gave some canned answers about how judges shouldn’t legislate from the bench but also declared that he was anti-abortion and supported the death penalty.
The other favorite is Richard Ducote (R), a quasi-famous family court attorney. Ducote has never been a judge but has made a career as a tenacious advocate for abused women and children. He seems to have made a lot of enemies along the way and has been sanctioned by the state of Florida for filing frivolous pleadings. Ducote made headlines last year for suing the state of Louisiana over its judicial investigation secrecy law.
Scott Schlegel (R) is a Judicial District Court judge in Gretna and a former prosecutor in Jefferson Parish. During the WDSU debate, he bragged about the number of people he has imprisoned for life, which is truly depraved. Ducote, who has also pledged not to accept any campaign contributions at all, called out Schlegel during the debate for taking $20,000 from a Texas corporation that had pending lawsuits in Louisiana that Ducote said Schlegel could potentially preside over.
Hans Liljeberg (R) is currently a judge on the State Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal. He wasn’t memorable during the debate, but our notes say he talked about his love of God, family, country, the rule of law, and whatnot.
Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) District 1
North Shore, Jefferson Parish, parts of Orleans Parish
4-year term, no term limits
The coming years could see a real turning point for public education as compounding evidence shows the Jindal-era privatization in the form of charters and vouchers has been a failure. BESE is the state board that sets policy for over 700,000 Louisiana public school students. It is responsible for hiring the state Superintendent of Education. The current Superintendent John White, the face of the charter/voucher "reform" agenda, has not yet had his contract renewed. The next BESE board will decide whether he stays or goes. Both District 1 and 2 incumbents skipped the Step Up candidate forum while all four of the challengers urged the crowd to vote against them no matter what.
The incumbent in District 1, Jim Garvey (R), is bankrolled by LABI and sits on the board of Teach for America, a union-busting program widely hated by educators and parents.
That leaves Marion Bonura (I) and Lee Price-Barrios (R). Bonura goes by “Coach,” a reference to his 50 years as a coach and teacher in Jefferson Parish. He’s an old-school union guy, which got him the AFL-CIO endorsement. Though he’s now an Independent, Coach was formerly a Republican, but has had a long-running public feud with conservative factions of the GOP since defeating a pro-business Republican for Jefferson Parish School Board back in 2014. The Hayride, an unintelligible right-wing website, has singled out Coach as a “RINO” (Republican in Name Only) for voting with Democrats against censuring fellow board member Cedric Floyd, who is one of 11 people running for Jefferson Parish Council in District 3 this year.
At the Step Up forum, retired St. Tammany educator Price-Barrios was a bit more forceful in her attacks on the current system and in her support of local control, which earned her the Step Up endorsement. She wants a moratorium on charters and to get rid of neoliberal State Superintendent John White.
Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) District 2
Parts of Orleans, Jefferson, St. Charles, St. John, St. James, Ascension and Assumption Parishes
4-year term, no term limits
The incumbent here is Kira Orange Jones (D). Jones, a Harvard-educated Teach For America executive, arrived in New Orleans shortly after Katrina to oversee the pipeline of inexperienced TFA recruits brought in to replace over 7,000 unionized school teachers summarily fired by the school board in a burst of disaster capitalism. By 2011, she decided the best position from which to further the cause of privatization and union-busting occasioned by New Orleans’s growing charter school movement would be from a seat on BESE. So, she launched a campaign with the generous backing of Baton Rouge millionaire Lane Grigsby as well as a peculiar list of donors from out-of-state millionaires which included Republican pundit David Gergen, former head of Charles Schwab Lawrence Stupski, Walmart board member Gregory Penner, TFA and KIPP executive Katherine Bradley (whose husband David owns Atlantic Media), and the Bloomberg Trust, among others. Despite barely showing up to campaign in person, she won handily.
The following year, Bobby Jindal’s Ethics Board ruled that Jones could keep her seat on BESE even though she also retained her position with Teach For America which, at the time of the ruling, was doing over $1 million in business annually with the state. In 2015 she was easily reelected to BESE. Shortly thereafter, she received a promotion at TFA, where she now oversees multiple regions throughout the Midwest and South. The new job means she spends even less time in the state (let alone the district she represents) than she had before. But money and powerful political connections keep her firmly ensconced in this office.
Despite her frequent absences from board meetings, her obvious ethical conflicts of interest, and her commitment to our state’s failing experiment with privatized education, Jones is practically untouchable. She counts among her many backers public intellectual Walter Isaacson, former Senator Mary Landrieu, U.S. Rep Cedric Richmond, and City Councilmembers Jason Williams and Jared Brossett.
At the same time, there is a groundswell of opposition to the charter experiment growing in Orleans Parish. The Erase the Board Coalition is a grassroots-led effort to elect “leaders who will actually listen to the demands of their community and run our schools as sustainable community schools” to the Orleans Parish School Board. Its member organizations include Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children and Step Up Louisiana, as well as People’s Assembly and Take ‘Em Down NOLA. While those organizations are agitating against her, it remains to be seen whether that momentum is capable of ousting Jones from BESE this year. However, she has drawn two energetic opponents.
Ashonta Wyatt (D) is a career teacher and school administrator in New Orleans’ public and charter schools who also serves as Executive Director of a local nonprofit focused on reducing gun violence. Her platform is centered on “strengthening unions” and repealing Act 91, the law that grants charter school operators autonomy to act independently of the school board as educators and as employers. Wyatt briefly served as the principal of Edgar P. Harney until she was fired, which she claims was due to her inquiry into the board’s issuance of checks to non-employees and other misappropriation of funds. After her termination, Wyatt attempted to take legal action to prevent board members from accessing some of the school’s bank accounts, but her claims were dismissed days after the Spirits of Excellence charter management organization surrendered its charter. Harney was then taken over by the board in the middle of the school year. Wyatt boasts a slew of endorsements from the Louisiana Democratic Party, Step Up Louisiana, the Erase the Board Coalition, and the Jefferson Parish Democratic Executive Committee.
Shawon Bernard (D) is a family law attorney from New Orleans who also boasts 25 years experience as a teacher and public school administrator, and has community organizing experience. She has been a member of the John McDonogh High School Steering Committee and is a part of the movement to return McDonogh to governance under OPSB. Bernard is a member of the United Teachers of New Orleans union and the Independent Women’s Organization. The IWO and the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO have issued dual endorsements of both Wyatt and Bernard.