4-year term, limited to 2 terms
It didn’t have to be this way. Louisiana is staring down the barrel of a Jeff Landry governorship. But remember, in 2015, we were staring down the barrel of a David Vitter governorship. In 2019, it was Eddie Rispone. At the time, both of those absolute stinkers felt like certainties. Nobody “in the know” expected anything better than a Governor Vitter or a Governor Rispone. Resistance was broadly considered totally futile. But in spite of all odds, both 2015 and 2019, voters turned out in force against the worst candidates for governor in memory at those times. Today, a candidate even worse than either Vitter or Rispone is the frontrunner for Governor. Why can’t the impossible happen again? If lighting can strike twice, why not three times?
Because the Louisiana Democratic Party is letting it happen. They aren’t putting up a serious fight.
Before we can fully explain how the party has failed to meet the moment today, let’s recap the last eight years of the unlikely Governor, John Bel Edwards. His party didn’t think he had a chance—so much so that the state party chair in 2015 tried to convince him to drop out to consolidate Democratic support around a Republican candidate more moderate than Vitter. Edwards ran his 2015 campaign on two central platform planks: first, Medicaid expansion, which the previous Governor, Bobby Jindal, had refused because of his opposition to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. After the initial rollout hiccups, most voters came to see Medicaid expansion as desirable, and Jindal’s ever-increasing unpopularity worked strongly in Edwards’s favor here. The second plank was Edwards’s opposition to abortion rights. Remember that, in 2015, it was still the case that any individual Governor’s or state’s effective policy on abortion was by federal abortion protections, which many left-of-center pundits assumed would be ironclad after a presumed President Hillary Clinton had her chance to make Supreme Court appointments. This presumption would later come to haunt Democrats, liberals, and progressives nationwide when the actual forty-fifth president, Donald Trump, stacked the Supreme Court with three nominees hostile to Roe. But in 2015, Edwards’s favorability to a social safety net, however basic and threadbare, coupled with his conservative social policy and Vitter’s scandals finally catching up to him, was enough to put him over the finish line in spite of the odds.
In 2019, now-Governor Edwards was able to enjoy the full support of the Democratic Party as he entered his reelection campaign. The odds were, as they were before, stacked against him. However the Democrats enjoyed a unity that the Republicans lacked entirely, as businessman Eddie Rispone and then-Congressman Ralph Abraham fought tooth-and-nail for a spot in the runoff. That party unity gave the Edwards campaign the time and resources needed to build up an impressive turnout operation; meanwhile, the Republican candidates had to struggle against one another just for the support of the party’s base. Only once he secured his position in the runoff could Rispone work on turning out the voters he’d need to win a majority. But make no mistake: it was Edwards’s and his allies’ turnout operation that won the election. It was a rare case in modern electoral politics where low-propensity, infrequent voters were sufficiently mobilized to turn an election.
While narrowly avoiding a Governor Rispone was an undeniable relief, the years since have been difficult for everybody, especially those who turned out for Governor Edwards. Just a few months after the runoff election, the nationwide COVID pandemic was in full swing, with Louisiana as one of the earliest and most affected states. The pandemic’s silver lining, a brief expansion of the social safety net in the form of unemployment benefits, stimulus checks, and the Child Welfare Tax Credit, quickly receded as the federal government decided the pandemic was over and it was time to head back to the office. The federal abortion protections that made viable a progressive-moderate coalition to elect Edwards were wiped out with the overturn of Roe v. Wade, an unthinkable turn of events back when Edwards was elected in 2015. When that decision was made, Louisiana’s “trigger law” to ban abortions with few exceptions, signed by Governor Edwards as he has always promised, went into effect. Millions of Louisianans suddenly lost a right they had held for decades, as infringed as it had been over the years by ever more conservative state governments.
This was the scene heading into the 2022 national midterms, although Louisiana was more or less on the sidelines for that electoral cycle. Early signs of “Bidenomics,” railed against by Republicans as the result of tax-and-spend liberal irresponsibility and lauded by Democrats as the next New Deal, were bearing down on working families in the form of a rising cost of living—rent, groceries, the necessities—while wages had not, and have not, risen along with it, despite an unusually robust labor market that allowed workers more flexibility in finding work than the smartest guys in the room really wanted. While an economy like that usually portends bad results for the incumbent party, a combination of the backlash against the overturn of Roe and some abysmal choices for Republican candidates in key races added up to a remarkably strong performance for Democrats. So while moderation on abortion was the name of the game for Louisiana Democrats in 2015 and 2019, the tides had turned: “red” states that were never supposed to be battlegrounds have turned out in force to support abortion rights; it happened in Kansas, in Kentucky, in Montana, and it’s happening in Ohio. In spite of both a bad economy and themselves, the Democratic Party has a lot of advantages that have translated into electoral success nationwide, a pattern that has been held through special elections since the midterms. All that said, how has the Louisiana Democratic Party responded to a changing political terrain?
The Democrats left the majority of state legislative races uncontested, and both chambers are just a handful of seats away from Republican supermajorities. In short, they rolled over—big time. While they managed to coalesce around a single candidate for governor, former state Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson, his campaign is anemic, and the turnout operation from 2019 is long gone, with most of its major funders in the private sector having switched sides to the likely Republican winner, Attorney General Jeff Landry. The picture is bleaker for the lower executive offices: the candidates with potential have little in the way of institutional party support and are outnumbered by candidates with little merit. Two offices went completely uncontested, one of which did not even have an incumbent—the only person to bother filing to run got the office without a single vote.
Meanwhile, the state Democratic Party and its chair, Katie Berhardt, are challenging its most progressive legislator in a safe D district because she challenged the Governor for putting his signature on a bill to end abortion and for ending federal unemployment payments early during the pandemic. Bernhardt has been acting out grudges against other Democrat incumbents, including her former vice party chair (who, while a conservative, also questioned Berhardt’s leadership and motives). Bernhardt has done more and spent more to promote herself, a fossil fuel heiress willing to compromise on abortion rights who is not and has never been a candidate for office or an electoral organizer. One indulgent promotional video, widely perceived initially as a hint she’d run for governor, features Bernhardt wielding a rifle and “shooting” a CGI clay pigeon; another touting the party’s actually nonexistent recruitment efforts features more photos of herself than any actual candidate. She has not publicly fundraised at all for the party, and many of its top members openly and loudly question her leadership and suggest ulterior motives. Considering their actions, Bernhardt’s Democratic Party seems pathetically resigned to a Governor Landry and a role as loyal opposition rather than a genuine progressive alternative. If you want to remove her from the chair of the party, run as a socialist for the DSCC with us and fill out this form.
To be fair to the Democrats, all of the potential challengers to Jeff Landry as the crown prince of the Louisiana Republicans have essentially rolled over themselves. The state GOP made the internal decision early on to endorse Landry for governor, with little debate or recourse for the other candidates. While they put up a fuss at the time, the other Republicans have run campaigns just as weak as Wilson’s, and none of them has really substantive differences with Landry beyond their personal dislike of the outgoing Attorney General for his crassness and lack of politesse. But nobody seems willing to actually fight Landry. Maybe it’s because none of them actually thinks they can win. Maybe they don’t want to alienate the likely next governor more than they already have. Maybe they’re cowards. One thing is for sure: they’re all pathetic, at least as much as the Democrats, and definitely as pathetic as Landry himself.
Jeff Landry (R) is the guy turning “a big dial taht (sic) says "Racism" on it and constantly looking back at the audience for approval like a contestant on the price is right." The former St. Martin sheriff’s deputy, who escaped charges when authorities found thousands of dollars worth of cocaine under the house he shared with three other deputies, intends to oversee an authoritarian police state with packed prisons, directing its violence toward whichever marginalized group arouses the greatest right-wing fervor. There will be no police accountability from a governor who wants to trade out the NOPD federal consent decree in favor of racist stop and frisk practices and bring in the oppressive Louisiana State Police, which is itself under investigation for a pattern and practice of excessive force and racially discriminatory policing.
Jeff Landry’s political career began with a short stint in the state Senate starting in 2007, narrowly winning against a Democrat-turned-Independent in a long-time Democratic district that was, like many similar districts, in the midst of a hard rightward shift. Before he could complete his first term, Landry won a special election to Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional district, then comprising the southeastern coastal region, as part of the national Tea Party backlash against Obama in the consequential 2010 midterms. During that campaign, Landry claimed he was a veteran of the Gulf War despite never traveling to Iraq or Kuwait. Louisiana lost a congressional seat after the 2010 Census (thanks, above all, to hurricanes Katrina and Rita), so in 2012, Landry found himself redistricted into his incumbent Republican colleague Charles Boustany’s district and lost the 2012 race to stay in Congress against him. Throughout his time in Congress, Landry firmly positioned himself on the right wing of his party, the predecessors to Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene, enjoying the political and financial support of the Tea Party movement and the oil and gas industry cash that powered it. As a Congressman, Landry even found reason to object to concerns around the environmental impact of the Deepwater Horizon spill, displaying a “DRILLING=JOBS” sign during the subsequent State of the Union address. These petrochemical and arch-conservative funders would stick with Landry as he left federal politics for state politics.
After a brief hiatus, Landry capitalized on that fundraising advantage and widespread dissatisfaction with then-Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to oust the incumbent in the 2015 statewide elections. In the runoff, Landry enjoyed the support of the third-place Democratic candidate. Coupled with the official state Republican Party endorsement, Landry won the Attorney General’s race with ease. In 2019, he briefly considered a run for governor but chose to face an insignificant challenger to keep his position. As Attorney General, he refused to prosecute the Baton Rouge officers who killed Alton Sterling in 2016, saying they "acted in a reasonable and justifiable manner.” Landry opposed the popular movement against Louisiana’s non-unanimous Jim Crow juries, attempting to deprive Evangelisto Ramos of the retrial that ultimately declared him not guilty of murder. Around the state, district attorneys and defense counsels have been reducing excessive sentences, but Landry not only ended the practice; he will approve this year’s legislative efforts to take away parole opportunities and to lower the age of adult prosecution to 17, in addition to his current efforts to sabotage Governor Edwards from granting clemency for death row prisoners. He signed onto a letter with other attorneys general calling to surveil residents traveling out of state for abortion or gender-affirming care, and he eliminated workplace protections for LGBTQ+ residents and targeted librarians. He sued The Advocate when it made a legally anodyne public records request for sexual harassment complaints against the head of his criminal division. One of his firms trafficked immigrant labor. And just to rub in our faces how utterly stupid everything constantly is, he teamed up with his employee and former Orleans DA Leon Cannizzaro’s daughter Laura Cannizzaro Rodrigue to try to kill us all through an anti-mask/anti-vax group they called the Bayou Mama Bears.
