More than a dozen contenders for local and statewide office addressed a packed house Wednesday (Aug. 16) at the Home Defense Foundation’s candidate forum. The gun-rights lobbying group attracted an array of Republican candidates, including gubernatorial candidates state Treasurer John Schroder, state Sen. Sharon Hewitt and state Rep. Richard Nelson; secretary of state candidate and grocer Brandon Trosclair; former U.S. Rep. John Fleming and state Rep. Scott McKnight, who are running for state treasurer; attorney general candidates state Rep. John Stefanski and former prosecutor Marty Maley; retired state Sen. Elbert Guillory, who is seeking the office of lieutenant governor; and legislative candidate Charles Marsala, who is running to represent House District 94.
“I want to bring integrity back to state government. I recently went to a national conference where I got tired of hearing jokes about corruption in Louisiana. There is no good reason Louisiana should be known for corruption,” said John Schroder, who is in a crowded field of Republicans vying to lead the state. An Army veteran and former narcotics sheriff’s detective, Schroder grew up washing cars at his father’s dealership, Star Chrysler, on Canal Street. He served in the Louisiana House of Representatives for 10 years prior to being elected state treasurer in 2017. Schroder said he wants to restore the people’s faith in government through greater transparency. He believes that many of the state’s agencies, including the Department of Transportation and the Office of Motor Vehicles, need a major overhaul.
Gubernatorial candidate Sharon Hewitt, who chairs the Senate’s Republican delegation, is a tough-on-crime former petroleum engineer who favors reducing firearm restrictions and cutting taxes to grow the economy. An avid hunter and fisher who lives in Slidell, Hewitt told the crowd that during her first legislative session as governor she would pass “constitutional carry,” which would allow a firearm to be carried, openly or concealed, without a permit. “Louisiana’s taxes are holding the state back,” Hewitt told the crowd. “I want to create a booming economy and an affordable cost of living. We need to give families a reason to stay rather than a reason to leave.”
State Rep. Richard Nelson, a 37 year-old Mandeville resident, has nicknamed himself the “unabashed underdog” in the governor’s race. He said he will harness his youthful enthusiasm and bring fresh ideas to usher in long-term change to Louisiana. Nelson has seen many young adults leave Louisiana after college and not return. “I want to fix some of Louisiana’s problems, get rid of the state’s income tax and encourage growth,” he said. He believes many of Louisiana’s problems lie within the state’s policies and wants to change them.
Brandon Trosclair, a businessman from Ascension Parish, is one of eight candidates running for secretary of state. He said he wants to restore trust in Louisiana’s elections. The owner of a 15-store grocery chain, he successfully sued the Biden administration so that his employees could work during the pandemic without being vaccinated against Covid 19. “I want fair and honest elections. There are 700,000 inactive, ineligible voters in Louisiana. I will clean up our rolls and keep them clean,” Trosclair said. He wants to get rid of the state’s “outdated voting technology” and utilize hand-marked ballots printed on secure paper. In 2019, Trosclair ran unsuccessfully against Kathy Edmonston for Louisiana House District 98.
Dr. John Fleming, a physician, military veteran and businessman, is one of three candidates for state treasurer. He worked in the Trump White House as deputy chief of staff after leaving Congress in 2017. “My office was next door to Mark Meadows and just down the hall from the president,” Fleming said. “It was an amazing experience, and we did a lot of historic things.” He is running for treasurer to “turn Louisiana around” so that it can catch up with the rest of the South. He said he plans to use his influence as state treasurer to recommend changes to Louisiana’s tax system.
The other Republican in the treasurer’s race, Scott McKnight is a legislator, insurance executive and former East Baton Rouge volunteer sheriff’s deputy. He believes his background in financial services would serve the state’s citizens well as treasurer. He pledged to continue the fight for the highest return on Louisiana’s investments. “It’s the state treasurer’s job to take a stand,” McKnight said. He identified cyber security protection and digital currency as two issues he must address. McKnight was a member of the detective division of the Louisiana State Police and “loves going back.”
A Crowley-born lawyer, state Rep. John Stefanski pledged to defend Louisiana’s families if elected as attorney general. He is known for increasing penalties for fentanyl possession and for playing a major role in the GOP House redistricting. “I will beef up the criminal division of the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office and support law enforcement throughout the state,” Stefanski said. He said the threat of violent crime has caused fear among Louisiana’s citizens. “People feel paralyzed. It has to end,” he concluded.
A former assistant district attorney for the 18th judicial district, attorney general candidate Marty Maley also says that crime is a major issue for the state. “It’s on everyone’s minds. Until we get it under control, we can’t do the other things we need to do,” he explained. Maley, who first ran for attorney general in 2015, said he doesn’t believe in governmental overreach and acknowledged his ability to work cooperatively with other people regardless of their political persuasion. He has many years of experience working with the state’s sheriffs and district attorneys.
Former State Sen. Elbert Guillory, 79, the elder statesman of Louisiana’s Republican Party, was a crowd favorite at the forum. The Opelousas native said the lieutenant governor’s office needs “bold new leadership” and that he is the “seasoned” professional with the requisite “wisdom and experience” to get the job done. Guillory served in the state House of Representatives from 2006 to 2009 and in the Senate from 2009 to 2016. “I will roll up my sleeves and address the state’s serious problems. I’m not going to sit on the sidelines,” Guillory said.
President of the American-Italian Federation of the Southeast Louisiana Federation, Charles Marsala is running against incumbent state Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, a fellow Republican, in House District 94. An entrepreneur who resides in a West End boat house, Marsala graduated from Jesuit High School. He moved to the West Coast and was elected councilman and then mayor of Atherton, California. “New Orleans has massive problems like police and not funding their pensions. The pension issue needs to be resolved at the state level. I will also recommend that property tax increases be capped 1% annually, which is the system in California. Citizens are getting hit hard with increases and are losing their homes because they cannot afford property taxes,” Marsala said.
Early voting begins Sept. 30 and ends Oct. 7. Election Day is Oct. 14. See the state’s Voter Portal for more information, including the full slate of candidates.
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.