State Rep. Richard Nelson during the Police Jury Association of Louisiana forum at the Shreveport Convention Center, March 10, 2023. (Photo by Henrietta Wildsmith)
SHREVEPORT – Now that the Louisiana gubernatorial candidates’ field is finally settling and they have started to do more public appearances, it’s time to look at what the folks running for the state’s top office are actually saying.
While it’s still early in the race, the candidates are trying to stake out their political territory with different, though sometimes overlapping, talking points. Here’s what each candidate was saying in their remarks to interest groups – everyone from local government officials to conservative think tanks – this week.
State Sen. Sharon Hewitt: Improving education
Hewitt, R-Slidell, said she would focus on improving K-12 education if elected. The legislator pointed to bills she has sponsored in recent years as evidence of her commitment to improving schools.
Hewitt pushed legislation last year that would have allowed students to use computer science and coding classes as a substitute for the foreign language requirements for the state’s TOPS college scholarship. She also sponsored a bill aimed at improving Louisiana’s dismal literacy rate. Hewitt has highlighted both of these efforts on the campaign trail.
“Many of the things we’re talking about are things I’m already working on,” Hewitt said Friday at a gubernatorial forum the Police Jury Association of Louisiana hosted in Shreveport.
The senator ties her interest in education – particularly science, math and technology classes – to her personal background. She is an engineer who started her career working on an offshore oil rig. She was also active in the parent-teacher organizations at her children’s local public schools, and her mother was a school teacher.
Attorney General Jeff Landry: Reducing crime
The Republican attorney general has made fewer appearances at gubernatorial forums than other candidates. In lieu of appearing in person, Landry has often sent a video of himself to play at these events. It emphasizes his commitment to reducing crime.
In the pre-recorded video, Landry said three of the most dangerous cities in the United States – New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport – are located in Louisiana. The high crime rates make it more difficult to attract new residents and investment to the state, he said.
“Sometimes good people make bad decisions, and they deserve a second chance,” Landry said in the video. “But when bad people do bad things, they deserve to go away for a long time.”
Landry has repeatedly called for more “transparency” in criminal sentencing – without explaining what he means by that phrase. He did not explain how he would otherwise reduce the crime rate as governor.
As attorney general, Landry said he promoted a “drug take-back” program that allowed people to safely dispose of their leftover prescription medication at drop-off sites. The measure is supposed to help stem the tide of the opioid epidemic.
In Louisiana, the governor is not directly responsible for most public safety measures. Mayors, sheriffs and district attorneys take the lead on most law enforcement management, but the governor can influence legislation that affects policing and criminal sentencing.
Attorney Hunter Lundy: Fighting poverty
Lundy, a political independent and trial lawyer from Lake Charles, said his top priority if elected governor would be to fight poverty.
“Until we change that issue, we’re going to be last on the totem pole,” Lundy said at the Police Jury Association of Louisiana meeting Friday.
Lundy did not offer specifics about what he would do to fight poverty, though he emphasized he would listen to Louisiana residents closely. He also described himself as a fighter, consensus builder and person with a “Biblical worldview.”
If elected, Lundy said he would have a full-time representative from the governor’s staff stationed in Washington, D.C., to look for federal funding.
State Rep. Richard Nelson: Overhauling Louisiana’s tax system
Nelson, R-Mandeville, has been pushing a proposal to eliminate the state’s income tax and replace its revenue primarily with higher property taxes, especially for businesses.
For example, Nelson would completely get rid of the Industrial Tax Exemption Program, which allows for sweeping local property tax breaks for corporations and industrial plants. The extra revenue from eliminating this tax break would replace the funding from the income tax he wants to eradicate.
Nelson would also lower the homestead exemption on property taxes to make up for lost income tax revenue, he said. Certain types of land – including marsh and timber properties – would also be taxed at a higher rate, under his proposal. A number of nonprofit organizations – such as hospital systems – would also lose some of their property tax exemption under the Nelson proposal.
The legislator would also like to transfer more of the state’s tax and spending authority to local government. He believes too many government functions are controlled and financed at the state level.
“At the end of the day, the money should be raised locally and spent locally,” Nelson said last week at a gubernatorial forum in Baton Rouge for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.
Treasurer John Schroder: Promoting fiscal responsibility
If elected, the Republican state treasurer has said he would be a good steward of Louisiana’s finances.
“That building is all about money,” said Schroder, referring to the Louisiana Capitol. “Government doesn’t spend money like it’s theirs. They don’t act like you and I do every day.”
Specifically, Schroder said there are incentives for state agencies to spend all the funding allocated to them because there are no benefits given to them for saving money.
“There’s cronyism all over. I’ve seen it,” said Schroder, who served as a state legislator from Covington before becoming treasurer six years ago. “There’s a culture change that we need.”
On Friday, when appearing in Shreveport before a crowd of about 100 local government officials, Schroder said the state needs to get disaster relief resources to local governments faster. Communities recovering from hurricanes and floods shouldn’t have to wait months – or sometimes years – for the money they need to rebuild, he said.
Business lobbyist Stephen Waguespack: Stemming out migration from Louisiana
Waugespack announced Thursday afternoon he would enter the governor’s race, and hasn’t done any large public appearances as a candidate yet.
But the Republican spoke to the Jefferson Parish Chamber of Commerce Tuesday in his capacity as head of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the state’s largest corporate lobby group. In those remarks, he laid out some of his personal priorities for the state.
Waguespack said Louisiana needs to focus on retaining its population and attracting more people to the state. It will do so by addressing its crime and education shortcomings, he said.
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“We just need people and safety,” Waguespack said Tuesday in Kenner. “If we can’t do that, what can we do?”
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Waguespack said Louisiana is not benefiting from a “Southern boom” that other surrounding states are having. Louisiana should focus on trying to lure retirees who want to go to low-tax states as well as educated young people who are looking to build new businesses, he said.
Former Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson: Working in a bipartisan manner
Wilson, the only major Democrat in the race, launched his gubernatorial campaign Monday.
On Friday morning in Shreveport, he emphasized his experience working in state government for Democratic Govs. John Bel Edwards and Kathleen Blanco. Just last week, he retired as the secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development for the Edwards administration.
“I’m proud to be the bridge builder. I’m proud to be the bridge builder to overcome issues in your community,” Wilson told the Police Jury Association.
Wilson said he would collaborate with local governments on projects, and he stressed his history of doing so as Louisiana’s transportation secretary.
“I want to literally build bridges, but I also want to figuratively build bridges as well,” Wilson said, who said he would govern in a bipartisan manner.
Wilson said Louisiana should focus on reducing crime and investing in education, though he didn’t offer specific plans to do so Friday morning.
“I know that a Governor Wilson won’t have all the answers, but I know a Governor Wilson will build a relationship and sit and talk with you,” he said.
“There’s no part of Louisiana I’ve never been to – not one.”
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