Assuming their failure in 2019 was the result of failure to unify around a single candidate, the Louisiana Republicans chaired by Landry and Rispone ally Louis Gurvich endorsed the Attorney General unusually early, prompting outrage from the large field of potential Republican candidates. Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser, a bitter enemy of Landry and long presumed rival for the 2023 Republican mantle, said late last year that “Jeff is not a good person” and that he would have to challenge Landry as governor if no other major Republican did. He described Landry’s approach to the GOP endorsement process as “strong arm[ing] people at every turn. He’s not the right guy to be governor.” Two months later, Nungesser left a meeting with Landry saying they “were able to have a great honest discussion as friends do.” With the only significant obstacle to an uncontested Landry nomination neutralized, and despite their dogged complaints, the other Republican candidates were left to fight for their one- or two-percent share of the bottom tier of the polls. Landry has accordingly campaigned like a comfortable incumbent would, only showing up to one of several official debates.
Some liberals have searched high and low for a unicorn: a moderate Republican to save them for the dreaded Landry governorship. But each potential option, forced to define themselves against the omniscient GOP standard-bearer while espousing all of the same beliefs and policies, is unable to put up a serious challenge, in part because they likely expect their own future political fortunes to be dependent on the future Governor Landry. What’s more, each alternative Republican is odious in their own ways and is rarely much different from Landry himself (as you’ll see later in this guide). After all, they would need Landry’s loyalists more than those of anyone who would oppose him and probably hope Landry would accept their endorsements in the runoff in exchange for small favors. Landry won without a fight by catering to his base’s most reactionary and depraved impulses, building a network of wealthy and powerful donors across the upper echelons of Louisiana’s economy and by going farther than any other Republican was willing to go.
Contrary to popular belief, this is not Democratic nominee Shawn Wilson’s (D) first-ever campaign for elected office. He previously ran for Lafayette Parish Council in 2007 and lost in a runoff after two elections with fewer than 4,000 voters. But what Wilson lacks in electoral success, he makes up for in experience as a transportation planner within the successive administrations of former Governors Mike Foster (R), Kathleen Blanco (D), Bobby Jindal (R), and finally current Governor John Bel Edwards (D) as Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. It’s a role he prepared for through a long tenure in student government while studying infrastructure planning and writing a dissertation titled “A comparative study of transportation decision making by state and locally elected officials in Louisiana.” Wilson was almost designed in a lab to be a lifelong bureaucrat, operating efficiently, quietly and inoffensively in the background. He was, by most accounts, a competent one (his campaign has gotten a lot of mileage out of the dual meaning of "bridge builder"), but this race forced him into the political spotlight for the first time. Lacking a bench of any prospects with statewide electoral success, and with only one Congressman in Troy Carter, state Democratic powerbrokers drafted Wilson as their best option, despite a lack of name recognition that remains a huge obstacle for his campaign. If Wilson could rely on the same turnout operation that Edwards had in 2019, name recognition would have been an easily surmountable problem, but the donors that wrote the checks to pay the canvassers, put up the signs, and send the mailers all switched sides and contributed to Landry’s campaign. They’ve placed their bets.
Wilson has had apparent difficulty in defining his position on abortion. Initially, his website described Wilson as "pro-life"; this was removed rather quickly in favor of more generic language emphasizing the need for rape and incest exemptions to the state abortion ban and stating that "bureaucrats should not be overriding private and difficult decisions best made by women, families, and their doctors." Pundits have characterized Wilson as being to the left of Governor Edwards on abortion issues, which is probably true; for his part, Wilson responded to a debate question about the removal of "pro-life" language from his website by saying that he is "the decision maker for me and my family and I am pro-life" but that he does not want to make that choice for anyone else. All of this waffling is symptomatic of a campaign that has no idea how to deal with the issue of abortion, but it should be abundantly clear that running on restoring or protecting abortion rights is a winner for even moderate Democrats and even in red states. Kansas, Montana, and Kentucky all saw ballot initiatives with results favorable to abortion rights; meanwhile, Democratic candidates across the country in tough districts and statewide races alike have enjoyed a noticeable boost from the "Dobbs effect." Perhaps the single best way for Wilson to win this election would be with a fighting campaign to restore the right to abortion, especially in a field where he is the one and only candidate with a pro-choice position. Wilson had the exact right instinct in differentiating himself from Governor Edwards on abortion but has failed to adequately commit. Like every other state, Louisiana is subject to the tectonic shifts in political terrain that have swept the nation since Edwards's 2015 run and even the 2020 anti-choice constitutional amendment vote. It's a shame and a terrible loss for all of us that Wilson, his campaign team, and the state Democratic Party have evidently failed to realize as much.
With regard to economic issues, Wilson's platform is in large part a continuation of Governor Edwards's policies and priorities. There is a strong focus on leveraging federal infrastructure funding, which should be a no-brainer, but as you'll see in the next candidate's entry, Edwards's predecessor had a penchant for rejecting federal dollars for stupid reasons. Wilson would also continue his former boss's pursuit of an increase in the minimum wage and of teachers' salaries, both of which were repeatedly blocked over Edwards's terms by Republican leadership in the state legislature. Since the state Democrats didn't bother to put up candidates in most legislative races, however, it's likely that a Governor Wilson will face the same obstruction of those noble aims. Given the rest of this field, unfortunately, the fact that Wilson would actually at least try sets him apart, even if just by a smidge.
Stephen Waguespack (R) is actually evil but in a boring way that’s palatable to moderates who err on the side of fiscal conservatism. Waguespack has never run for elected office and entered this race presenting himself to voters as an alternative to Landry who had a chance of entering and winning a runoff. In practice, however, the difference between Landry and Waguespack is merely theoretical. As the former President and CEO of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, Waguespack built his career on being the state’s chief deregulation champ, especially when it comes to the state’s petrochemical industry. He’s a laissez-faire guy, who will side with industry 10 out of 10 times. In an early gubernatorial debate, he defended the environmental disaster, healthcare impacts, and premature death caused by Cancer Alley’s refineries as pretty much worth it for the business, contesting that the concerns were only those of outside "national groups." In their endorsement of his candidacy, The Advocate allowed him to get out a sheepish and lacking non-apology, but the repugnant implication—that the lives of those affected by petrochemical pollution don't matter to Waguespack—remains crystal clear.
Before his stint as Baton Rouge's favorite lobbyist, Waguespack served as Chief of Staff for all eight years of Governor Bobby Jindal, the hands-down worst governor of Louisiana in recent memory. The guiding thesis of the Jindal administration, as orchestrated in large part by Waguespack and inspired by tax-phobic Burning Man aficionado Grover Norquist, was to cut as many government services as possible, to cut as many state revenues as possible, and to cut taxes on business, industry, and the wealthy as much as possible. These cuts were in service of nothing more than a grotesque political ideology that valorized the process of rendering the state government nonfunctional as a great victory against the supposed gravest of injustices, taxation. Meanwhile, state officials simultaneously rejected buckets of federal cash to score petty political points in the early days of anti-Obama backlash that laid the groundwork for so many of this election cycle's biggest villains. Charity hospitals were closed and torn down. Public elementary and secondary education cratered as Jindal's depraved bean counters, led by the biggest bean counter of them all in Waguespack, funneled resources to private charter schools. State colleges and universities faced deficits that manifest to this day in the form of the flagship state university's wet, moldy, and crumbling library and a University of New Orleans on life support. Jindal hoped doing all of this could send him straight to the White House. While Jindal failed at that task miserably, at least his reason for trying makes some twisted kind of sense. Waguespack, meanwhile, must have done all that evil just for the love of the game.
With his record as Louisiana's top business lobbyist and a chronic cutter under Jindal, one might assume Waguespack would take the lane of many Chamber of Commerce-style "moderate" Republicans before him who have sought and achieved statewide office elsewhere in the country—for instance, as Larry Hogan did in Maryland or Charlie Barker in Massachusetts. These types of moderates often skew more liberal on social issues, especially areas like abortion or LGBTQ rights, while remaining traditional conservatives on economic issues like welfare, public services, or education policy. But Waguespack is emphatically not a Barker or a Hogan, because he is a committed social conservative, through and through. Under Waguestpack as CEO, LABI didn't oppose the state abortion ban, as many other business-minded moderate conservatives would in other states, in fears of scaring away potential economic development or tourism business. As a gubernatorial candidate, Waguespack has affirmed his commitment to the state's abortion ban and, while casting himself as "libertarian" on LGBTQ issues, supported the misinformed, misguided, and discriminatory ban on gender affirming care for minors. There is plenty of evidence that Waguespack is just as conservative as Landry, so he provides little in the way of a meaningful moderate alternative to Landry. In fact, there could be a lot more to fear in a Governor Waguespack than a Governor Landry, because while Landry has repeatedly sabotaged his own efforts out of his general lack of skill and intelligence, Waguespack has a decades long track record of actually successfully achieving many of the same regressive political goals that Landry pursues.
