Richard Nelson’s departure from the governor’s race means more than you think
State Rep. Richard Nelson during the Police Jury Association of Louisiana forum at the Shreveport Convention Center, March 10, 2023. (Henrietta Wildsmith for the Louisiana Illuminator)
A day before he announced he was withdrawing from the Louisiana governor’s race, Richard Nelson shared a quick account of his day on the campaign trail via social media. He was the featured speaker last Tuesday at the Kinder Rotary Club, which Nelson noted holds its meetings at the Reed-Riley Smith & Son’s Funeral Home.
“I killed it,” Nelson said, leaving it to everyone to figure out whether his gallows humor applied to the meeting location or the fate of his campaign hours later.
Jokes aside, Nelson’s exit is notable even if his chances at becoming the next governor never were. His departure removes one of the more moderate voices from the campaign, and it indicates Louisiana isn’t ready to seriously consider a member of the millennial generation as its next leader. Not yet, anyway.
Nelson, a 37-year-old Republican state lawmaker from Mandeville, attained his greatest notoriety with his very un-Republican-like support for the legalization and taxing of recreational marijuana. Although he didn’t stress the issue in his campaign, Nelson never backed away from it to enhance his stature as a candidate for governor.
Another stance that separated Nelson from other GOP members in the field was his take on exceptions to Louisiana’s strict abortion ban. He repeatedly said he would advocate for legalizing pregnancy termination in instances of rape and incest, a position not so popular among more conservative Republicans.
And although the idea has not gained traction, Nelson has been consistent in his call for Louisiana to abandon its state income tax — another sore spot for GOP types not willing to shift the revenue burden over to businesses. Just like his support for legal weed, Nelson grounded his income tax philosophy with reasonable arguments; it’s far from just an attention-grabbing political gimmick.
I’ll readily admit to being a nerd when it comes to generational tendencies, but I don’t think you can ignore Nelson’s age as a factor in his campaign’s struggle. While a fair share of millennials have carved out a place in the Louisiana Legislature, we’ve not seen one advance to a statewide office yet. In addition to Nelson, the only other millennial contenders on the statewide ballot include attorney general candidate John Stefanski, 39, and treasurer contender Dustin Granger, who at 42 is on the millennial ceiling.
Interestingly (at least to me), Louisiana is likely to elect its third Generation X governor in a row, even though the age group is significantly outnumbered by baby boomers, millennials and Gen Z as separate groups. As a Gen X’er myself, it’s somewhat reassuring that our voices are so prominent. But we have to acknowledge that we can’t speak for the majority, and those of us in positions of power should lead accordingly.
At the risk of sounding ageist, this is where baby boomers continue to fall woefully short, especially at the national level. Remember back when your parents answered your questions with “because I told you so,” how you were left with a feeling equal parts despair and rage? Doesn’t today’s political leadership leave you with that same feeling, regardless of whether you land left, right or center?
My hope is that moderate-minded millennials like Nelson continue to remain prominent on the political scene. They more frequently show a willingness to adapt and consider other opinions than their senior counterparts, even more so than my laidback Gen X brothers and sisters.
We’re not going to like everything millennials suggest, and our inner old folks will shout at Gen Z even louder to get off our proverbial lawns. But the way I look at it is, you better get used to them being in charge — sooner rather than later.
In the meantime, we’re counting on this up-and-coming generation to keep the next Gen X governor in line.
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