Louisiana Congressman-elect Luke Letlow dies of COVID-19 complications

Letlow, 41, was expected to be sworn into Congress in a few days

By: - December 29, 2020 9:43 pm
Luke Letlow with his wife Julia and

Luke Letlow poses with his wife Julia and one of his children. (Photo from the Letlow campaign)

Congressman-elect Luke Letlow, 41, died from complications related to COVID-19 Tuesday, a family spokesman confirmed.

The Republican was to be sworn in to Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District seat on Sunday, replacing retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham. Had he taken office, Letlow would have been the youngest member of Louisiana’s congressional delegation.

He is the first congressman or congressman-elect to die of COVID-19, according to Politico. Another Louisiana elected official, state Rep. Reggie Bagala, was also killed by the virus in April.  Dozens more in public office have contracted it since the pandemic began in March.

Letlow leaves behind his wife, Julia, and two young children. He was a resident of Start — a rural community of a few hundred people where his family has lived for generations — in Northeast Louisiana. 

“The family appreciates the numerous prayers and support over the past days but asks for privacy during this difficult and unexpected time,” said spokesman Andrew Bautsch.

.

Letlow was in the intensive care unit at Ochsner-LSU Health Shreveport at the time of his death, Bautsch said. He had been admitted to a Monroe hospital near his hometown on Dec. 19 after testing positive for COVID-19. 

He was then transferred to Ochsner-LSU Health in Shreveport on Dec. 22 when his condition worsened.

Several national and local elected officials expressed shock at Letlow’s death Tuesday night — in part because he is relatively young and thought to be in good health. Friends said he was not considered “high risk” for COVID-19. 

“Luke will be missed dearly across Louisiana, and we all mourn his passing,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who had COVID-19 in August, but has since recovered. “Just brings home COVID can kill. For most folks, it doesn’t, but it truly can. So remember Luke, his widow, his children in your prayers. Remember as well to be careful with COVID. Remember everything we know we should do.”

Letlow worked for years in Louisiana Republican politics. He got his start heading up the Republican Party at Louisiana Tech as college student and went on to work for Bobby Jindal on campaigns and while Jindal was a member of Congress and then governor.

Letlow then briefly moved to Colorado to work for an energy company, but returned home to run Abraham’s 2014 campaign. He served as Abraham’s chief of staff for almost all of Abraham’s six years in office. He left that job when he decided to run to replace his retiring boss in the 5th District. 

“There are no words for this loss. There was no one like Luke Letlow, and there was no one who loved this state and its people more,” Abraham said in statement released on Facebook Tuesday night. “Luke was a part of our family, and we are so incredibly proud of the man he was.”

“I first met Luke when he was still a college student, and spent countless hours with him in his truck driving the back roads of Louisiana. His passion for service has been a constant throughout his life,” Jindal said in a written statement on Twitter. “He truly enjoyed meeting people, learning about them, and helping them.”

Letlow’s successful bid for the U.S. House was the first time he had run for elected office. He beat Louisiana state Rep. Lance Harris, a fellow Republican, easily in the congressional runoff election in December. He had the backing of both Republicans and Democrats in the race. 

The district Letlow was to represent sprawls over 24 parishes and includes Alexandria, Monroe, Jackson and Amite. It is one of the most rural and poorest congressional districts in the country. 

Had he taken office, Letlow said that expanding broadband access in his district would have been his top priority. Letlow didn’t even have access to broadband in his own home, he told the Illuminator in November.

“I don’t think there’s a congressional district in the country that needs more help, more assistance than the 5th congressional district,” Letlow said. “My district is one of the poorest in the country and they were struggling before COVID ever hit.”

Cole Avery, who worked for Letlow in Abraham’s office, said it would be hard to imagine Louisiana’s 5th district without Letlow.

“He loved Louisiana and poured so much of himself into making it a better place. I’m heartbroken, but I am so thankful to have known him as a friend and mentor,” said Avery, who now works for Cassidy.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said flags on state buildings will be flown at half-staff on the day of Letlow’s funeral. His family has not announced arrangements for his burial yet.

“I am heartbroken that he will not be able to serve our people as a U.S. Representative, but I am even more devastated for his loving family,” Edwards said in a written statement. “Louisiana has lost more than 7,300 people to COVID-19 since March, and each one of them leaves a tremendous hole in our state.”

Letlow was a guest on the Illuminator podcast in November. To listen to that episode, go here

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator and producer of the Louisiana Illuminator podcast. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press. Julie covered state government and politics for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune for six years. She’s also covered government and politics in Missouri, Virginia and Washington D.C. Julie is a proud D.C. native and Washington Capitals hockey fan. She and her partner, Jed, live in Baton Rouge. She has two stepchildren, Quinn and Steven.

MORE FROM AUTHOR