Stephen Waguespack announces run for Louisiana governor
Prominent business lobbyist Stephen Waguespack announced Thursday, March 8, 2023, he will run for Louisiana governor. (LABI photo)
The head of state’s top business organization formally informed its board members Thursday he would be stepping down to run for governor. Stephen Waguespack, who’s led the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry for 10 years, enters a crowded field of Republicans already committed to the race.
Multiple sources told the Illuminator earlier this week Waguespack would join the competition. Official qualifying takes place in Aug. 8-10, with the primary set for Oct. 14 and a runoff scheduled for Nov. 18.
“The stakes are high, time is of the essence and I cannot sit on the sidelines when the future of our state is at stake,” Waguespack said in the email, according to the USA Today Network.
Waguespack, 49, was executive counsel and chief of staff during Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration before leaving to lead LABI. As its president, he has been a fixture at the Capitol, lobbying for business-friendly legislation and fighting efforts his group’s membership deemed detrimental. For example, LABI has generally opposed additional tax burden for business while advocating for corporate incentives from the state.
Waguespack’s group has also aligned with the legislature’s Republican majority in opposition to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ repeated attempts to increase the state’s minimum wage. The last time entry-level pay was increased in Louisiana was 2008 to its current level of $7.25 an hour.
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The entry of Waguespack offers an alternative to GOP voters and donors who are reluctant to back Attorney General Jeff Landry because of his far-right leaning on social issues. Landry most recently created a hotline for the public to report what he deems inappropriate library content and the staff responsible for clearing it.
But Landry has been raising money for his gubernatorial run for almost six months and has the endorsement of the Louisiana Republican Party. His campaign announced this week it secured the endorsement — along with the accompanying financial support — from big-dollar GOP backers Boysie Bollinger and Joe Canizaro.
“Anybody but Landry” Republican donors who’ve yet to commit their resources are said to be directing their contributions to a political action committee, according to LA Politics Weekly’s Jeremy Alford. The PAC would then fuel Waguespack’s campaign, allowing donors to shield their contributions and avoid possible retribution from Landry, should he win the election.
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Waguespack’s LABI stances offer some insight into his platform, yet it could be his ties to Jindal that provide fodder for his opponents. The former governor left the state in a fiscal mess that put Republican lawmakers in the uncomfortable position of having to raise taxes. Jindal relied on one-time state revenue to fund recurring costs for state government, leading to drastic cuts in higher education and health care.
Jindal also refused to expand Medicaid, turning down federal money that his successor Edwards used to expand health care coverage to more than 400,000 people.
Under Waguespack’s leadership, LABI has called for broad Medicaid “reforms” that bring spending under control while expanding access and services. The association has also called for the elimination of state budget dedications so state colleges and public hospitals and clinics aren’t forced to absorb cuts alone.
Excluding Landry and state Treasurer John Schroder, Waguespack joins a slate of candidates largely unfamiliar to voters statewide. Slidell state Sen. Sharon Hewitt and state Rep. Richard Nelson of Mandeville round out the Republicans in the race, and former state Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson is the most prominent Democrat. Lake Charles attorney Hunter Lundy is running as an independent with a strong conservative bent.
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Wilson, who formally joined the field Monday, has yet to make a public appearance, and so far the other announced candidates have largely spoken in generalities when it comes to outlining their platforms. Nelson’s push for eliminating the state income tax stands out as the lone exception.
The Pelican Institute hosted a gubernatorial forum Thursday with Hewitt, Lundy, Nelson and Schroder. Landry was billed as a participant, but he only submitted a video that was played at the event. The attorney general also addressed the Louisiana School Boards Association via video Thursday morning, while Hewitt, Lundy and Nelson appeared in person in Baton Rouge.
The Police Jury Association of Louisiana is hosting a governor’s forum Friday in Shreveport, where Wilson is expected take part.
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