In A Flash

Louisiana Democratic chair Katie Bernhardt says she’s ‘committed to uniting behind one candidate’ for governor

By: - January 25, 2023 4:13 pm
Katie Bernhardt illustration

Louisiana Illuminator illustration

WASHINGTON – Louisiana Democratic Party chair Katie Bernhardt didn’t rule out running for governor herself in an interview Wednesday, but also said she was “committed to uniting behind one [Democratic] candidate.” She specifically mentioned she would be willing to get behind Louisiana Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson, should he jump into the governor’s race.

Speaking in the lobby of the Washington Hilton, where the politically-oriented Washington Mardi Gras will be held for the next few days, Bernhardt said she had spoken to both Gov. John Bel Edwards and Wilson recently. She said if the Democrats decided to get behind Wilson, a Democrat and member of Edwards’ cabinet since 2016, then she would also support his campaign.

At the same time, Bernhardt didn’t rule out running for governor herself when asked about it directly. Earlier this week, a political television ad focused on her starting airing statewide.

New Orleans real estate developer Anthony Marullo III paid for the political ad and an expensive poll earlier this month that was meant to discern whether Bernhardt could find support as a gubernatorial candidate, according to LaPolitics Weekly.

Bernhardt said Wednesday the motivation behind the television ad was to draw attention to Democrats in general – and not to her own potential campaign.

“Rarely do we have an opportunity to have media backing,” Bernhardt said. “This is an opportunity to get people talking as far as candidates are concerned.”

No potential statewide candidates, besides Bernhardt, were featured in the video, and the advertisement has done nothing to bring Democratic party officials together.

If anything, the advertisement and Bernhardt’s potential governor’s campaign appear to have pit party leaders against each other. Several Democratic Party officials have taken to social media over the last few days to complain about Bernhardt and expose the party’s internal feuds.

State Rep. C. Travis Johnson, D-Vidalia, also announced Wednesday he would be stepping down as first vice chairman of the Democratic Party because he had lost faith in Bernhardt.

“If the Chair resigns or runs for Governor, it is possible that I would become Chair of the State Party, and I am not interested in that position whatsoever,” Johnson said in a written statement. “Because of dysfunction, lack of trust, consistent turmoil, and the possibility of me becoming Chair, I resign effective immediately.”

In response to Johnson, Bernhardt said she “was sorry he had come to that conclusion,” but that Johnson’s resignation might also be “an opportunity for growth and to bring people together.” Bernhardt also said she and Johnson didn’t see eye to eye on several matters, but declined to explain where they had differences.

Johnson, however, is not the first Democratic elected official to complain about Bernhardt publicly. State Rep. Mandie Landry, of New Orleans, left the Democratic Party late last year, in part over frustrations with Bernhardt’s leadership. Landry currently has no party affiliation.

Public Service Commissioner Davante Lewis, one of the top elected Democrats in the state, said Bernhardt funneled money to his opponent, Lambert Boissiere III, after the Democratic Party received donations from utility companies that were also backing Boissiere’s campaign.

Establishment Democrats – particularly those involved with Edwards re-election campaign in 2019 – also appear to favor Wilson as a candidate, though he hasn’t announced that he will be getting in the race yet. Other Democrats who could get into the race include East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore, who said last week that he was still considering running for governor.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator and producer of the Louisiana Illuminator podcast. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press. Julie covered state government and politics for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune for six years. She’s also covered government and politics in Missouri, Virginia and Washington D.C. Julie is a proud D.C. native and Washington Capitals hockey fan. She and her partner, Jed, live in Baton Rouge. She has two stepchildren, Quinn and Steven.

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