Karen Carter Peterson resigns abruptly from the Louisiana Senate

23-year veteran of the Louisiana Legislature cites gambling addition, mental health

By: - April 8, 2022 4:58 pm
Karen Carter Peterson

Karen Carter Peterson announced her resignation from the Louisiana Senate on Friday, April 8, 2022, after 23 years in the Louisiana Legislature. (Photo courtesy Karen Carter Peterson campaign)

Karen Carter Peterson, a Democrat from New Orleans who has held a seat in the Louisiana Legislature for 23 years, abruptly announced her resignation Friday. In a message posted on social media, she said she was leaving to focus on “self-care.”

In her resignation message, Peterson discussed her mental health and a gambling addition she first acknowledged in 2019 after a news report revealed she had violated a self-imposed ban on entering any Louisiana casino. A state trooper had issued Peterson a misdemeanor summons after she tried to enter a Baton Rouge casino, an incident she said at the time was leaked to the media.

“As I’ve previously shared, I have personally struggled with depression and a gambling addiction for the entirety of my legislative career,” Peterson said in her statement. “In fact, it has been close to 30 years. At this time, I must place all of my energy on my own mental health and personal well-being, and therefore have tendered my resignation effective immediately.”

After the report, Peterson stepped down as chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party. Fellow lawmakers rallied around her at the time, stressing that her gambling issues had not affected her work in the Legislature.

Peterson was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1999 and rose to the rank of speaker pro tempore, the second-highest post in the chamber. She won the state Senate seat for District 5 in 2010 and was in her final year in office under term limits. A year ago, Peterson lost a runoff for Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District to Troy Carter.

To start Thursday’s floor session, Peterson led the Senate’s traditional opening prayer. Just before the prayer, she recounted a “small, personal journey” that she said she had been on for the past few years. She discussed her depression and gambling addiction, sharing that she had successfully received inpatient and outpatient treatment for both and was still involved in a recovery program.

“It took a long time for me to come to this point to have the courage to really address the issue. But with God’s blessing, I’m sober. I’ve been ‘off the bet’, as we call it in the Gamblers’ Anonymous program that I participate in, for a long time.” Peterson said, with Senate President Page Cortez standing to her side.

Peterson said she shared her account to help others with similar problems but gave no indication that she would resign the next day.

Her departure leaves a vacancy on the Senate Local and Municipal Affairs Committee, which she led as chairperson. Peterson was also on the following committees: Consumer Protection and International Affairs Committee; Environmental Quality; Revenue and Fiscal Affairs; Joint Legislative Committee on Capital Outlay; Senate Executive Committee; Senate Select Committee on Homeland Security; and the Senate Select Committee on Women and Children She also had a seat on the Voting Systems Commission that was tasked with selecting the state’s next voting machines.

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Greg LaRose
Greg LaRose

Greg LaRose has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana. Before coming to the Louisiana Illuminator, he was the chief investigative reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He previously led the government and politics team for The Times-Picayune | NOLA.com, and was editor in chief at New Orleans CityBusiness. Greg's other career stops include Tiger Rag, South Baton Rouge Journal, the Covington News Banner, Louisiana Radio Network and multiple radio stations.