State Rep.: Political spat evolved out of support for Senator’s opposition

By Kaylee Poche, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE — Louisiana is famous for its political spats, and the latest between two Republicans could be a factor in the upcoming special election for secretary of state.

U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La, has criticized State Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, for supporting efforts in the state Legislature to compromise over a sales-tax extension to avoid deep budget cuts.

Asked about Kennedy’s comments, Stokes, who is running to replace former Secretary of State Tom Schedler, said Kennedy told her he disliked her because she sent out two positive tweets about one of his opponents when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2016.

“I did almost-next-to-nothing to Kennedy, and he’s willing to disparage me all over the state,” Stokes said in an interview. “I just hope people get to a point where they can see through shallow political games like that.”

Kennedy’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment over several days.

Kennedy, a former state treasurer who is considered a possible candidate for governor next year, said on a conservative radio talk show in March that Stokes should switch parties, to Democrat from Republican.

“Well, I mean, Julie really ought to,” Kennedy said in March on the Moon Griffon Show, which is based in Lafayette. “She’s clearly no longer really a Republican.”

Kennedy’s comments followed the collapse of the first of three special sessions that the Legislature held this year before reaching a deal on June 24 to extend 0.45 of a cent of sales tax for seven years.

On that show in March, Kennedy praised Republicans in the Louisiana House for blocking a proposal to extend one-fourth of a cent of sales tax despite support for that plan from Democrats and “Republicans who are really Democrats, like Julie Stokes.”

Stokes is a certified public accountant with a strong conservative voting record on other issues. She studied the state’s financing problems as chairwoman of the Sales Tax Streamlining and Modernization Commission and also supported efforts to compromise over the sales tax in the second and third special sessions this year.

A majority of Republicans in the House and the Senate eventually came around to her view. The House, which is dominated by Republicans, voted 74-24 to renew the 0.45 percent of sales tax.

Stokes was one of 30 House Republicans to vote for the sales tax extension, while 24 House Republicans voted against it. In the Senate, 19 Republicans voted for the compromise, and five Republicans voted against it.

Stokes also ran in 2017 to succeed Kennedy as the state’s treasurer. She dropped out of the race after being diagnosed with breast cancer and is now cancer-free.

Stokes is currently running statewide for the secretary of state position, which was vacated when Schedler resigned in early May after one of his employees brought a sexual harassment lawsuit against him.

The primary is scheduled for Nov. 6. Two other Republicans–state Rep. Rick Edmonds of Baton Rouge, and former state Sen. A.G. Crowe of Pearl River–have entered the race so far.

As one of Louisiana’s most powerful Republicans, Kennedy could influence that race by supporting or opposing individual candidates.

Stokes said Kennedy told her in person in March that his disfavor with her stems from tweets she sent that he considered to be “disparaging” of him.

Stokes has only tweeted once mentioning Kennedy directly, congratulating him on being sworn into the U.S. Senate. She did, however, make two positive tweets back in 2016 about one of Kennedy’s Republican opponents, former U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, when Kennedy was running for U.S. senator.

“With Sen. Kennedy, I was able to corner him one day at a state central committee meeting and ask him what his problem was,” Stokes said. “He basically dislikes me because of two tweets that I sent about Charles Boustany, saying that I liked the way he ran his campaign.”

The first tweet, on Oct. 16, 2016, linked to an editorial that ran in Nola.com with the headline “Charles Boustany’s political experience would benefit Louisiana in the Senate.”

On Nov. 6, 2016, Stokes tweeted a link to an article about the Senate race by The Advocate. Stokes pulled a quote from the article–“Boustany stayed out of the fights.”–that referred to a debate among all the candidates.  “Above the fray,” she tweeted.

“I didn’t even say, ‘And I endorse Charles Boustany,’ or anything like that,” Stokes said.

Stokes said that she even offered to throw a fundraiser for Kennedy after he won the Senate primary, but he did not return her phone calls.

“I have nothing against the senator,” she said. “I have no hard feelings and am just concentrating on my own race, my health and the business of our state.”