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Yes? No? How candidates for governor answered 7 quick debate questions

From left, John Schroder, Sharon Hewitt, Stephen Waguespack, Hunter Lundy and Shawn Wilson sit at a desk in the WWL-TV studios for the first televised debate of the Louisiana governor's race.
Pool photo by Sophia Germer
The Advocate
John Schroder, Sharon Hewitt, Stephen Waguespack, Hunter Lundy and Shawn Wilson take part in the first televised debate of the Louisiana governor's race at the WWL-TV Studios in New Orleans, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023. The debate was sponsored by the Advocate, WWL, WBRZ, KATC, KBTS, PAR and Urban League.

Candidates vying to be Louisiana’s next governor answered a series of rapid-fire questions during Thursday night’s televised debate, the first of the 2023 election season.

Though given specific instructions by WWL-TV anchors Eric Paulsen and Charisse Gibson, who moderated, the candidates didn’t always keep their answers to a simple yes or no.

Stephen Waguespack, one of three Republican candidates on the stage, lightly pushed back on the format.

“These aren’t yes or no questions,” he said.

“I told you you wouldn’t like them,” Paulsen joked.

Republican state treasurer John Schroder and state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, also a Republican, participated in the debate, as did Independent Hunter Lundy and Democrat Shawn Wilson.

Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry, the race’s presumed frontrunner, was invited, but did not attend Thursday night’s debate in New Orleans. His campaign cited concerns with one of the debates' many organizers as his reason for skipping the event. Several candidates who did attend criticized his absence.

The other missing candidate was Richard Nelson — and he really wanted to be there.

Nelson, a Republican, was excluded because of his low polling numbers, though he argues he is statistically tied with Hewitt and Schroder because his poll numbers fall within the margin of error compared to theirs.

But that didn’t stop him from chiming in from home.

1: “Do you support increasing the gas tax to fund critical road and bridge repairs in the state?”

All five candidates present answered no without discussion.

2: “Black households in Louisiana earn half of what white households earn, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Do you believe that closing the wealth gap should be a priority of an administration led by you?”

All of the candidates answered yes and didn’t try to explain their answers.

3: “Do you support the creation of a second majority-minority district in Louisiana that would strengthen Black voting power?”

Louisiana also has just one majority-Black congressional district despite the fact that about one-third of the state’s population is Black. Its map also faces a legal challenge.

First, some context: The state of Alabama has repeatedly ignored the U.S. Supreme Court’s directive to create two majority-Black congressional districts, after its latest redistricting plan was found to have violated the Voting Rights Act. But the courts continue to challenge the move.

Wilson, the race’s lone Democrat, said yes to creating a second majority-Black district – “absolutely and it's my hope the judge draws the map.” Lundy said yes, adding, “From all indications, that is the law.”

The remaining candidates sidestepped the question by saying they’ll do whatever the law says.

4: “Do you support adding COVID vaccines to Louisiana’s mandatory school vaccinations?”

All of the candidates said no, without discussion.

Louisiana ultimately decided not to require students to get vaccinated against COVID, after the state health department’s plan to add it to its immunization list drew significant pushback.

5: “Do you support increasing the state minimum wage from $7.25 an hour?”

Louisiana doesn’t have a minimum wage, so it defaults to the federal minimum, which is $7.25 per hour.

Waguespack was the only candidate to say he does not support raising the minimum wage.

Hewitt, a state senator and a former oil and gas executive, said, “Maybe.”

“I’m on the record [as] having said no in the Legislature up until this point,” she said. “But I do think it’s time to have the conversation.”

Lundy, Wilson and Schroder said they would support a minimum wage increase.

6: “As governor, would you renew the portion of the state’s sale tax that’s set to expire in 2025?”

The 4.45% sales tax was approved in 2018, ending a decade of short-term fixes during former Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tenure, and the first year of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ term.

Lundy and Wilson said yes to a renewal.

“Clearly, we need to be maintaining the resources to invest in public safety, education and infrastructure,” Wilson said.

Waguespack, Schroder and Hewitt said no, and they all gave versions of the same reasoning: Because, if they’re elected governor, they won’t need to.

“I don’t think we’re going to need the revenue,” Hewitt said. “We’re going to be fine. We don’t have a fiscal cliff.”

7: “Former state troopers are facing felony charges in connection with the fatal arrest of Ronald Greene… Do you think the State Police department has a problem with racially biased policing?”

Ronald Greene, a Black driver, was killed by white state troopers in 2019 after a high-speed chase in a rural northeastern part of the state. Louisiana State Police claimed a car crash caused Greene’s fatal injuries, but body camera footage obtained by The Associated Press showed officers beating, stunning and dragging Greene.

Lundy and Wilson said yes to the moderators’ question without hesitation. When given the chance to elaborate, Wilson said his answer shouldn’t be taken as a blanket indictment of law enforcement, which Lundy seconded.

Schroder said the state police department has some problems, “but, overall, no.” Hewitt and Waguespack agreed.

All five candidates condemned Greene’s death.

The race’s next debate is set for Sept. 15 in Lafayette. All seven major candidates — including Landry and Nelson — are expected to participate.

Aubri Juhasz covers K-12 education, focusing on charter schools, education funding, and other statewide issues. She also helps edit the station’s news coverage.

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