Thursday, July 25, 2024

Candidates fight for second place in final Louisiana gubernatorial debate 

by BIZ Magazine

By Piper Hutchinson, Louisiana Illuminator

In the final televised debate before Louisiana’s Oct. 14 primary for governor, five candidates clashed in a battle for second place — while the frontrunner was again notably absent. 

With Attorney General Jeff Landry’s place in the runoff all but certain, Republicans Stephen Waguespack, John Schroder and Sharon Hewitt and independent Hunter Lundy all fought to overtake Democrat Shawn Wilson, who polling indicates will meet Landry in the runoff.

Landry, who took part in just one of the four televised debates and has skipped numerous forums where he would have fielded questions alongside other candidates, attended a campaign event in Lake Charles.

While the candidates took their obligatory shots at Landry, mostly dunking on his absence, the most notable attacks were those among the five candidates on stage, particularly between the two candidates trailing Wilson — Waguespack and Lundy. 

“We’re both working our way around that gentleman over there,” Hunter Lundy said in an interview after the debate, gesturing to Wilson as Waguespack nodded his head in agreement and laughed. 

Just a few minutes earlier, the jovial pair exchanged verbal blows. 

Lundy came out hot out of the gate, taking aim at Waguespack on the first question about higher education. 

Waguespack served in multiple senior roles for Gov. Bobby JIndal, who as governor oversaw the decimation of the state’s higher education budgets as a result of self-inflicted budget woes

“In the Jindal years, when Mr. Waguespack was chief of staff, they took money away from our education system,” Lundy said. “They made an effort to try to destroy historically Black colleges.” 

Waguespack took the opportunity to swing back on a question about the insurance crisis, taking aim at Lundy’s experience as a trial lawyer, asking if Lundy would support  “legal reform in Louisiana.”

Proponents of tort reform believe cutting back on lawsuits will make the state more appealing to insurance companies. Those who oppose it say insurers wouldn’t get sued so much if they did what they should. 

“It depends on what you’re talking about,” Lundy said.

“I’ll take that as a no,” Waguespack said, finishing the exchange. 

Lundy also took a shot at Wilson, calling the Democrat “the most extreme” and “most liberal” candidate in the race. Wilson did not back down from the charge of being liberal, while still highlighting his work in both Republican and Democratic administrations. 

“I am someone who’s going to speak up for justice and fairness for each and every citizen,” Wilson said.

Outside of the expected barbs, little new information came to light from the candidates. 

Many of the questions asked were those candidates had months of practice answering at campaign stops and debates. In avoiding the traditional events, Landry has been able to avoid taking a position on many issues, which others in the field say does a disservice to voters. 

Hewitt and Schroder stuck to their tried and true talking points, with Hewitt highlighting her experience as a woman in the oil and gas industry and Schroder steering the conversation to corruption and cronyism.

All candidates except for Wilson expressed support for anti-LGBTQ+ laws the Louisiana Legislature considered earlier this year, including the approval of a ban for gender-affirming care for transgender youth. 

All five expressed some level of support for the coastal master plan and a shift toward green energy. It would be an infinitesimal shift for some of the candidates, particularly Schroder, who said fossil fuels would be Louisiana’s reality for decades to come. 

If no candidate gets 50% of the vote in next month’s primary, the top two vote-getters will meet in a runoff Nov. 18. 

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