Sharon Hewitt (R) was once awarded the National Legislator of the Year by right-wing think tank ALEC. From a previous voter guide, “This honor bestowed by the corporate legislation factory destroying American democracy places her in the company of other notable ALEC members such as un-baggaged David Duke (Steve Scalise), horsebite story-maker-upper Mike Pence, Iowa white supremacist and Nazi-admirer Steve King, and John Bel Edwards.” Many of her bills that she’s written or cosponsored in recent years are focused on restricting abortion rights, discriminating against LGBTQ+ people, and increased legal penalties for the incarcerated. Her “blueprint” listed on her website highlights policy focuses including getting K-3 students reading at or above grade level in her first term with “competitive” teacher pay and vouchers for “parental choice,”, zero state income tax, reducing regulation, more drilling oil and gas, and more cops.
Hewitt is one of the petrochemical industry’s favorite legislators, and lately she’s been an especially ardent supporter of carbon capture, a greenwashing scam that doesn’t work and only perpetuates the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure. That’s probably because her husband makes money from Denbury, a company that builds carbon dioxide pipelines, including one that exploded in Satartia, Mississippi. Affected residents reported “zombie-like” listlessness and that their cars (including emergency vehicles) would not start, due to oxygen deprivation they could not detect. In 2020, she introduced and passed a bill written by Denbury that limited landowners’ ability to fight against plans to run carbon pipelines through their land.
John Schroder (R) is currently the treasurer of the State of Louisiana, a position with little in the way of actual authority or decision-making but commonly used as a political springboard to higher office. Mary Landrieu and John Neely Kennedy both made their way to the United States Senate through the Louisiana treasury. In preparing to enter a crowded field that already featured an official Republican nominee, Schroder had to make a big splash with what little actual power and influence he had as treasurer, and he tried to do it with the help of Tucker Carlson and anti-environmental paranoia.
As treasurer, Schroder declared war on ESG, short for “environmental, social, and corporate governance policy,” a loose and ultimately nonbinding set of guidelines some investment groups utilize that consider a company’s environmental impact, institutional positions on social issues, and the moral character of its business practices when evaluating it as a potential investment. In our Louisianian context, ESG drew the ire of conservatives for its promotion of more climate-conscious infrastructure investments and corporate policies. Schroder went on Tucker Carlson’s show, then still on Fox News, with hopes of building a base on just another one of the endless ephemeral conservative culture war bugbears Carlson fixates on. Schroeder characterized ESG policies as “using our own money to battle against states like ours who are in the fossil fuel industry” when discussing his decision to take nearly $800 million in state funds out of investment in Blackrock, which does have an ESG policy. However, Blackrock has been more than willing to bend on environmental commitments and has made the housing market, among other sectors of the economy, even worse for regular people. We are obviously no friends of Blackrock, and ESG is not the solution to the climate crisis, but Schroder’s war on ESG has been counterproductive at best.
In desperate need of some sliver of the conservative base monopolized by Landry, Schroder has supported one environmental cause. Residents around Lake Maurepas have been fighting against the oil and gas industry’s plans to use the lake as a site for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), a process of intercepting carbon waste from fossil fuel-drive industrial processes, transporting the carbon in pipelines, and injecting it deep underground in wells similar to those used for fracking— an idea that may work on paper but does not in practice and functionally serves as little more than an excuse to continue emitting both carbon and toxins rather than transitioning to renewable energy and away from petrochemicals. While environmentalists oppose the project and carbon capture in general, the mostly conservative area residents have found themselves on unfamiliar ground as first-time opponents of industrial intrusion on a treasured commons. Contrasting himself from his opponents, Schroder explicitly opposed the Lake Maurepas CCS projects in the WWL-TV debate, despite his obvious lack of commitment to comprehensive environmental or climate justice.
Attorney Hunter Lundy (I) has spent truly absurd sums of money—millions—on his campaign in the belief that only he can present a serious challenge to Landry. In splitting the difference between Christian fundamentalism and moderate centrism, Lundy's political vision can be best described as socially conservative and fiscally liberal. Lundy goes farther than most of his fellow candidates in his opposition to abortion, saying, "I just know too many people that were birthed and have been born out of what some would call rape or some would call incest. And how do you define that in Louisiana," implying, puzzlingly, that the Louisianan context necessitates unique definitions of rape and incest. Lundy also supports the state ban on gender-affirming care for minors and wants to reintroduce the "don't say gay" bill that Governor Edwards successfully vetoed. As for his fiscal liberalism, Lundy advocates for raising the minimum wage, increased funding for infrastructure and education, and proactive solutions to crime that address underlying causes such as lack of access to educational and professional opportunities and other social services. Like most other gubernatorial candidates, Lundy also wants to direct more resources to police.
Lundy, along with Wilson, was one of only two candidates who participated in the Sierra Club's gubernatorial forum, where he voiced relatively knowledgeable opinions on issues of climate and environment stemming from his experience representing residents of Mossville, a town so totally devastated by industrial pollution that all but a very few residents were forced out permanently. Lundy is unique among the gubernatorial candidates in his willingness to point fingers at industry, likely because he is the only major candidate who does not rely on some amount of financial support from industry and related businesses, thanks to his own deep pockets.
Richard Nelson (R) withdrew from the race and endorsed Jeff Landry. This came as a disappointment to the handful of liberals who saw him as a promising alternative to Landry, due to his relatively moderate stances on social issues. But Nelson is a right-wing libertarian at heart, with all the usual foibles. In his time in the legislature, Nelson has made a name for himself championing two specific policies: marijuana legalization (good), and abolition of the state income tax. Income tax abolition is probably the single worst fiscal policy proposal possible, as it would decimate state services that the working class and poor rely on exclusively to the benefit of top earners. Turns out the classic stereotype of the libertarian who loves smoking weed but hates poor people is close to reality here in Louisiana.
Nelson never had a shot at the Governor’s Mansion, and is term-limited out of his state House seat. He was gunning for Waguespack’s old job in charge of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, Louisiana’s most powerful lobbyist group, “just in case” he didn’t win. That didn’t work out, with LABI picking car dealer lobbyist Will Green instead.
Crowley native Xan John (R) began his contest for Louisiana Governor in 2022 while running for US Senate. Xan doubles professionally as a sommelier and a project manager for oil and gas production. John’s gubernatorial bid boasts the honor of being endorsed by both InfoWars and Alex Jones himself, at least according to John himself. This could be considered a feat for a candidate openly associated with the Free and Accepted Masons, but statements such as “I look up to: Donald Trump, Matt Gaetz, Matt Stuller, MTG, and Clay Higgins” and “our government wants us dead, that the media lies and vaccines are dangerous” seem to have won over the infamous propagandist. In a field of Republicans who’ve grown comfortable saying the quiet part out loud, Xan has committed to carrying a bullhorn. According to August 8th 2023 candidate statement, Mr. John is “pro: Trump, Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Oil and Gas Industry” and “anti: wokeness, lockdowns, liberalism, censorship and CRT.” Xan was arrested for a felony battery charge in Miami-Dade County, Florida in October of 2020.
“My Vision: Go from last in the union… to first!” This is the declaration of Jazz Fest skywriting funder, bounce house magnate, and public masturbator Frank Scurlock (O). The “Independent Spiritual Candidate” for governor built a fortune on inflatable bounce houses and once attempted to buy the abandoned six flags in New Orleans East. Scurlock was once a vocal presence against the city’s removal of public confederate monuments in 2017. That same year, he unsuccessfully ran for mayor of New Orleans, and was arrested in Santa Monica, California, for masturbating in the back seat of an Uber, then fleeing the scene. Scurlock’s platform is certainly interesting. Styled as “Building The 10 Louisiana Commandments,” an all over the place platform conjures biblical themes. Taxes, Society, Non-Processed Drugs, Business, Education, Infrastructure, Expenditures, Natural Resources, Sportsman’s Paradise, and Opportunity emerge as this candidates directives, with relatively banal statements such as “The people shall be kind” and “We will show that Louisiana promotes the most culture-rich state in America,” as well as more interesting positions like “We shall research, understand, and recognize all herbs and medicines intended for both recreational and medical use” and “The refineries are the problem…relocation may be the answer. Move the pollutants away from the people (and, henceforth, remove the cancer).” We’re not really sure why Frank is running, but he had a really great official campaign song that is unfortunately now unavailable, along with the rest of his campaign website. You'll just have to take our word for it.
Jeffery Istre (I) has a personal definition of "foolishness:" "Doing the same things over and over again, and expecting a different result." Istre says that we, as a state, have engaged too long in foolishness in the form of "party politics," which he blames for the state's poor performance in several common metrics. In one of his self-produced videos on his Facebook campaign page, he says that alternating between Democratic and Republican governors will not deliver better results. Istre himself, though, does not provide many tangible solutions to the problems facing Louisiana other than merely voting independent, namely for himself.
Patrick Henry "Dat" Barthel (R) is running on a platform of bringing Disney World to Louisiana. His campaign does not have much of an online presence, so given his nickname, we are asking ourselves, "who Dat?"
On the so-called "right to life," jazz radio director Benjamin Barnes (D) takes the exact opposite position of current Governor Edwards: he opposes forced birth and wants legal abortion to return to Louisiana, but also supports the death penalty. "Restoring" the death penalty, as he puts it, is one of Barnes's top priorities, and he proposes either a "special election" or legislation to create a new legal execution method to account for the inaccessibility of lethal injections. We have other priorities. Also, he wants to cancel summer vacation for schools, costing him the critical Alice Cooper endorsement.
Daniel M. "Danny" Cole (D) is a teacher and Pentecostal minister with a scant campaign presence since qualifying. Despite his ministerial profession, Cole's take on abortion is more reasonable than the current administration's; he characterizes it as "medical and not a legal issue," and that individuals ought to have the right to choose for themselves.
Xavier Ellis (R) was a 2023 Louisiana Educator of the Year and has written three short books, including one subtitled "poems, short stories, and nuggets of wisdom," which you can buy on his campaign site. He has very conservative views on government services for the poor, abortion, and same-sex marriage.
"Keitron" Gagnon (No Party) is from Metairie. That's all we got.
