The first day of qualifying for Louisiana’s fall statewide elections seemed to be more focused on signage than on signing up.
Incumbent Kyle Ardoin, who had been the last to qualify in last year’s special election for Secretary of State, wasn’t waiting till the last minute this time. He was the first to pay his fees and sign up to run.
And, as has become more usual, the designated area for the candidates to meet the press showcases a banner that prominently features the name of the current Secretary of State.
Perhaps it was seeing Ardoin’s name writ large, but while Attorney General Jeff Landry was signing up to run for re-election, his supporters were busy affixing one of his campaign signs to the front of the lectern. Despite members of the media questioning Ardoin and his staff about the propriety of Landry’s sign, it was not removed until Landry left.
Another form of signage was on the AG’s mind, though, as more than once he mentioned “designing a new seal” for his department as one of the important accomplishments of his first term.
His contingent kindly brought in coffee and muffins for the media, with the containers festooned in “Jeff Landry for Attorney General” stickers.
Coming in on Jeff Landry’s heels, Eddie Rispone became the initial qualifier for the marquee race of the fall ballot – Louisiana Governor. The construction mogul, a Republican, had his own squad of sign-waving disciples, ready to cheer his every utterance.
“Louisiana needs a pro-Trump person, the kind of person that is not beholden to special interests!” Rispone began, eliciting a chorus of yesses from his all-Caucasian contingent.
“If LSU was last in the SEC in academics and athletics, we’d be demanding they find a new system president and provost,” he said. “Yet in Louisiana, we stick with what we always do: we stick with career politicians. We’ve never had a governor with my skillset. I’ve created thousands of jobs and have gone on to fill them through education and training. I recruit the best people. And I believe we can be number one, as long as we don’t accept the status quo.”
Asked about the biggest problem facing the state, Rispone said, “We’re over-taxed. Our taxes have been raised $4-billion in the past four years, and we have a surplus of $300-million. That’s proof we’re overtaxed.”
How does he propose fixing the problem?
“We need to look at all the taxes, and do so all at once. We should have a constitutional convention, and create competitive structural changes. Look at Texas, Tennessee and Florida. None of those states have personal income tax: all have lower sales tax. Yet people are moving there, to those states, rather than moving away.”
He then shifted to a topic that would get his retinue riled up – what Rispone calls Louisiana’s “epidemic of illegal immigration.” When one reporter reminded him that is a federal, not a state-level issue, Rispone got hot and bothered, raising his voice and becoming quite shrill.
“Not a state issue? That’s what you say! We have 70,000 illegal aliens in this state, and they’re committing crimes every week, doing rapes and pornography. I take exception when you make light of that!”
Asked how he expected to beat the other major Republican, when both have similar platforms and are appealing to like-minded voters, Rispone said, “Look at my resume’. I create thousands of jobs and fill them with people I’ve helped educate and train. I recruit the best people. Legislators are excited to work with me. Louisiana has never had a governor with my skills.”
(Mike Foster: 53rd Louisiana Governor, 1996-2004.)
The next gubernatorial candidate to qualify was Ralph Abraham. The congressman from northeast Louisiana was asked how he differs from fellow Republican Rispone.
“Unlike my opponent, I’m proud to say I am serving the people,” Abraham replied, taking issue with Rispone’s oft-repeated castigation of “career politicians.”
“Like my opponent, though, I do believe the state can do better. I don’t, however, look in the rearview mirror for guidance. I look out the windshield and look ahead.”
I asked what he sees through that windshield, if he looks five years into the future, upon completing a term (if elected).
“We will have lowered taxes and incentivized businesses,” Abraham predicted. “We’ve lost 70,000 residents, including one of my daughters, who has moved to Texas, and we want ‘em back. It’s because our taxes are out of control, and when we lower taxes we’ll bring in the businesses. We can make Louisiana a global power with our oil and gas resources, and our agriculture and forestry.”
(Did you notice? Eddie Rispone bewails the influx of 70,000 illegal “aliens”, while Ralph Abraham laments the loss of 70,000 residents through out-migration. Hmmm.)
Expanding on the idea of reducing taxes, Abraham continued, “Look at all our taxes. Our sales tax is high. Our car insurance is high. Our severance tax is highest in the nation. Texas, unlike Louisiana, has a thousand people move in each week. It’s Economics 101, not rocket science or neurosurgery. If you cut taxes, more people buy into the system.”
