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Where the 7 gubernatorial candidates stand on Louisiana issues

Louisiana residents at a voting precinct.
Louisiana residents at a voting precinct.

Seven individuals are hoping to become official candidates this week in the race to be Louisiana’s next governor.

The race is important in determining whether or not a change in political party leadership could change or scrap current policies passed by the administration of the last eight years.

It could give control of the state’s top office back to the Republican Party in the only Deep South state that currently has a Democratic governor. It could also decide whether any Democrat will hold a statewide office in Louisiana. Gov. John Bel Edwards is the only Democrat to currently hold such an office, and he was the first Democrat to be elected to a statewide office in Louisiana in several years.

Whether the state’s next leader is a Democrat, Republican or Independent will largely influence Louisiana’s environmental, educational and economic policies among other matters. The qualifying deadline to become an official candidate is Thursday. Here’s a look at each of the people who have thus far been campaigning to be the state’s next leader.

Shawn Wilson 

Shawn Wilson is the only high-profile Democrat who has announced a run for governor this year. Formerly, he was appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards as the secretary of the state Department of Transportation and Development and served in that position from 2016 to 2023.

In a Louisiana Considered interview about his candidacy, Wilson said he favors investing in buildings and infrastructure to draw business to the state instead of doling out rebates, exemptions and credits. Wilson also said he is a big supporter of early childhood education and would like to further increase teacher salaries in the state.

He has been endorsed by several notable people in Louisiana politics, including former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, Democratic U.S Rep. Troy Carter and Gov. John Bel Edwards — even though Wilson is seen as a less moderate Democrat than Edwards. When it comes to abortion, Wilson is more pro-choice than Edwards.

To win as a Democrat, Wilson will need to garner above 90% of all Black votes in the state and one-third of the white votes —- a tough goal to reach in a persistently Republican state. And his reputation as a less moderate Democrat than Edwards will only steepen his uphill battle to the Governor’s Mansion. But Wilson is confident that a Democrat like himself can still win the governor’s race.

“Don’t listen to the voices that say you can’t. Listen to the inner voice that says you can,” he said in the Louisiana Considered interview, quoting former U.S. Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress.

Hunter Lundy 

Hunter Lundy, an attorney from Lake Charles, is the lone Independent candidate running for governor.. He is a successful plaintiff lawyer who previously identified as a Democrat, and he has said he isn’t afraid to challenge authority and institutions. Lundy is also an evangelical Christian, which often resonates with Republicans.

During a Louisiana Considered interview, Lundy said his primary goal as governor would be to bolster education in the state and address education-related issues. Lundy feels that a focus on education will indirectly help reduce crime, poverty and incarceration rates. He said it is especially important to adequately fund early childhood education programs in Louisiana.

Lundy also said in the Louisiana Considered interview that he supports further boosting teacher pay.

“During this school year, Louisiana’s public schools had a shortage of 2,520 teachers,” Lundy said on his X account, formerly known as Twitter. “We must address this issue by providing fair compensation and empowering teachers to fulfill their roles.”

Like Wilson, Lundy faces an uphill battle as the lone Independent candidate vying to be the state’s next leader. Lundy previously ran as a Democrat for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1996, but lost to former U.S. Rep. Chris John.

Sharon Hewitt 

Sharon Hewitt, a Republican state Senator from Slidell and chair of the Senate Republican Caucus, is the only female candidate in the race to be Louisiana’s next governor. But from her time in state politics to her early career in the oil and gas industry, Hewitt has said she is used to being the only woman in the room.

“Sometimes women have to work a little bit harder to be heard,” she said in a Louisiana Considered interview. “Women have to outwork people to earn their respect. And I feel like I have done that in a very respectful way.”

Hewitt has also emphasized the importance of bolstering education in the state, especially children’s literacy. In the same Louisiana Considered interview, she touted Louisiana’s recognition for being one of three states with improved reading scores during the pandemic and partially credited that success to one of her bills promoting literacy through the use of phonics. Hewitt has also passed legislation to expand STEM education.

Hewitt led the redistricting effort to redraw a congressional map in Louisiana to continue having only one majority-Black district out of six, despite the fact Black residents account for about one-third of the state’s population. That map has been caught up in litigation for more than a year. Many believe the map will be found unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court found Alabama’s map unconstitutional in a similar case. But Hewitt believes the two cases are different, and she said Louisiana’s map remains fair given the geography and compactness of districts.