4-year term, no term limits
In April of 2016, Louisiana’s newly inaugurated Lieutenant Governor fell for a phishing scam. Correspondence was brought to Lt. Gov Billy Nungesser (R)’s attention from one Markos Fuson proposing a very big deal. Too good to pass up, really. Fuson’s Delaware registered company, described as a “'healing' company with a background in medical technology,” claimed to have brokered a deal with the Iraqi government to import oil to Louisiana using ships built at the (then shuttered) Avondale shipyard to be refined in Lake Charles at a facility not actually configured to do this sort of refining. But that’s not all. Fuson promised to invest “100 percent of his profits” from the oil deal into Louisiana’s growing film industry. But that, too, is not all. He then promised to put a share of his movie profits into a “‘to-be-established’ charitable foundation that would offer education, health care and housing assistance to ‘minorities in Louisiana.’”
Well, by this point, Nungesser’s face was at full on red and bursting Vince McMahon level. The energy jobs! The film production jobs! The… undetermined amount of profits funneled through the charitable nonprofit patronage sluice somehow! Too good to be true? Well, duh. Billy jumped at it anyway. He jumped at it despite all the red flags. He jumped at it despite his office’s clear lack of authority to negotiate international economic development deals. He jumped at it without even telling the Governor. Several confusing emails, diplomatic misunderstandings, and statements of denial from the Iraqi government later, it all fell apart. On the bright side, the affair doesn’t seem to have caused much loss to the state, save the embarrassment. Billy owned that, at least. “It’s something that is embarrassing, but it happened and we’ll move forward,” said Nungesser’s statement. Which, in retrospect is as about as perfect an epitaph for his career in government as we can think of.
From the moment Billy Nungesser stepped into the Lieutenant Governor’s office, the race was on to see whether he or newly elected Attorney General Jeff Landry would buffoon himself into prison first. The contest has been thrilling. Both men have stretched ethical boundaries to their limits in daring efforts to tempt fate. At times, they seem to have tried pushing one another over the edge. Despite all odds, though, both are still with us. But it is Billy who has scored the most style points. Small consolation, perhaps. For him as well as for us.
Billy Nungesser Jr. was born into a political family. His father was Governor David Treen’s Chief of Staff and served as chair of the state Republican Party during the late 80s and early 90s. The Nungesser family businesses (besides politics) are in various offshore oilfield support services—boats, housing, and catering and stuff like that. Through family connections, Billy served in a series of political and nonprofit appointments until he inevitably moved into elected office. He became Plaquemines Parish President in 2006.
His time there was, to put it mildly, not without controversy. Numerous state and federal investigations have followed Nungesser throughout his career in Plaquemines politics and beyond. There have been repeated accusations of petty corruption. Examples include the use of parish resources to do work on a marina privately owned by Nungesser and an associate as well as inside dealings between the Parish and Corps of Engineers to benefit a dirt hauling company Nungesser owned. These are little episodes, but they add up over time and always plug back into Nungesser’s wider connections to politics. He has family connections to a company called CTNN Enterprises that has come under scrutiny for questionable tax filings among other things. CTNN does business with Harvey Gulf, a marine services company owned by Republican megadonor Shane Guidry.
In 2012, the feds investigated Nungesser for a deal in which he negotiated on behalf of the parish to build a port facility in a location where it would raise the value of nearby property he owned. Again, maybe this seems small. But consider that Nungesser’s overall strategy to “protect” Plaquemines Parish from the ravages of climate change and rising seas has been to sell as much of it as possible to high polluting, carbon intensive industry. In a 2014 New Republic feature, the Sierra Club’s Devin Martin put it this way: “They can’t justify getting federal funding if it’s just to save poor people in a flood zone. They need industry, in at-risk places.” In other words, in order to draw federal flood protection and disaster relief, it was necessary to turn all the land over to “economically justifiable” industry. Nungesser, asked directly about this, shrugged. “If I had my choice, would I choose this kind of industry? Maybe not. I don’t know. But I do know that we’re going to have another hurricane. I know people don’t want to leave, but it’s coming. With industry there, we have a fighting chance to save these communities.” But, of course, if the "community" belongs to a coal terminal, nobody will be able to live there. Which means the only reason we're "saving" this land will be so that someone (say, Billy Nungesser) can sell it. Otherwise, there’s little evidence Nungesser means what he says about the future of the communities under his charge. He left the Plaquemines presidency with the parish in a debt crisis leading to widespread cuts and layoffs.
Until very recently, the plan was for Nungesser to run for Governor this fall. Instead he’s settling for four more years as number two. How did this happen? Just this past December, Billy was so worried about the threat of a Jeff Landry governorship that he was willing to step in front of that oncoming bus himself, you know, for the good of the people. Although he did spend some time trying to get Senator John Kennedy to do it for him instead. That’s what this now famous quote is about.
“If he (Kennedy) runs, it’s a big problem for Jeff,” Nungesser said. “If he doesn’t, I have to run. Jeff is not a good person.”
Later, Billy would say that he and Landry “buried the hatchet.” More likely, though, that hatchet was buried in Nungesser himself by state party officials who back-roomed the party’s endorsement of Landry well before the field of candidates could form. Billy says, now, he decided not to run for Governor because he couldn’t raise the money and he didn’t want to be “middled out.” But he still holds a grudge against a party leadership who he is actively campaigning to replace. In January, Billy told radio host Newell Normand that GOP Chairman Louis Gurvich is “a disgrace to the Republican party. He’s a disgrace to Louisiana. He’s a dictator. He ought to resign. He is an embarrassment.” Ouch! When Billy Nungesser calls someone an embarrassment, that can’t be easy to take.
As Lieutenant Governor, Nungesser oversees the state Office of Culture and Tourism. In this role, he travels the globe promoting Louisiana’s natural and cultural heritage to foreign governments, to Rose Bowl Parade attendees, and various other audiences. At home, most of his initiatives have revolved around schemes to enclose and sell those treasures for the benefit of private profit seekers, albeit with limited success. For example, his proposal to sell the naming rights for the Poverty Point UNESCO World Heritage Site to a corporate sponsor did not come to pass. A Nungesser plan to carve out a chunk of Fontainebleau State Park for the construction of a 150-room hotel and conference center was loudly shouted down by Mandeville residents. He has also expressed willingness to adorn Fontainebleau with New Orleans’s discarded Confederate monuments. It’s unknown what, if any, revenue they might generate.
Nungesser’s most outlandish proposal along these lines is his plan to turn the French Quarter, New Orleans’s oldest and most famous neighborhood, into a state park. Putting aside the incredibly complicated jurisdictional and governance issues, a neighborhood is not a park. The French Quarter has struggled for years against the abuses of real estate and lodging capitalists who treat it as a revenue-generating playground for tourists. It’s a cancerous notion that has spread to other neighborhoods across the gentrifying city thanks to a hyper-exploitative house-flipping spree and the burgeoning short-term rental business. To legally designate the French Quarter a tourist attraction rather than a community is to concede the very heart of the city to its most insidious threat. This year, multiple candidates for Governor, including the presumed front-runner, Landry, and The Times-Picayune endorsed Stephen Waguespack have cited Nungesser’s plan approvingly. It would be a shame if Billy’s worst idea were seriously taken up by someone competent enough to actually implement it.
In addition to tourism promotion, the Lieutenant Governor is also tasked with maintaining the state’s cultural institutions such as museums and libraries. Here’s how that has gone so far: In December, we learned that State Librarian Rebecca Hamilton was suing Nungesser to prevent him from firing her in retaliation for whistleblowing. According to the lawsuit, Hamilton had already reported Nungesser to the FBI and state oversight agencies “at various times,” regarding his questionable contracting practices. In March, a report by the Legislative Auditor heavily criticized Nungesser’s management of state museums. The office of the State Museum has not had a permanent director since Billy fired the last one in 2016. Shortly after that, the interim director resigned in protest over Nungesser’s management, which he described as “some pretty strange crap.” The strange crap included political interference with day-to-day operations, a threat to raise funds by selling museum exhibits on eBay, and Nungesser’s use of “a Lower Pontalba Building apartment and space in other state museum buildings in the French Quarter for his personal benefit.” (Our politicians love those Pontalba apartments, don’t they folks?) Eventually, (inevitably?) the FBI got involved. We aren’t sure what the status of that investigation is currently. At the time, Nungesser blamed Jeff Landry. Maybe it got buried along with the hatchet.
In any case, Billy Nungesser is pretty much a lock to retain his office this fall. Whether or not his harlequinesque schemes and blunders can maintain him there another four years in anyone’s guess. If he were here now, he’d probably tell us, it’s something that is embarrassing, but it’s happening, and we’ll have to move forward.
Willie Jones (D) is running for the position again after losing to Nungesser by more than a 2-to-1 margin in the last election. His campaign materials indicate that he wants to increase subsidies for the film industry in an effort to attract jobs and “invest more tourism funds into the environmental protection fight to end coastal erosion that is destroying our waterways and our local seafood industry, and increase tourism in our coastal areas.” He also promises to lobby local and federal officials to cap the importation of seafood from out of the country in an effort to protect our local seafood industry.
Jones’ campaign does not seem to have much behind it beyond his Facebook page and a mailer. Running for office and losing by a large margin seems to be a pattern for Jones, who has lost campaigns for the Louisiana House of Representatives twice, the Lieutenant Governor election 4 years ago, and to join the Public Service Commission in 2022. Outside of half-heartedly seeking public office, Jones is listed as the owner of "Emerge Solution LLC," which “primarily operates in the Construction Project Management Consultant business / industry within the Engineering, Accounting, Research, and Management Services sector.” For this campaign, he disclosed it as a "transportation, consulting service." According to public campaign expenditures, "Emerge Solution LLC" has sold thousands of dollars worth of "yard signs and posters" to other campaigns.
