Tuesday, May 21, 2024

3 talking points from Louisiana’s Republican governor candidates

by BIZ Magazine

By Julie O’Donoghue, Louisiana Illuminator

At this early stage in the governor’s race, the four announced Republican gubernatorial candidates are hitting on similar campaign messages, though offering few specifics about what they would do as governor to solve the state’s problems.

State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, Attorney General Jeff Landry, state Rep. Richard Nelson and Treasurer John Schroder appeared at the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry’s governor candidates forum Thursday. Independent candidate Hunter Lundy, who has more campaign cash than either Hewitt or Nelson, was excluded from the event. 

A LABI spokeswoman said the group was pressed for time and couldn’t include more than four candidates in their program. Lundy alleged the business organization wasn’t interested in hearing from different political perspectives. 

“They were concerned I would divide their Republican program,” Lundy, a trial lawyer and Christian preacher, said Thursday. “We asked to be included and we were told no.”

The field of gubernatorial candidates also isn’t settled yet. Retiring Louisiana Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson, a Democrat, is expected to jump into the race over the next few days while Republican Congressman Garret Graves is also deciding whether he will run and is expected to make an announcement in the next two weeks. Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, also a Republican, said he might run for governor if Graves doesn’t.

The primary election will take place Oct. 14, and the runoff will be held Nov. 18.

The current Republican candidates are emphasizing the following themes:

Crime is too high

Two candidates, Landry and Schroder, indicated fighting crime would be one of their top priorities if elected. Both men previously worked in law enforcement and opened their speeches with remarks about the state’s violent crime rate.

“Three of the top 10 most dangerous cities in this country are in Louisiana,” Landry said. “What is wrong with that picture?” 

“We must put repeat and violent criminals in jail,” Schroder said. “Law-abiding citizens are being imprisoned in their own homes while criminals become more brazen.”

In spite of emphasizing Louisiana’s crime problem, Landry said nothing about how he intended to bring down the crime rate if elected governor. 

Schroder said the state needed a “change in mindset” surrounding law enforcement, allowing an officer to be more of a “badass on the street.”

“We have to empower them to do that,” he said, without providing more specifics about what that means. “They can’t be the scapegoat every time something goes wrong.”

When asked about crime by the moderator, Nelson said he would be willing to send Louisiana State Police to New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport to help local law enforcement. But he also believes addressing education deficiencies – increasing the state’s literacy rate for example – will help control crime in the long run. 

“At the end of the day, Louisiana has had a crime problem for forever. We’ve always had the top murder rate in the country for, I think, the past 35 years,” Nelson said. 

Hewitt said law enforcement agencies need to pay officers more, though that’s not something the governor has much ability to control. In fact, the governor doesn’t have much direct responsibility over managing public safety at all. 

Local elected officials tend to take the lead on crime-fighting matters. Elected sheriffs and district attorneys directly handle the day-to-day management of people who are arrested and prosecutions. Mayors, parish presidents, police juries and local councils are responsible for funding police departments, selecting their leaders and determining officers’ pay. 

The governor oversees the state police and could support changes to state statutes that affect other law enforcement operations and the sentences of people convicted of crimes. But those proposals ultimately have to come from state lawmakers, who are in charge of writing Louisiana’s laws. 

Eliminate the income tax

Nelson’s campaign is essentially built around eliminating the income tax. The state legislator from Mandeville introduced a bill to do so in 2021 that failed to pass. He said it is the key to stemming Louisiana’s population loss and spurring economic growth. 

Cutting the state income tax would create a massive $4.5 billion to $5 billion hole in Louisiana’s budget. It would likely cause massive reductions in funding for public universities and colleges, health care services and prisons unless it was replaced with another source of revenue.

Nelson has proposed eliminating several tax breaks and exemptions that primarily benefit the business community to make up for that revenue loss. He also wants to give local governments more power to raise their own taxes – through allowing them to exact higher individual and business property taxes – so the state doesn’t have to foot as big of a bill for local schools and public safety entities. 

“At the end of the day, that money should be raised locally and spent locally,”  he said. 

Schroder and Landry also said they would be in favor of doing away with the income tax. 

“The question of whether we eliminate the income tax in Louisiana is not even a question anymore,” Landry said. 

Landry did not say how the state would continue to pay for education, health care and prisons if the income tax was eliminated.

Of the three, Schroder was the most cautious about the income tax elimination conversation, saying it would take a decade or more to wean the state off of that revenue.

“How do you replace that much money?” Schroder asked. “It doesn’t happen overnight.”

Hewitt didn’t say – and wasn’t asked – whether she would support eliminating the income tax.

‘Parental rights’ should be protected

Three of the four Republican candidates made a passing reference to supporting “parental rights.” Only Nelson didn’t mention the topic during the forum. 

“The most important voice in the child’s education are the parents,” Landry said when asked about his education platform. 

“We must uphold the right of parents,” Schroder said, but then added, “Let’s stop blaming teachers.” 

Hewitt said it was important to “protect our personal freedoms and get government out of the way.”

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