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Jeff Landry refuses to participate in first debate of the Louisiana governor’s race

Attorney General Jeff Landry speaks to reporters after qualifying for the governor’s race Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023, at the Louisiana State Archives building in Baton Rouge.
Wes Muller
Louisiana Illuminator
Attorney General Jeff Landry speaks to reporters after qualifying for the governor’s race Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023, at the Louisiana State Archives building in Baton Rouge.

This story was originally published on the Louisiana Illuminator.

Attorney General Jeff Landry, who has refused to attend several election events with other candidates this summer, formally announced Thursday he won’t participate in the first debate of the governor’s race next week.

Landry, the presumptive frontrunner for governor, said he is concerned that one of the sponsors of the debate won’t treat Republican candidates fairly, though he has also spent the last three months avoiding most gubernatorial forums in which he would have to appear on stage with the other candidates.

The debate next Thursday is co-hosted by WWL-TV, The Times-Picayune, the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, the Urban League of Louisiana and several other television stations around the state. Landry is objecting to the participation of the Urban League, a nonpartisan Civil Rights organization with a predominantly Black membership.

“The participation of the Urban League raises questions about impartiality,” said Kate Kelly, spokesperson for Landry, adding that the organization had been critical of former President Donald Trump and gun rights.

Debate organizers said they have been talking to the major gubernatorial campaigns — including Landry’s — for months about participating in the event. The four other Republican candidates had already agreed to participate in the event if invited.

The Urban League of Louisiana issued the following statement from its president, Judy Reese Morse:

“The Urban League of Louisiana is proud to be a nonpartisan organization who unapologetically advocates on behalf of Black Louisianans and other underserved communities. Likewise, we stand by our policy prescriptions, both past and present, which are rooted in data and that champion a more equitable Louisiana. As it relates to our forthcoming debate, hosted in conjunction with WWL and media partners throughout the state, our singular focus is to ensure that candidates seeking the office of Governor have the ability to share their platform and reasons they believe voters should have confidence in their ability to lead our great state. We have unwavering faith in the journalistic integrity of our media partners and look forward to a fair and robust debate on Thursday.”

The Republican Party of Louisiana, which has endorsed Landry, announced Thursday that it would like the other Republicans to boycott the event, but candidates already seemed unwilling to do so.

“I will gladly participate in the debate,” Stephen Waguespack, a fellow Republican candidate, said on X. “I believe candidates should deliver their message to all voters as often as they can.”

“Running away from answering questions most pressing to voters is not the kind of leadership we need in Baton Rouge,” Treasurer and GOP opponent John Schroder posted on X. “As your Governor, I am willing to address the challenges that we are facing in Louisiana to include corruption and cronyism. My opponent in this race would prefer to hide rather to engage with me on these very important issues.”

Landry’s campaign also asked for two extensions to the deadline to accept the debate invitation, which was issued weeks ago. The attorney general requested organizers bring in a more conservative moderator and increase the number of candidates allowed to participate, according to one of the debate organizers who was not authorized to talk about the event publicly.

Another Republican candidate, state Rep. Richard Nelson, has also been upset with debate organizers but for a different reason. He hasn’t been invited to participate because he performed worse than other candidates in a recent poll. His campaign has been putting pressure on the debate sponsors to include him in the televised event.

For the most part, Landry has steered clear of gubernatorial forums where he has to appear on stage with other candidates or answer questions from his opponents. But he has committed to participating in at least one other debate sponsored by six Nextstar television stations Sept. 15 in Lafayette.

Landry’s campaign has not said whether he will participate in other scheduled televised debates, including ones hosted by LSU student government (Sept. 13), Gray television stations (Sept. 26) and Louisiana Public Broadcasting (Sept. 28).

This is a developing story.

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