Tami Hotard (R) is really just an average lady that lives in Madisonville who, aside from an auto accident with a drunk driver, has lived a privileged life. Born and raised in Louisiana, she graduated from Loyola and owns a real estate development company that operates in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida. Her website is anodyne mixed with cringe, using trite phrases such as "In God We Trust'' and "My Preaux Louisiana Vision." Instead of listing her missions as one easy-to-read paragraph, she or whoever else designed her website decided to list each mission individually as if it was a low-bar attempt to fill a webpage. Her vision page describes in a bit more detail what she plans to do should she win the seat as lieutenant governor, which is just all the boring and standard right-wing talking points without overtly saying that abortion is mean. She doesn't seem to have any insight on what it's like for working-class Louisianans nor cares at all about what's best for us. One thing that may set her apart from your average Northshore Karen is her claim to have "authored her own popular books on Louisiana tourism." Two books written by a Tami Hotard are listed on Amazon: In Pursuit of Pat O'Brien, which appears to be an out-of-print piece of historical fiction, and Big Charity: Paralysis at Charity Hospital & the Seduction of Confinement.
Bruce Payton (I) is running mainly on the idea of creating term limits for the position, which currently does not have any. Payton wants to limit the position to two terms (which he would need the legislature to do for him) and then promises to not run for reelection on the premise that the next Lieutenant Governor would have to work under two different Governorships.
On his website, Payton tries to paint himself as a moderate who transcends political parties. However, he seems confused as to the purpose of our state’s public goods: "Personally, I think a public-private partnership makes sense; that saved our Jazzfest years ago and it's flourished ever since… Sponsorships of our State Parks can save them…You want a businessman to run the State Parks and Museums as Business'. They have to stand on their own.” In reality, State Parks and Museums are not businesses and not only do not need to make a profit, but they should not make a profit to protect their integrity and use as a public good. A public-private partnership ultimately takes power away from the public and often leads to the pricing out of much of our community (like an $80-per-day Jazz Fest ticket).
Payton has no political experience and has branded himself a salesman in his campaign materials. “You wouldn't hire a Politician to sell your home, so don't hire a Politician to sell your state!” Payton either does not realize or is unconcerned that, if he is elected to the position, he will have numerous political roles, including leading parliamentary discussion when legislation is being debated in the Senate, leading or sitting in on numerous committees, and is next in line if the Governor dies or leaves office.
Elbert “Pawpaw” Guillory (R) is described as “like a brother to me” by Rep. Clay Higgins in a recent video endorsing the candidate for Lieutenant Governor. The former State Senator of Louisiana District 24, which covers areas of Lafayette as well as Guillory’s hometown of Opelousas, was a member of the Republican Party, and even worked with the Nixon administration, until a 2007 run for State House District 40, a primarily Democratic area. Elbert then switched allegiances back to the Republican Party in 2013. Elbert is running as a Republican once again on a tough on crime platform, and behind claims that “bad politicians wanna take our guns.” Pawpaw’s flare for the dramatic is on full display in satirical videos embedded on his campaign site. “In Louisiana, when someone has courage and fortitude and the ability to stand up when others stand back, we say that she or he has coconuts,” the candidate proclaims behind a podium while holding a bag containing two coconuts. Ultimately the longtime political operator’s familiar anti-snowflake, pro-gun, pro-God campaign stands out primarily through his assertion that “all of Louisiana must be sold to the tourists of the world,” not just New Orleans.
Gary Rispone (N) is the brother of Eddie Rispone, who lost the runoff for Governor last election cycle after aligning himself with Trump. Gary does not have a campaign website and is mostly known as the host of Paradise Louisiana, an outdoorsman/nature show.
Chester Pritchett (No Party) has withdrawn from consideration, but made an impression when he qualified to run while wearing a bulletproof vest. He explained that it's his usual attire when visiting Baton Rouge, New Orleans, or Shreveport, and that he wanted to abolish the office of Lieutenant Governor. You have to admire a candidate that leads by example.
Secretary of State
4-year term, no term limits
The Louisiana Secretary of State is the chief election officer of the state; in other words, they oversee the elections in the state. This work can include ballot preparation, showing election returns, and handling election laws, excluding voter registration and voting machine custody. The Secretary also manages state corporation and trademark laws, ensuring organizations operate within the guidelines. Our secretary also handles official documents, maintains the state's archives, and operates our nine state museums. As voter suppression along political and racial lines has been a long-standing portion of Louisiana’s history, the position is important even while not in full control of voting rights.
Kyle Ardoin, the current Secretary of State of Louisiana, has faced criticism and accusations of voter suppression, particularly around his handling of election administration. Affiliating with Phil Waldron in support of the January 6 insurrection certainly doesn’t inspire confidence in his capacity to ensure voters have the means to vote in Louisiana with as high turnout as possible. A coalition of voting rights organizations took Ardoin to court for multiple issues around voting rights access, particularly around a practice of removing the right to vote of Louisianans who have been arrested. This practice originates from the defeat of Reconstruction after the Civil War in the 1898 Louisiana constitution that was written to "maintain the supremacy of the white race" within the state. Given the fact that Ardoin has regularly excused his actions while entertaining insurrectionists, election doubters, and believers in widespread voter fraud, it could be considered karmic that he found himself subject to the paranoid scrutiny of Donald Trump and his followers. Election denialism even caused a termination of a plan to upgrade the state’s voting system as Trump supporters drove up conspiracy theories around voting machine manufacturer Dominion. This is probably why Ardoin is not running for reelection and why the Republican Party's internal divisions are apparent in the conflicts between the candidates in this race.
Ardoin’s frequent opponent Gwen Collins-Greenup (D)'s campaigns emphasize election security, business support, and voter rights. The first encounter between these two was in the 2018 special election, where Collins-Greenup and Ardoin entered the runoff separated by about 9,000 votes. Ardoin would win in 2018 and again in 2019 after another runoff against Collins-Greenup. The Collins-Greenup campaigns' relative electoral strength was considered a surprise given the amount of funding and backing that went into her initial campaign for the office. She is one of a few candidates in this race that does not cater to supporters of the January 6 storming of the US Capitol. Unlike in her previous runs, this time the Democratic Party chose to snub her in favor of another candidate with deeper political connections throughout the party.
Arthur Morrell (D) was a late qualifier, precluding a single Democrat race for the party to coalesce around. We will have to wait and see if this costs the Democrats a spot in a potential runoff. Morrell served for 16 years as New Orleans’s top election official and 23 years in the Louisiana House of Representatives. He is the father of New Orleans City Council President J.P. Morrell and husband to former City Councilmember Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. The connections he made through his long career secured him the official state party endorsement, which has to be disappointing to three-time official Democratic candidate Collins-Greenup. Morrell, however, is probably a better bet given his record of electoral success, but both candidates are going to have a tough time in this race. He noted his experience in the debates when he pushed back on some of the cost and technology-based excuses proffered by Ardoin and Morrell's Republican opponents for polling location closures. He is staunchly in support of democracy and ensuring Louisianans have a right to vote. With his long and storied history in Louisiana politics, he could be a formidable challenger in a runoff, or a potentially valuable endorsee for Collins-Greenup if she makes it in again. Unlike the next candidate in this guide, he isn’t against the human rights of queer Louisianans, and had a good record on LGBTQ rights in his early career as a legislator.
Clay Schexnayder (R) is the outgoing Louisiana State Representative for District 81 and was Speaker of the House from 2019 until the legislative session earlier this year. Schexnayder has been a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives since 2012. Some notable legislation he pushed included removing the legal requirement for motorcyclists to wear helmets and support for industrial and commercial hemp products in the state. The trend of Louisiana Republicans in this race opposing basic human rights continues in Schexnayder, who called the 2022 veto session to unsuccessfully overturn Governor John Bel Edwards' veto of a transgender girls' sports ban and his veto of concealed carry without permit. When the vetoes failed he immediately began unseating other state representatives from committees in spite. He finally found success in overriding an Edwards veto this year to force a ban on gender-affirming care for minors. His temper tantrums in the legislature do not bode well for voters in precincts that overwhelmingly and democratically vote contrary to his positions, should he have control over which polling locations move or close. Schexnayder backed Ardoin when Donald Trump’s negative gaze landed on Louisiana's voting systems. However, similar to the next candidate and Ardoin protegé, he’d likely continue their bland obstructionism.
Nancy Landry (R) was a state House Representative from 2008 to 2019. She resigned to become an Ardoin appointee, and the apple does not stray far from the tree. Her formal title is the First Assistant Secretary of State and she is second-in-command to Secretary Kyle Ardoin. Landry casts doubts on Biden’s election, even if she tried to do so softly, and claimed voting irregularities in some swing states. Even though she is not a fully committed election denier, like the next candidate in this guide, based on her boss's record it should be very clear that she is not interested in protecting, much less expanding, access to voting and voting rights. Every decision that Ardoin made, she was there in support as his chief of staff. So even though Ardoin is not running for re-election, it should be very clear that these two are very closely aligned politically, even if Landry is a bit better at avoiding overt political statements. While differences exist between Landry and many of the candidates, with opponents across party lines criticizing her and Ardoin’s work, her feud with this next candidate is a bit different, even noted by her mocking his ability to count.
Brandon Trosclair (R) is a Christian warrior and grocery store owner from Ascension Parish who is anti-vaccine. Trosclair has, on multiple occasions, stated that he does not believe President Joe Biden was the legitimate winner of the 2020 Presidential election. Given he is closely aligned with the Trump or "patriot" wing of the Republican Party, support of the January 6th insurrection is not unlikely. Trosclair was not shy about casting doubt on Ardoin's motives after Trump did the same. A key point of friction and Republican in-fighting spurred on by Trosclair is his recommendation to go back to hand-counting each ballot on paper. The push for paper ballots, and somehow resolving elections with paper ballots as quickly as we do now with electronic systems, has been a key attack against Trosclair for other GOP candidates. It is unknown by what means — scientific, administrative, procedural, material or otherwise — that rolling back our election processes almost 100 years will result in a more efficient or reliable system.
