Jeff Landry refuses to participate in first debate of the Louisiana governor’s race

By: - August 31, 2023 12:08 pm
Jeff Landry standing at podium speaking to reporters

Attorney General Jeff Landry has hired a former political consultant for Donald Trump to work on his campaign, despite the consultant facing allegations of sexual misconduct. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)

Attorney General Jeff Landry, who has refused to attend several election events with other candidates this summer, formally announced Thursday he won’t participate in the first debate of the governor’s 2023 campaign next week.

Landry, the presumptive frontrunner for Louisiana’s top office, said he is concerned that one of the sponsors of the debate won’t treat Republican candidates fairly, though he has also spent the past three months avoiding most gubernatorial forums in which he would have to appear on stage with the other candidates.

The debate next Thursday is co-hosted by WWL-TV, The Times-Picayune, the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, the Urban League of Louisiana and other television stations around the state. Landry is objecting to the participation of the Urban League, a nonpartisan Civil Rights organization with a predominantly Black membership. 

“The participation of the Urban League raises questions about impartiality,” wrote Kate Kelly, spokesperson for Landry, adding that the organization had been critical of former President Donald Trump and gun rights. 

Debate organizers said they have been talking to the major gubernatorial campaigns — including Landry’s — for months about participating in the event. The four other Republican candidates had already agreed to attend if invited.

The Urban League of Louisiana issued the following statement from its president, Judy Reese Morse:

“The Urban League of Louisiana is proud to be a nonpartisan organization who unapologetically advocates on behalf of Black Louisianans and other underserved communities. Likewise, we stand by our policy prescriptions, both past and present, which are rooted in data and that champion a more equitable Louisiana. As it relates to our forthcoming debate, hosted in conjunction with WWL and media partners throughout the state, our singular focus is to ensure that candidates seeking the office of Governor have the ability to share their platform and reasons they believe voters should have confidence in their ability to lead our great state. We have unwavering faith in the journalistic integrity of our media partners and look forward to a fair and robust debate on Thursday.”


The Republican Party of Louisiana, which has endorsed Landry, announced Thursday that it would like the other Republicans to boycott the event, but candidates were unwilling to do so.

“I want to talk to as many people as possible,” said former business lobbyist Stephen Waguespack, who is also running for governor as a Republican and will attend the debate next week.

“I’m going to choose to participate and speak to all the voters,” said state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, another GOP candidate, in an interview Thursday.

“Running away from answering questions most pressing to voters is not the kind of leadership we need in Baton Rouge,” Treasurer and GOP opponent John Schroder posted on X.  “As your Governor, I am willing to address the challenges that we are facing in Louisiana to include corruption and cronyism. My opponent in this race would prefer to hide rather to engage with me on these very important issues.”

Landry’s campaign asked for two extensions to the deadline to accept the debate invitation, which was issued weeks ago. The attorney general requested organizers bring in a more conservative moderator and increase the number of candidates allowed to participate, according to one of the debate organizers who was not authorized to talk about the event publicly.

Shawn Wilson, the only Democrat and Black candidate in the race, said Landry’s comments about the Urban League are “an example of extremism that we need less of.”

Hunter Lundy, a political independent running for governor, told a crowd of over a hundred people attending a Louisiana Travel Association conference Thursday that Landry’s stance on the Urban League’s participation was “foolishness.”

“How much more foolishness do we have to have in Louisiana to be that way?” he asked.

Another Republican candidate, state Rep. Richard Nelson, is also upset with debate organizers, albeit for a different reason. He hasn’t been invited to participate because he performed worse than other candidates in a recent poll. His campaign has been putting pressure on the debate sponsors to include him in the televised event. 

For the most part, Landry has steered clear of gubernatorial forums where he has to appear on stage with other candidates or answer questions from his opponents. But he has committed to participating in at least one debate sponsored by six Nextstar television stations Sept. 15 in Lafayette

Landry’s campaign has not said whether he will participate in other scheduled televised debates, including ones hosted by LSU student government (Sept. 13), Gray television stations (Sept. 26) and Louisiana Public Broadcasting (Sept. 28).


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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.