Danae Columbus: Skrmetta and Boustany, two new contenders for governor’s race?

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Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

District 1 Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta and former District 3 Congressman Charles Boustany – both Republicans – are said to be considering the 2019 race for governor against Governor John Bel Edwards. Two other Republican candidates have already announced – Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone and District 5 Congressman Ralph Abraham, a physician and former veterinarian.

A fiscally conservative lawyer and mediator who attended Brother Martin High School, Skrmetta graduated from LSU and received law degrees from SUNO and Tulane. Skrmetta believes that businesses have a right to earn a fair profit on investments. He is a favorite of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) and has been previously endorsed by the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association. An at-large delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention, Skrmetta co-chaired President Trump’s campaign in Louisiana and was expected to be named to a federal judgeship or other high ranking position. He also served as an ad hoc judge in Jefferson Parish’s First Parish Court and as a member of the GNO Expressway Commission. If Skrmetta enters the race, it is likely that Trump would campaign for him.

Skrmetta was first elected to the PSC in 2008 when he defeated incumbent consumer advocate John Schwegmann by a wide margin. After an email controversy involving Skrmetta suggesting financial support would be appropriate when he cast a vote in favor of net metering, affordable energy advocate Forrest Wright mounted a strong challenge that Skrmetta barely overcame. Wright led in the 2014 primary but Skrmetta ultimately won the election by less than 4,000 votes.

The PSC has proved to be a successful launching pad for four previous governors – Huey P. Long, Jimmie Davis, John McKeithen, and Kathleen Blanco. Louis Lambert was the only PSC member who ran for governor unsuccessfully. Serving on the PSC has also always provided willing commissioners with a significant opportunity to collect money from businesses it regulates. According to Ballotpedia, during his PSC tenure Skrmetta has raised close to $1 million overall from companies like AT&T which has donated $25,000 and from Entergy executives Rod West, Marcus Brown and Leo Denault. Other major donors include almost every phone, water, utility and construction company doing business in the industry as well as lobbyists and counselors like Kean Miller, Southern Strategy, Janet Boles and Phelps Dunbar. Skrmetta reported $85,000 at the end of the 2017 annual reporting period with a new update due in January. Even if Skrmetta has not stockpiled checks, raising funds would be relatively easy for him through his PSC, LABI and Trump-related contacts. One consultant has already declared that Skrmetta will emerge as the choice of Louisiana’s Republican Party leadership.

A New Orleans-born surgeon and member of Acadia’s large Lebanese community, Boustany also has significant fundraising prowess having raised almost $15 million during his ten years in Congress representing Lafayette and southwest Louisiana, according to Follow the Money. A former member of the Ways and Means Committee, Boustany raised $434,114 from the health care industry, $410,037 from oil and gas businesses and $252,364 from insurance-related companies, according to Open Secrets. His largest donors include Charter Brokerage LLC, Cheniere Energy, Acadian Companies and Edison Chouest.

Boustany first ran for Congress in 2004 when incumbent Chris John relinquished his seat to run for the U.S. Senate. Boustany defeated state senator Willie Mount with the help of Vice President Dick Cheney who campaigned for him. He easily won re-election in 2006, 2008, and was unopposed in 2010. In 2012 he defeated then Congressman Jeff Landry, now Louisiana’s Attorney General, who also considered entering the governor’s contest earlier this year. Boustany raised $4.5 million in the race against Landry which took place after redistricting. His campaign was aided by an endorsement from Ag Commissioner Mike Strain who characterized Boustany as helpful to farmers. Boustany was sponsor of the 2013 U.S. farm bill. A vocal opponent of Obamacare, Boustany presented the Republican response to President Obama’s joint address to Congress in 2009. He received an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association. A graduate of the University of Louisiana Lafayette and LSU Medical School, Boustany is a strong supporter of coastal restoration having secured funding in 2012 for the first comprehensive protection and coastal restoration study for Southwest Louisiana.

Boustany made a tough decision to leave Congress to run for the U.S. Senate in 2016 in a race eventually won by John Kennedy. In an unusually large field, Boustany polled third and missed making the runoff by only 40,000 votes statewide — just 10 votes in each of Louisiana’s 400 precincts. Like Skrmetta, Boustany is currently taking the temperature of key constituents, donors and consultants. Both are expected to announce their decisions in early January.


On December 18th, students from the Chalmette High School Voices Chorale will perform a free concert of Christmas carols and classic songs in period costume beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the ballroom of the Bourbon Orleans Hotel, 717 Orleans Avenue. At 7:30 p.m., the Chorale will move to Antoine’s Restaurant where they will sing for those dining near the Christmas tree.

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman-elect Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

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