"Mike" Francis (R) is the owner of Francis Drilling Fluids, an oil drilling company, and currently serves on the state Public Service Commission. He served as a chair of the Louisiana Republican Party in the late 90s, and felt the need to come out against same-sex marriage at the LA GOP convention this year. Even though his positions would seem to be the norm across the LA GOP, his time as party chair and political history generally have been defined by LA GOP infighting. During a recent debate, he leaned into attacking Ardoin and his voter-questioning protegé Landry for not actually communicating with any parish registrars while they made broad claims about the affairs of elections in the state.
The remaining candidates do not have much publicly available information beyond their campaign websites. Thomas J. Kennedy III (R) is a retired real estate investor who is running as a Republican and claims to want to increase voter accessibility and education. Amanda Smith Jennings (Other) of West Monroe is a conservative independent and according to her website, her platform focuses on elections, historical archives & museums, and business databases. She ran for this office in 2019, while she administered a Confederate meme page on Facebook.
4-year term, no term limits
It is the greatest shame of the Democratic Party and an insult to the people of Louisiana that there is so little easily accessible information about these candidates. The Democrats in this race barely bother to state positions on any issues, leaving their rationale as to why they deserve to hold the office of a state-level legal position with no term limits entirely to the voters’ imagination. This seems to be the theme of a party robbed of moral character, which has abandoned this state to candidates without a clear, decisive or progressive strategy. It's a pallid offering amid Republicans who would only watch this state further dissolve into the Gulf, happy that corporate interests and people who already make more money than the average voter could ever aspire to will continue to rule over this economy and society not built for us.
The official Democratic nominee Lindsey Cheek (D)’s website is quite sparse: two paragraphs that are mostly biographical and little in the way of concrete positions and accomplishments. Her professional page on her law firm website lists a few of qualifications; she was a prosecutor in Houston before moving to New Orleans. She possesses a litany of professional accolades and has recovered over 60 million dollars for her clients, primarily asbestos and mesothelioma cases, instances of ovarian cancer due to tainted talcum powder, and similar mass negligence cases. She calls herself the little guy’s lawyer, representing her belief that the battle of law should be taken to large corporations, putting her at loggerheads with her Republican counterpart, Liz Murrill (R). For someone who is the only real competitor against Murrill, a GOP candidate fashioned in the image of Jeff Landry’s worst impulses, Cheek would do well to issue more statements about her actual positions. It’s unfortunate, considering how unpopular many GOP views are with the general public, that she doesn’t take more of a direct and public stance.
Murrill, the official Republican nominee and a lieutenant of Jeff Landry's in the attorney general's office, has a full symphony of stereotypical GOP talking points. According to her official website, her faith guides all of her decisions, rather unsurprisingly meaning that she is anti-choice and is proud of her own efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade. Murrill is also solidly anti-vax and has attempted to limit COVID-19 precautions throughout the state. She is so pro-gun rights that she has attempted to overturn gun control laws in other states. Additionally, she is anti-trans rights and “fought for women’s rights by blocking change to the meaning of 'sex.'” While the climate warms and change is undeniable, Murrill denies it, and hopes to expand gas and oil in this state even more. She sued the federal government 38 times to protect gas and oil companies while also rejecting wind-farming as ineffective. Murrill believes that the Biden administration has hurt oil company revenues, which is where Louisiana should get its money to protect the coastline; she completely ignores that more production will only endanger this coast further, no matter how much revenue she helps oil interests to increase.
Back in 2018, she was implicated in a pay-for-play scheme where donors to law enforcement officials were invited to help set policy via secret bulletin board. Ironically, on her Twitter, she has claimed to have evidence of a vast government conspiracy to control the populace. It’s apparent that her tenure as Attorney General would be just like another term of Jeff Landry. The people of Louisiana deserve someone who will use the legal system to fight for their interests, not allow the current status quo to continue to run roughshod over the people while prioritizing elitist interests to set policy in secret.
John Stefanski (R) is a state Representative for the 42nd district and a cookie cutter GOP fascist with no major departures in his platform from Liz Murrill's: his faith is his guiding light, as such he is pro-life and "pro-family." He believes police officers should be defended, so there will probably be little to no effort to hold the corrupt and violent policing system accountable. He has been endorsed by numerous Parish Sheriffs, including Jefferson Davis Parish Sheriff Ivy Woods and Jefferson Davis Parish District Attorney Lauren Heinen, in keeping with his primary issue of supporting the racist and oppressive police force. Stefanski is noncommittal about the spate of ban challenges in Louisiana libraries, reiterating he believes it’s a local issue that the Attorney General’s office has no authority to weigh in on.
Stefanski's only proposed solution to the fentanyl and opiate crisis? Increasing jail time. His Twitter timeline is almost exclusively an ode to his law enforcement endorsements and sympathy for the plight of poor, benighted police officers who continue to serve their oppressive role in our state. Despite his promise that he will be tough on criminals, the Attorney General can only prosecute if invited by a Parish official. He has not commented on how he might enact these promises of grand prosecution. Electing Stefanski only provides more of the same that does not work for the people of Louisiana: more emphasis on policing, harsher punishments that only contribute to the prison-industrial complex, and no one to fight the numerous interests that are against protecting Louisiana from the horrors of climate change.
In a field of GOP candidates with little to distinguish themselves, "Marty" Maley (R) does not buck the trend. According to a Facebook video, Maley’s 4 point plan includes such stunning insights as "being tough on criminals" and "always being pro-life, pro-gun, and pro-states’ rights [yeehaw]." Maley has two points of empathetic note that put him slightly above the other identical Republican contenders: he would like to aggressively prosecute elder abuse crimes and encourage programs with community leaders to address “at-risk” populations, noting that cost of incarceration and prosecution are exorbitant. This is a rare position in a field of Republicans who can only think to punish and never prevent.
Perry Walker Terrebonne (D) is a personal injury attorney in White Castle. More information about this candidate is sparse and difficult to find. He threw his hat into the ring then made no statements at all to the press, and since has had no interviews and has issued no official statements. He has no official website and to the best of our knowledge has made no comments at all about what he might do as Attorney General. He is as mysterious and inscrutable as the reason why the Democrats abandoned this state and several contestable races.
4-year term, no term limits
In Louisiana, the role of treasurer is more or less ceremonial and bureaucratic. There are few load-bearing structures dependent on the treasurer, but they do have some authority over state financial obligations and investments (pensions and the like), as well as over state bond issues that fund local infrastructure projects. In the recent past, previous treasurers have used the office to build a statewide base to run for higher office; this includes former senator Mary Landrieu, current Senator John Neely Kennedy, and potentially but unlikely John Schroder, current treasurer and gubernatorial candidate. With comparatively fewer explicit obligations than other executive offices, the position of treasurer is really what you make it.
As we wrote in the entry for his candidacy for governor, the current treasurer, John Schroder, soft-launched his gubernatorial campaign by inserting himself into a national conservative media fixation on corporate environmental, social, and corporate governance policies. This has, in part, defined the character of the race to replace him, and made the treasury a more politically consequential target than it has been in recent years.
Dustin Granger (D) is the only Democrat in the race and won the endorsement of the state Democratic Party but has enjoyed little in the way of material or organizational support on their part. A native resident of Lake Charles and personal financial advisor, he previously ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate in 2021. Granger entered the race for treasurer specifically to oppose the Schroder-led backlash against ESG, and has built the rest of his platform primarily around climate and environmental issues. In both his platform and running his campaign, Granger demonstrates an innovative vision of using the treasury to address meaningful political issues and to the benefit of everyday Louisianans, rather than as a step towards greater power for power’s sake.
Under the admirably formulated umbrella of “reversing Jindal-nomics,” Granger opposes regressive tax systems as unfair to poor and working Louisianans, while driving even more wealth into the pockets of the richest individuals and corporations in the state. To that end, Granger proposes totally abolishing Louisiana’s most egregious tax giveaways to corporations, such as the Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) that waives the bulk of property taxes massive multinational and multimillion- or multibillion-dollar petrochemical companies, allowing them to pollute overburdened neighborhoods, starve local schools and infrastructure of badly needed resources, and fleece our state for everything its worth in resources at the expense of the rest of us. While ending ITEP would require action by the state legislature, not just the treasurer, it’s certainly the right thing to do, and having a treasurer fighting against corporate tax exemptions could give the issue salience among the broader public.
In contrast to the trickle-down, business-first models espoused by previous treasurers and his opponents, Granger’s economic policy works from the bottom up through investment in the working class rather than the ruling class through proposals such as home insurance premium assistance, using state bonds for local affordable housing initiatives, protecting Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds (cash assistance for families in poverty, popularly known as welfare) from pilfering for other budgetary concerns, improving the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) so more high schoolers can receive financial support for higher education, and promoting green job development through energy transition. It is certainly an ambitious program in a campaign that will be hard-fought, but Granger needs to be commended for making a serious effort to advance a positive alternative program that benefits working and poor Louisianans in an election cycle severely lacking in meaningful and visionary challenges to reactionary conservative power.
John Fleming (R) is a former Congressman for Louisiana's 4th district who left Congress in 2016 to run for David Vitter's seat in the US Senate, but came in fifth in a race that eventually went to John Neely Kennedy. Fleming came into office on the same Tea Party wave that built Jeff Landry, and appropriately one of Fleming's first political stunts in Washington was an attempt to impeach the commissioner of the IRS. Fleming would go on to be a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, the most conservative faction of the Congressional Republicans. Fleming's career as a Congressman was defined by tilting at windmills in his efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, to pass bills establishing that "each human life begins with fertilization," and to counteract the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision that established the right to same-sex marriage. While unsuccessful in those fights and now long gone from Congress, Fleming might have just been a little early to the party, depending on how the 2024 federal elections turnout. After his failed Senate bid, Fleming served in various roles in the Donald Trump presidential administration, first as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Health Technology Reform in the Department of Health and Human Services, then as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, and finally as White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Planning and Implementation.
