What potential Louisiana governor candidates are saying

Graves, Wilson say they both might still launch campaigns

By: - January 30, 2023 9:47 am
portraits of Shawn Wilson and Garret Graves

Louisiana Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson, left, and Congressman Garret Graves have not ruled out entering the Louisiana governor’s race. (Photos courtesy DOTD; Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

Two major candidates who might join the Louisiana governor’s race said they still aren’t ready to announce whether they are launching a campaign yet.

U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, said he hasn’t made up his mind yet over whether he will run for governor. Louisiana Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson, a Democrat, said he will make an announcement “sooner rather than later” about whether he is launching a campaign. 

The race already has four declared Republican candidates: Attorney General Jeff Landry, State Treasurer John Schroder, state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, and state Rep. Richard Nelson, R-Mandeville. Lake Charles businessman Hunter Lundy has also said he will run as a political independent.

Should Graves enter the race, it could shake up the already-crowded field. Several business people, civic leaders and other elected officials who don’t support Landry are encouraging Graves to run. They see him as the best shot to beat the attorney general, who many fear would be difficult to work with as governor.

There’s been some speculation that Graves has already decided not to run for governor after U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., announced last week that Graves is going to be chair of the Elected Leadership Committee and given a spot on the House Republican Steering Committee. McCarthy also made a surprise appearance at a Washington Mardi Gras economic development luncheon  Friday at the Washington Hilton.

But Graves insisted Friday that his new House GOP leadership position will have no bearing on his decision to enter the governor’s race.

“No! No,” Graves said, when asked if his new Capitol Hill job meant he wasn’t running for governor. “That wasn’t my release. That was theirs.” 

The congressman did not say when he might make up his mind about running for state office.

Meanwhile, Wilson said it was a “loaded question” when asked Friday night by a reporter if he was running for governor. Best known as a member of Gov. John Bel Edwards cabinet, Wilson said his decision won’t be influenced by what other candidates, Democrat or Republican, get into the race.

Wilson also said wasn’t paying much attention to the internal drama happening within Louisiana’s Democratic State Central Committee. Democratic Party Chair Katie Bernhardt prompted a round of criticism from other state central committee members after floating herself as a gubernatorial candidate.

Wilson, who is not a member of the Democratic State Central Committee himself, said the party’s turmoil won’t affect whether he runs for governor.

“That’s not going to define my decision,” he said. “I don’t think our drama is any different from [the Louisiana Republican Party] drama.”

Wilson has never held elected office. In 2008, he was a candidate for Lafayette Parish Council and lost that race in a runoff. The transportation secretary also declined to say when he might leave his job with the state government if he launched a campaign.

For his part, Landry – who has raised more money than any other declared gubernatorial candidate – said he isn’t concerned who else might enter the race.

“This race for me is not about people. It’s about issues. It doesn’t matter who gets in or out of this race,” Landry said in an interview. “I’m not running against anyone. I’m running for something.”

As governor, Landry said he would be focused on three issues: public safety, education and the economy.

“I want this governor’s race to be about issues, not about people,” he said.

Landry said Louisiana has fallen behind when it comes to economic development and quality of life. He pointed to South Carolina as a model for moving Louisiana forward.

“If you look at South Carolina 30 or 40 years ago, that’s how Louisiana was,” Landry said. “The media income in South Carolina has greatly surpassed where Louisiana is, and there’s no reason Louisiana couldn’t be as great as South Carolina.”

While Landry has said he isn’t concerned about other candidates getting into the race, some of his surrogates appear to be very nervous about a Graves campaign.

Louis Gurvich, chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party and a Landry supporter, released a lengthy public statement earlier this month actively discouraging Graves from running. He said a Graves campaign could potentially hurt the Republican movement in the state.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press.