Jeff Landry 

Republican candidate Jeff Landry, the Louisiana Attorney General, is the current frontrunner in the race. Landry has been endorsed by the state’s Republican Party, former President Donald Trump and most recently by U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy. He was the first of the seven candidates to announce his run for governor.

Addressing violent crime —- especially in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport —- is a centerpiece of Landry's campaign. Crime is the top concern among Louisiana residents, according to the most recent Louisiana Survey. In a Louisiana Considered interview, Landry said he feels there is a direct correlation between criminal justice reforms the Legislature made in 2017 to the state’s rising violent crime rates — even though those reforms focused on non-violent crimes.

Additionally, Landry said he intends to focus on improving education and the economy. He said Louisiana is “on all of the bad lists” when it comes to crime, education and the economy. And he said that every other state with a school in the Southeastern Conference has more people moving in than moving out — something that Louisiana lacks.

“Right now, Mississippi is beating us time and time again when we used to be able to get right behind Mississippi,” Landry said in the Louisiana Considered interview. “That tells us that we got some fundamental and structural things that we have to fix in the state.”

Stephen Waguespack 

Stephen Waguespack, another Republican candidate, is the former CEO of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. He also served as former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief-of-staff for five years. This is his first time running for office. Waguespack has been endorsed by U.S. Rep. Garret Graves.

Waguespack said during a Louisiana Considered interview that he is a huge proponent of education reform. He especially wants to focus on high school education and ensure students have a clear pathway to success, whether that means going to college or into the workforce.

“We have too many kids coming out of high school unprepared for the realities they face in the world,” he said in the Louisiana Considered interview.

Additionally, Waguespack said he is a proponent of state education savings accounts that would give parents more options of where their children attend school.

Waguespack has also been a critic of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ policies on the Industrial Tax Exemption Program — a state-level program that incentivizes industrial expansion through property tax exemptions from local government.

Edwards capped those exemptions at 80% and gave locals the opportunity to reject the exemptions. Waguespack said this move went too far and made the program a “toothless tiger” that doesn’t help Louisiana compete with other states for investment. He said he would work to find a middle ground that is not too easy on businesses, nor prevents their investment.

Richard Nelson

Richard Nelson, a Republican state representative from Mandeville, is the youngest candidate vying to be Louisiana’s next governor. Nelson is a huge proponent of eliminating the state’s personal income tax. He repeatedly points to the population and economic growth in states like Texas and Florida that do not have an income tax.

But eliminating the income tax has proven to be difficult in Louisiana. Nelson has twice brought legislation to eliminate the income tax that failed. Revamping the state’s tax structure would be a priority as governor, Nelson said in a Louisiana Considered interview.

Additionally, Nelson supports the legalization of recreational marijuana. He said a lot of other politicians are behind the times on this issue. He noted that its legalization could ensure safer use of the drug and create a tax base that would be another source of revenue for the state.

Like most other candidates, Nelson is also concerned with bolstering education, especially literacy. Nelson passed legislation this session that requires third grade students to read on grade level before advancing to the fourth grade. He expects this to improve reading scores across the state, but he said it is not a solution for every issue.

“There’s no magic bullet in education that’s going to solve all of your problems,” he said in the Louisiana Considered interview.

Nelson also feels universal pre-K and the recruitment of high-quality teachers are pertinent to boosting education.

John Schroder 

John Schroder is a Republican candidate from St. Tammany Parish. He currently serves as Louisiana’s State Treasurer, a role he has held since 2017. Schroder previously served as a state representative from 2008 to 2017.

In a Louisiana Considered interview, Schroder said he plans to bring attention to the state budget process, which he feels is an important process that the state government revolves around and that more people should understand.

As state treasurer, Schroder has argued that state money should not be invested in financial firms that are against investing in fossil fuels like oil and gas. Schroder said the oil and gas industry is still important in Louisiana, noting that it provides many jobs in the state. And he doesn’t think the industry’s significance will dissolve as quickly as some people believe.

Crime is also a top concern for Schroder, who is a former narcotics sheriff’s detective and a Criminal Investigative Division Special Agent with the U.S. Army. He said he supports increased supplemental pay for law enforcement officers and opposes letting criminals out of jail just because of overcrowding issues. Instead, Schroder said he would like to focus on mental health to prevent crime.

“Fighting crime isn’t necessarily about putting people in jail,” he said in the Louisiana Considered interview. “It’s easier to fight crime by deterring that crime than paying for the result of that crime.”

Molly Ryan is a political reporter and covers state politics from the Louisiana Capitol.

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