Fleming is, at best, a climate change skeptic, and believes that "until green energy progresses, we should not invest in it." He opposes ESG as well as doing business with banks that reject business with firearms companies. Although totally outside the purview of treasurer, Fleming has also made a point to criticize vaccine mandates and fearmonger over libraries to make sure his prospective voters know he didn't give up the culture war in his time as a bureaucrat.
Scott McKnight (R) has served for one term as a state Representative representing part of Baton Rouge. While professing broad approval of his would-be predecessor's job performance, McKnight is not as hostile to ESG policies as many of his fellow conservatives. Ultimately, however, McKnight agrees with Schroder that the state should not be invested in corporations with climate policies that would, in his words, be "in direct conflict to what’s best for our state," so it's hard to figure what exactly he'd do differently in practice with regards to ESG. While he has stated he disagrees with recent politicization of the typically impartial state bond commission over abortion and pandemic restrictions, driven by Attorney General Jeff Landry's office, as a state representative, McKnight is a far-right conservative, especially on issues of abortion and LGBTQ rights.
Before diving into the details of this race and its only candidate, it may be useful to offer a primer on insurance as a system.
Risk management to protect goods and property against financial losses has been around in some form or another for millenia. But insurance as a private sector industry truly came into being in the aftermath of major disaster – specifically, the Great Fire of London in 1666 – which led to the creation of property insurance. As the insurance industry has grown and become more specialized, there have been few “products” as indispensable to the existence of (or more illustrative of the contradictions inherent within) capitalism.
From one perspective, insurance can be viewed as a safety net for the marketplace and economy itself – a wise investment on the part of actors responsible enough to recognize that the risks of ownership sometimes result in greater costs than benefits.
But a more rigorous examination might instead reveal that insurance in fact serves as a sort of privatized, profit-seeking governance structure wherever the actual government either fails (or refuses) to involve itself, often at the behest of parties that would lose a lot of money if public intervention or guarantees were to take place. Insurance policies increasingly determine who can receive certain “goods and services” – such as healthcare, housing, a car, and so on – as well as which goods and services people even have access to and under which conditions they can be offered or received.
Health insurance may be the most intuitive illustration of how this is the case. For much of history, provision of healthcare did not require insurance; medical practitioners were not highly professionalized and healthcare for the sick was either very low cost or provided as a form of charity. In the United States and Europe, this started to change in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as the labor movements on both continents began to demand that employers cover the cost of medical care required as a result of industrial workplace injuries.
But things diverged from there. In Europe, nationalized healthcare systems became a central component of many welfare states' basic safety nets. In the United States, work and healthcare became increasingly linked as healthcare providers professionalized and organized with employers in opposition to “compulsory national healthcare,” while unions sought to preserve their hardfought gains in the forms of “sickness funds” and negotiated healthcare benefits. Over time, as medical care became highly specialized and costly, insurance became increasingly necessary to afford care of any kind. In this state of affairs, keeping healthcare connected to one's job empowers employers to threaten employees' health security (and the health security of their families), an extremely powerful point of leverage against workers, especially in un-unionized workplaces.
To this day, whether or not one can afford the healthcare they need in the United States is largely dependent on whether or not they have access to wealth or an insurance policy that covers necessary care and medications. And except for low- and moderate-income individuals and families or seniors – who have been able to utilize Medicaid or Medicare respectively – that insurance is more often than not provided by their employer through a private insurance company. And in this arrangement, both the employer and the insurer have strong economic incentives (combined, sometimes, with more ideological motives) to discourage or ration certain kinds of healthcare or find ways to pass along costs to those seeking care.
Health insurance is but one example – modern life in the United States more or less requires multiple insurance coverages of various types. Want to borrow money to buy a house? Banks (and government agencies regulating banks) require you to buy property insurance. Is that property located in a flood zone? You’ll have to buy flood insurance, too. Decided to rent instead? Your landlord might require you to get renters insurance. Don’t have access to reliable public transportation wherever you end up living and need to drive to work? Driving a car without insurance may be technically possible, but is illegal and will be costly to you if you’re caught (and often, purchasing a vehicle in any formal way will require you to have insurance as well).
Because we have a decentralized, market-based system of insurance, what your policy covers and how much it costs you can vary greatly depending on how the state you live in regulates the industry. And that brings us to the subject of this dissertation: the Louisiana Commissioner of Insurance.
Louisiana is one of only eleven states that elects its insurance commissioner, who leads the state Department of Insurance and sets the state’s regulatory regime for insurance companies of every kind operating in the state. While some believe this position being an elected one is one of Louisiana’s problems, there may be something to be said about Louisiana voters being able to hold this department directly accountable at the ballot box, especially in the current insurance environment (more on that in a moment).
Or, there could be something to be said about that, if there were more than one candidate for Insurance Commissioner this year. But first, some recent history to explain how we have arrived at this point.
For the past 17 years, Jim Donelon (R) – previously a longtime Republican legislator – has served as Louisiana’s Commissioner of Insurance, an office he inherited after being appointed Deputy Commissioner by his predecessor, J. Robert Wooley (who inherited the office after being appointed to the same office by his predecessor, Jim Brown, the third of three consecutive Louisiana Insurance Commissioners to be convicted of federal crimes).
Having taken office in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Donelon has mostly avoided serious challengers in his time in office, winning over 50% of the vote each time he has run (2006, 2007, 2011, 2015, and 2019) and never being forced into a runoff election.
That lack of competitive pressure is likely because most of Donelon’s time in office can best be described as surprisingly uneventful. Miraculously, after the historic 2005 hurricane season, Louisiana mostly avoided major tropical storm systems (with only a few exceptions) until 2020. The most significant insurance related event prior to his last run for office in 2019 was likely the 2016 floods that ravaged communities across South Louisiana, but flood insurance is one of few areas where federal regulations play a far greater role than state ones.
To the extent that Donelon was an active force in insurance regulations, it was in occasionally choosing to constrain premium increases, usually in the lead up to an election. But that didn’t stop him from receiving a more serious challenge in 2019, his last reelection effort.
In fact, the 2019 race was defined by how little action Donelon seemed to be taking, either in favor of policyholders or insurance companies, as well as concerns that the Commissioner used his position to reward firms he favored and punish those he did not. Donelon only faced one opponent – another Republican and wealthy insurance man, Tim Temple (R) – but Temple spent $2 million of his own money in an effort to take him down. While Donelon ultimately prevailed with 53.5% of the vote, it was clear that Louisiana’s political and economic ground had begun to shift beneath his feet. He had never faced such sustained and vociferous criticism for his perceived lack of action and the rising costs of insurance (and while it might seem strange now, then the focus was mainly on auto insurance; Louisiana was second in the nation for average auto policy costs, only exceeded by Michigan at the time).
In response to this challenge, and probably in the hopes of preventing it from gaining any more traction in the future, Donelon decided to champion a long-held goal of business interests represented by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), as well as the insurance industry more generally: “tort reform.”
To be specific, what LABI, the insurance corporations it represented, the legislators it commanded, and now Donelon, wanted to pursue were limits on personal injury claims. The idea was that if people injured in car accidents couldn’t sue insurance companies to cover the full costs of the medical care they required to recover from those injuries, auto insurers would be able to reduce their costs, with benefits flowing down to the consumers (well, the uninjured ones anyway).
This idea – embodied in the Civil Justice Reform Act of 2020 – finally found bipartisan traction thanks to Donelon’s cheerleading, in a 2020 special session that was convened after the regular session was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. The promised rate reductions never materialized, however; Louisiana continues to have some of the most expensive average car insurance rates in the country. According to Forbes, only New York and Florida – states which each have populations nearly five times the size of Louisiana’s – are more expensive on an annual and monthly basis.
While it would eventually prove ineffectual, this legislative victory in July 2020 seemed to portend a political rebirth for Donelon – he had been challenged, but came out stronger, and would put to bed any possibility of a serious challenge and retire on his own terms.
And then about one month later, 2020’s Hurricane Laura made landfall as the strongest hurricane to impact the United States since 1856. Then, one year after that, 2021’s Hurricane Ida made landfall as the strongest hurricane since Hurricane Laura. Between the two historic storms, as well as numerous smaller ones and other extreme weather events in between, the property insurance market in Louisiana experienced a decided lurch towards collapse, and Jim Donelon’s fate would become more or less sealed.
Thanks to Donelon’s fairly lenient approach to regulation, many insurance companies operating in the state since Hurricane Katrina were allowed to offer coverage even if they could not afford payouts to their customers if they were to experience major disasters. Unfortunately, many of their customers experienced catastrophic disasters – and suddenly many insurance companies were either going belly up or hiking rates in an effort to “de-risk” (or, put more plainly, force customers identified as higher risk to change plans and become a different insurer’s problem).
But many Louisiana homeowners lacked options in the aftermath of these storms; there was considerable risk, and while homeowners required insurance, insurance companies were not required to provide it to them. Fortunately for these abandoned homeowners, Louisiana is one of two states (the other being Florida) to have a non-profit insurance enterprise as a backstop for homeowners insurance.
However, state law requires that this quasi-public option – Louisiana Citizens – serve as an insurer of last resort. To ensure that this is the case, premiums for Citizens are legally required to be at least 10% above either the highest market rate or the actuarial rate in each parish. Consequently, as insurers hiked rates dramatically (with Donelon’s blessing), Citizens policy holders saw an astronomical 63% increase in their rates.
While this homeowners insurance crisis was unfolding, another issue – this one far less in Donelon’s control – was the arrival of a long-awaited reform to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP): Risk Rating 2.0. The NFIP is a complicated subject that, while interesting to the writer of this section, is not crucial to understand in the context of the 2023 Insurance Commissioners Race, except in one way: under Risk Rating 2.0, to better reflect the cost of flood risk, many Louisiana flood insurance policyholders will see their rates will rise by 134% or more (about 1,098% in the case of Plaquemines Parish residents).
Why does all this matter? Well, simply put, Louisiana voters were feeling the full force of an insurance crisis that had long been brewing with huge price increases, and they were realizing that Jim Donelon had been asleep at the wheel for the last 17 years.
