LaRose: GOP contenders’ words, deeds will haunt them as candidates for governor

Attorney General Jeff Landry was effusive Friday after an Orleans Parish judge refused to maintain a stay against enforcing Louisiana’s abortion ban. If you didn’t hear his remarks, don’t worry. Landry’s opponents in next year’s governor’s race are likely to use them against him repeatedly in campaign ads.

“If you don’t like the laws of the states, you can move to one under which [laws] you like,” Landry told reporters at the New Orleans courthouse. “That’s the greatness of America.”

Louisiana, love it or leave it – that’s the gist of the attorney general’s remarks. 

For a state that perennially struggles to attract and retain investment, it couldn’t be a more damaging message. For a state that routinely struggles to prioritize education and health care, it all but packs the bags of residents who are considering their options.

Landry’s comments might just be considered a verbal fumble if not for his history of questionable stances and decisions while holding public office.

As a congressman in 2012, Landry claimed without evidence the Obama administration was granting special waivers to Muslims when they went through Transportation Security Administration security checkpoints at airports. That same year he also spoke out against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette offering a minor in LGBTQ studies, incorrectly claiming taxpayer dollars were used to support the curriculum.

Landry continued to play to the far right fringe upon becoming Louisiana’s attorney general to further cement his conservative Republican bonafides. This included continued opposition to LGTBQ causes, even in the face of opposition from his openly gay brother.

He was decidedly more supportive of another brother, Ben, when an investigation from The Advocate and The Times-Picayune found the Landrys had partnered with an eventual felon to import workers in violation of immigration laws

Landry continued his war with the newspapers when a reporter sought public records that would confirm his top prosecutor had been accused of sexually harassing female co-workers. Instead of complying with the records request, the attorney general sued the journalist unsuccessfully. Assistant AG Pat Magee would resign after news broke of a second sexual harassment complaint against him.

Going to the mat so often for questionable causes is certain to haunt Landry is his quest for governor. With a Republican heavily favored to win the race next year, it will be interesting to see whether any of the GOP contenders lob any of this dirt at him.

Another leading contender, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser has skeletons of his own, including baseless claims of voter fraud. He also controversially opposed the removal of Confederate monuments, going so far as to ask President Donald Trump to intervene. 

However, neither of those stances are likely to deter the bulk of Louisiana’s conservative voters who are ardent defenders of the Lost Cause and the Big Lie.  

Also worth watching is what role the Louisiana Republican Party will play in the race. The state GOP endorsed Landry in 2015 when he opposed two-term Republican incumbent Attorney General Buddy Caldwell. Nungesser also has close ties to state party leadership, most notably when he and chairman Roger Villere worked to secure a business deal with Iraq’s government without the knowledge or approval of Gov. John Bel Edwards.

While it’s too early to project a favorite – or even rule out additional entrants – there is one certainty you can count on in the 2023 governor’s race: the weighty baggage of the leading GOP candidates will be on full display.

Greg LaRose is editor of Louisiana Illuminator

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