The three top contenders in the race for governor of Louisiana — Republican Jeff Landry, Democrat Shawn Wilson and Independent Hunter Lundy — recently visited the metro areas to spark enthusiasm for what is likely to be a lackluster, low-turnout election. This trio of candidates — along with State Treasurer John Schroeder, business lobbyist Steve Waguespack and state Sen. Sharon Hewitt — have been invited to participate in a statewide televised debate tonight (Sept. 9). With Attorney General Landry refusing to appear, the event will be informative but lack a clear comparison on important issues.
Landry has no real need to face off against other candidates. All the polls, including one taken recently by Ron Faucheux, have him way out in front. One misinterpreted comment at a forum could damage Landry with his base, which he is trying hard to consolidate. Uniting his likely supporters is probably the reason Landry held a small but powerful rally on Aug. 31 in Metairie.
The meeting room at Copeland Tower Living was packed with almost two dozen legislators, sheriffs, Jefferson Parish Council members and other high-ranking, mostly Republican officials such as Republican State Party Chairman Lou Gurvich and Republican National Committeeman Roger Villere. Starting with Laura Cannizzaro Rodrigue and her father, former Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, now head of Landry’s criminal division, speaker after speaker waxed on enthusiastically about Landry, calling him a smart straight-shooter who understands the goals he wants to achieve.
Landry’s main message — at least that day in Metairie — was all about crime in New Orleans. Landry pledges to address the crisis through tough new laws he believes the Louisiana Legislature will adopt in an unprecedented special session immediately after his inauguration in January 2024. Landry believes — and local sheriffs testified — that the city’s crime affects the entire state as well as surrounding parishes. Landry also claims New Orleans’ high crime rate is a disincentive for wealthy families who might otherwise relocate to Louisiana from other states.
Good people sometimes make bad mistakes but should be given a second chance, Landry said. Those individuals who still continue down the wrong path will face severe consequences if Landry becomes governor, he told the crowd. Education is also expected to be a priority. Landry made a connection between juvenile crime and children who cannot read. Juvenile correction facilities should be located close to home, he said. Landry told supporters that he believes there are enough votes to elect him outright in the primary. It’s all about getting voters to the polls.
One of the rally speakers, state Sen. Cameron Henry, told attendees about his recent visit with U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, who is being treated for cancer. Henry said Scalise was anxious to get back to work but that his wife, Jennifer Scalise, frowns at the idea. Henry brought along several poster boards for attendees to write encouraging messages to Scalise. The boards filled quickly with heart-felt sentiments.
Among the New Orleanians in the audience were former City Council member Scott Shea, Anne Zoller Kiefer, Donald Vallee, Independent gubernatorial candidate Frank Scurlock, newly minted Republican Mark Lawes, and Austin Badon, who is a member of Landry’s campaign team.
Not to be overshadowed, other gubernatorial candidates have been campaigning in New Orleans as well. Amid nonstop rain Monday (Sept. 4), the annual Labor Day Picnic sponsored by the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO took place in City Park. The inclement weather didn’t stop labor-endorsed candidates — from gubernatorial hopeful Shawn Wilson to judicial candidate Melanie Talia to state Sen. Patrick Connick — from sharing hot dogs, hamburgers and barbecue chicken with hundreds of union members and their families. Eager to make the rounds, Wilson arrived with an entourage that included his mother, Sandra Wilson, and campaign manager, Brandin Campbell.
Other candidates in the crowd were Hunter Lundy, who is running for governor; incumbent state Rep. Mandie Landry; and her opponent Madison O’Malley as well as Shaun Mena, who is running for the newly formed House District 23; BESE candidate Lauren Jewett; state Senate candidate Mary Anne Mushatt; and Leon Roche, who is opposing Talia for Criminal District Court. Several elected officials who are not running this year — such as Councilmember at-large Helena Moreno, Judge Mark Shea, Civil District Court Clerk Chelsey Napoleon, state Rep. Polly Thomas, St. Bernard Parish President Guy McGinnis, and St. Bernard Sheriff James Pohlman — pressed the flesh anyway. Before a section of the speaker’s tent collapsed due to the driving rain, labor leader Tiger Hammond showed off his anti-Landry T-shirt to the audience.
Wilson, whose speech was cut short because of the storm, reminded the crowd of his significant experience as state transportation secretary and urged everyone to prioritize voting. New Orleanians have two upcoming opportunities to engage with Wilson. Women for Landry is holding a reception Sunday (Sept. 10) at the Stella Jones Gallery, 201 St. Charles Ave., from 4 until 6 p.m. On Sept. 20, attorney and entrepreneur Kea Sherman is coordinating a fundraiser for Wilson at Cure, 4905 Freret St.
New Orleanians who have been victims of crime might take comfort in Landry’s no-nonsense stance against violence, but his desire to ban certain books and impact women’s reproductive health might leave them cold. Wilson is also addressing the need for a stronger response to crime but is less strident than Landry on many other issues.
Turnout will be the key to success for all the candidates on Oct. 14. Early voting begins Sept. 30 and ends Oct. 7. Voters who are not yet registered can do so online until Sept. 23. It’s also not too early to request an absentee ballot.
For those who would like to view tonight’s debate with a crowd, the Urban League of Louisiana is hosting a watch party tonight at the Morial Convention Center.
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 former District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, former City Councilman Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman at-large Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former City Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. She is a member of the Democratic Parish Executive Committee. Columbus can be reached at email@example.com.