And so it was not terribly surprising that in October of 2022, Tim Temple announced he would challenge Donelon once again. And it probably should not have been much more surprising when, in mid-March of 2023, Donelon announced he would not seek reelection, making an emergency special session to “address” insurance issues (meaning, creating a $45 million incentive program for insurance companies) his political swansong.
Until August qualifying rolled around, political insiders speculated over who would be brave – or stupid – enough to challenge Temple in an open race. There was an insurance crisis to run on, after all, and while Temple was no longer a rookie candidate and was capable of self-funding, there was interest from many stakeholders in either seeing a real public debate over how to handle issues of insurance (mostly housing and environmental advocates), or greater assurance that the next commissioner would serve their policy preferences (business interests).
In the end, it was all for nought – the only other candidate to qualify again Temple, Democrat Richard Weaver of Ascension Parish, withdrew after Temple filed a legal challenge against his qualification. Despite there never being greater public and media interest around the issues handled by the office, Tim Temple became Louisiana’s Insurance Commissioner-elect without a single vote being cast.
So, who is Temple, and what should we expect of his next four years?
Hailing from DeRidder, Tim Temple has been working in the insurance industry for 20 years, with the last 13 years of that as an insurance executive, like his father did before him. There is really little to remark upon about his resume – he was presumably very successful in these ventures, donating nearly $2 million to his two campaigns (about $900,000 in 2019 and $950,000 this year). But otherwise, he seems to be a case of an insurance man interested in becoming The Insurance Man.
Perhaps the most interesting thing to know about Temple is that he also served as the chairman and president of the Committee of 100. While that may sound like a secretive organ of the Chinese Communist Party, it is in fact just another “good government” business and industry nonprofit group that advocates for “economic development.” But it is a useful context; Temple is not some wealthy political outsider who has elbowed his way into power over the wishes of the usual interests. He is firmly enmeshed in that crowd, and has simply ascended from “interested party” to decision maker.
And he has begun to lay out the sort of agenda you might expect from someone running in those circles. Temple’s main solution to Louisiana’s insurance market woes? A special session early next year, to push more deregulation, more tort reform, and more incentives for competition.
If you’re left a bit puzzled about why Temple was so aggressive in pursuit of this seat, only to land on the same policy agenda as the guy he pushed out of it, well, join the club.
Perhaps it’s about pride in his profession; Donelon, after all, was never an “insurance man.” He was never chairman of prestigious business dinner clubs. He was just a career politician who happened to be in the right position at the right time 17 years ago and has been coasting on ever since, with no real concern for the crisis that escalated on his watch.
Perhaps it’s about principle; maybe Donelon was insufficiently dedicated to the “free market;” Temple certainly implies as much in his vague criticisms.
Or perhaps it’s about money. After all, one of the changes that Temple would like to make – that Donelon refused to – is to allow insurance companies to raise their customers’ rates mid-year:“[Temple] also vowed to do away with current Commissioner Jim Donelon’s policy of barring insurers from raising rates more than once a year. ‘We do need to have a Department of Insurance that’s more receptive to inviting companies that want to do business in Louisiana,’ Temple said. ‘You still have a job to hold them accountable… But you can become a more friendly department to the insurance industry.’”
In truth, it is hard to tell what Temple plans to do or what his motivations truly are – he has not been shy about telling the press he plans to take action once in office, but he has been scant on substance or details. On issues such as whether or not to allow Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana to be acquired by Elevance Health, which could have vast repercussions for Louisiana’s health insurance market, he has simply noted that he is “watching closely.” And he rarely provides much explanation for why Louisiana’s policyholders are facing such serious problems – other than that he can fix it, and Donelon couldn’t or wouldn’t.
What is clear is that Louisiana voters will pay the price of having an uncontested insurance commission race. What we need is a robust public debate about how the crises we are facing, from disinvestment in public health and public transit to the impacts of climate change, are making life far riskier and more precarious for hundreds of thousands of Louisianans as well as rendering the private insurance system unusable. Instead, we get Tim, a man full of platitudes about the need for “competition,” who did everything in his power, and with his vast personal wealth, to ensure he wouldn’t face any sort of competition himself. And until 2027, there’s nothing we can do about it.
Longtime incumbent Mike Strain (R) secured another term in this oft-ignored executive position, uncontested. Four years ago, our chapter’s first ever endorsed candidate (other than Bernie Sanders), Margee Green, ran for this seat and performed better than any other challenger, despite a split endorsement from the Democratic Party between herself and two more moderate candidates. Green ran on a platform of supporting small farmers, common sense regulation of cannabis with an eye toward legalization, and an agricultural policy that meaningfully considered the impacts of climate change. Strain did not, and does not, really consider any of that, preferring an agribusiness-centric approach and, at best, agnosticism on climate. His cannabis regulation policy also left something to be desired, but since then marijuana regulation has moved to the purview of the state Department of Health, controlled by the Governor, rather than the Agriculture Commissioner.
Green’s was a pretty spectacular campaign, but despite local environmental organizers’ best efforts, a spiritual successor to the Green campaign was not in the cards this year. Consider that the grassroots environmental movement in Louisiana is always extremely preoccupied with putting out fires (literal and figurative) from decades of neglect of and regression on environmental justice. It’s hard to do all that and run a long-shot candidate for office. We were pretty lucky it happened in 2019 and went as well as it did. It would be nice if the ostensible opposition party to the Republicans, with all of its state and national resources, would pitch in.
Interestingly, Strain has consistently spoken out against the United States’ embargo on Cuba, which was a major trading partner of Louisiana until the embargo was imposed in 1960 and extended to include even food and medicine in 1962. The embargo continues to this day, despite near-unanimous international opposition, and negatively affects the daily lives of Cubans more than any other single issue. It is economic warfare against the people of Cuba, plain and simple. Strain just wants access to another market for Louisianan agricultural products, namely rice, but since ending the embargo is a major foreign policy priority at all levels of our organization (and a moral imperative), we will take what we can get on that front. So that’s cool, at least.
Board of Elementary & Secondary Education District 1
Over the past few years, right-wing attacks on public schools, their teachers, and their students have ramped up, as Republicans have found new wedge issues for their increasingly extremist constituency. In 2021, the right used critical race theory and pandemic restrictions to rally their base, creating a red wave of Fox News watchers turned elected school board members. According to the website Ballotopedia, the number of contested school board races grew by 12% from 2020 to 2021 alone, with a 10% increase in non-incumbents. By 2022 and 2023, fueled by Florida Governor Ron Desantis’s fascist crusade against LGBTQ+ children, the only question that mattered to many Republican voters about a school board candidate was, “are they ‘woke’?”
Here in Louisiana, the right’s fever pitch over race, sex, and masks has translated into multiple districts electing farther and farther-right leaning candidates. State legislators salivated at the chance to author numerous bills in the 2023 session that specifically target trans and queer youth. Punching down at-risk kids is fully part of the conservative platform now. It’s no exaggeration to say the fascist offensive is strengthening. As socialists, we stand in direct, full-throated opposition to these disgusting policies, hateful rhetoric, and harmful laws. We stand in solidarity with trans and queer people, and especially children, who deserve the full support of their communities.
Meanwhile, around our state, real issues threaten our public school system. Locally, schools are being shuttered and consolidated over the desperate protests of parents. At the same time, teachers are endangered in Louisiana. Their wages have stagnated, making it difficult to staff classrooms. State legislators (busy on ‘Don’t Say Gay’ and deadname bills) denied permanent pay raises for educators and staff, who received a one-time bonus instead. Unable to attract new teachers, Jefferson Parish started this school year with an unprecedented shortage of 200 teachers. For a state that ranks near the bottom of the nation in basic literacy and math, kids can’t learn under conditions that these massive shortages create. And teachers are burning out.
All of this is backdrop for the race for the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), District 1. BESE forms the administrative body for all of Louisiana’s public schools, adopting regulations, enacting policies, and overseeing the budget for educational programs. There are 8 district seats on BESE (4 of which will be won by Republicans without Democratic challengers), and three seats will be appointed by the newly elected governor. District 1 covers St. Tammany, as well as parts of Orleans, Jefferson and Tangipahoa Parishes. Republican Jim Garvey has term-limited out of this seat, leaving it vacant.
Our chapter has overwhelmingly voted to endorse Lauren Jewett (D) in this race. Lauren is a UTNO special education teacher with National Board Certification, and does the damn work day-in and day-out. She sees firsthand the impacts of policy on a classroom and knows that supporting teachers is vital to supporting students. Lauren’s policy platform seeks to uplift rank-and-file teachers with pay raises and mental health support; and to keep public schools open — and on equal footing with charter schools, both in terms of legal requirements and funding. We stand behind her specifically for her willingness to stand up for LGBTQ+ youth who are under attack throughout the state, and to be a leading voice advocating for the needs of all students. We urge those in her district to vote for her, and everyone else throughout Louisiana to get involved with her campaign. Our chapter voted to endorse Jewett by a vote of 79 aye, 6 nay, and 9 abstentions.
Jewett's opponent, Paul Hollis (R), is a state legislator who has termed out of his District 104 seat. A career politician, he is pushing school choice vouchers, which deprive public schools of valuable state resources that are instead diverted to private (including ecclesiastical) schools, and bandwagoning on anti-’woke’ messaging. His experience in a public school classroom is limited to attending as a student over 20 years ago. This past legislative session, he authored a failed bill to allow library board members to be fired without cause. He is endorsed by the Greater New Orleans Republicans, who are also supporting a candidate currently facing charges of cruelty to children to take Hollis’ vacated house seat. According to his autobiographical Wikipedia page, Hollis is an obsessive coin collector, and once took a submarine to salvage coins from a shipwreck. We should all encourage his hobby pursuits: he has no business being on a school board, does not understand what it means to be a teacher, and should follow his passions to the depths of the ocean, if they take him there.