Illinois billionaire Richard “Dick” Uihlein has bought $450,000 worth of advertising that supports Attorney General Jeff Landry in the governor’s race. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)
LAFAYETTE — Ahead of a pivotal statewide election in which the Republican Party of Louisiana hopes to recapture the governor’s mansion, headline speakers at the organization’s annual convention emphasized national talking points over Louisiana-oriented policy.
Speaker after speaker decried “wokeness,” the media and the far-left Democratic Party. Others defended former President Donald Trump, who had just been indicted for the fourth time, most recently for charges related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, which he lost to current President Joe Biden.
“This man is no criminal… Democrats have found a way to criminalize normal behavior,” said John Fleming, a former congressman and chief aide to Trump who is the party-endorsed candidate for state treasurer.
Fleming’s speech was reminiscent of his time as a surrogate to Trump in 2016, using callback references to former U.S. House Speaker Rep. John Boehner’s relationship with former Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, leaning on his experience as the founder of the U.S. House Freedom Caucus and slamming the Pentagon for wanting to appoint atheists as chaplains in the military.
When he did shift to his stump speech for treasurer, Fleming’s financial references were also in line with national conservative talking points.
Fleming came out strong against environmental, social and governance investing, a philosophy that takes into account the broad impacts of financial decisions . For example, some firms have backed away from doing business with gun manufacturers and problem polluters.
He also decried a phenomenon called debanking, the closure of an individual’s or business bank accounts when they pose a financial, legal or reputational risk. Conservatives and Christians have been targeted by banks for their beliefs, Fleming said without providing evidence this is happening, and argued the federal government wants to institute a digital central bank currency in order to keep tabs on the population’s spending and crack down on small businesses.
Fleming also detoured from financial policy to slam gender-affirming care for transgender youth, which he likened to the mutilation of children.
It was not the only reference to social policy on the main stage.
Public Service Commissioner Mike Francis, a former party chair who is running for secretary of state, the only major statewide office the party has not yet issued an endorsement for, used his time at the microphone to come out against same-sex marriage.
“God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” Francis said, arguing that same-sex marriage is the next pro-life issue the party should take on.
Ben Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, an anti-abortion organization, dubbed Louisiana “the most pro-life state in America” and railed against Biden’s national abortion policies.
“We have stood up and stood firm for life while the Biden administration has pushed for abortion on demand and is even using our tax dollars to pay for abortion in the military,” Clapper said.
As the speaker line up got closer to the finale, Attorney General Jeff Landry, the party’s endorsed candidate and presumed frontrunner for governor, there were just as many references to Trump as to Landry.
Trump even made a brief cameo in the form of a pre-recorded two-minute video played by his state campaign chair, Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta.
“We’re going to elect Jeff Landry as governor and then we’re going to evict crooked Joe Biden from the White House,” Trump said in the video, played less than 48 hours after he was booked in Fulton County jail in Georgia.
Landry himself carefully walked the line between state and national politics. Teachers need support, said Landry, whose late mother was a public school teacher. He emphasized that they need to get back to teaching the basics rather than focusing on “wokeness,” which he did not define.
Besides brief overtures to the party’s lawfulness and willingness to hold people accountable, Landry mostly stuck to his tried-and-true platform planks, making mentions of crime, hurricanes and his support of police and the oil and gas industry.
Landry’s main theme, though, emphasized the connection between him and voters in a similar manner to Trump.
“You need to know that when they come after us, when they come after me, I want you to know something,” Landry said. “When they’re coming after me, they’re coming after you.”
“Over the last eight years, we have stood with you, beside you, in front of you, behind you, but more importantly, we have stood up for you,” Landry added.
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