I pointed out that Texas is reliant on substantial property taxes to fund government, which Louisiana – due to the homestead exemption – doesn’t have, essentially. Abraham disagreed.
“Property taxes in Texas are a little higher than what we have here, but what they do is provide local-level funding, and benefit local government in visible ways. Compare that to what inefficiencies in our state capital do to push our taxes higher.”
Asked about criticisms that he’s been spending time campaigning in Louisiana, rather than doing the job he was elected to do in Washington, DC, he said, “The time spent around this state is vitally important. No one place is less or more important than another, and it’s a challenge to reach all the places. I intend to keep showing up at events, at lunches, at Rotary Clubs.”
He also said he had just spent $2-million on statewide ad buys.
Ralph had a fewer followers than Rispone, but they were toting outsized signs, and they hung around with those bulky billboards, awaiting the arrival of Governor John Bel Edwards and his entourage.
“Four more years! Four more years!” the biggest crowd of the day chanted, as the Governor and First Lady Donna Edwards stepped out of the black SUV, strolled smiling and waving through the swarm of supporters, and into the Secretary of State’s office.
Once he had paid his fees and signed all the requisite paperwork, the Democratic incumbent strode confidently to the lectern, radiating what is sometimes termed “command presence.”
“Here we are,“ he said, “And compared to when we were last here four years ago, we have put the largest budget deficit in the history of the state behind us.”
He was rewarded with a chorus of “amens”, which increased in number and volume as the governor ticked off his list of accomplishments.
“We have now given teachers a much needed and deserved pay raise. Our economy, specifically our state GDP, is growing at the tenth highest rate in the country, while we have one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates. And the question now is, ‘Do you want to go back to the failed policies of the past?’ It’s what my opponents want, whereas there is no doubt that in the last four years we have become much better off.”
Asked about his policy proposals and goals, Gov. Edwards said he would like to maintain the momentum, continuing to invest in education, and in higher education, in particular. He said he’s intent on preserving the progress of criminal justice reforms enacted during the past couple of years, and keep the emphasis on reinvesting the savings into reducing recidivism.
Asked what he hopes to have accomplished five years into Louisiana’s future, the governor said he’s not ready to look to his legacy yet, since there’s still another term to win and much left to accomplish.
“I do hope Louisiana will continue to show how much better government can be when it operates in a bi-partisan manner, rather than continually engaging in the divisiveness we see in D.C.”
Louisiana’s non-partisan blanket primary system, also known as the “jungle primary,” means elections – and governor’s races, in particular – attract a menagerie of colorful characters. That arena did not disappoint on this first day of qualifying.
Patrick “Live Wire” Landry is a Navy veteran and a Republican who last ran for governor in 2003. A resident of New Orleans, his platform includes “taking over the Causeway, and eliminating tolls.”
“Liberalism is a bad thing,” he states. “All liberals are atheists, and we should all be right-minded.”
Landry says the state should do the right thing and hold to Biblical ideals. Schools should be teaching that there are “only two genders: those with the X chromosome and those with the Y chromosome.”
He has no website, no retinue, and no campaign signs like the previous three qualifiers displayed. But he is an artist, and so he brought along his own illustrations as visuals for show-and-tell.
He is confident, however, that his faith in the Lord guarantees his campaign will take off.
The last gubernatorial qualifier of the day was Oscar Omar Dantzler of Hammond. A Democrat, he claims to have 26 years experience in law enforcement, although his campaign materials note that for the past 26 years he’s been a “dedicated bus driver with the Tangipahoa Parish school system.The same campaign pamphlet says he is the “owner and manager of a security company, bail bond company, and lawn care company.”
Dantzler is running on a platform of “equal protection under the law for all people.” He says that means making sure all laws are enforced, and states, “The governor oversees state police, which oversees sheriffs and local police.”
His goals include “pay raises for all law enforcement,” and seeking “grants to improve all emergency situations such as hurricane relief, interstates and roadways.”
It’s only been one day: there are two more days of qualifying to go. So why does my brain keep hearing that comedian whose routine uses the punchline, “Here’s your sign”?