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This week in politics: Elections heating up, Louisiana breaks record-low unemployment rate, and more

Gubernatorial candidates John Schroder, Sharon Hewitt, Stephen Waguespack, Hunter Lundy and Shawn Wilson sit at a semicircular desk inside the WWL-TV studios in New Orleans during the first debate of the election.
Pool Photo by Sophia Germer
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The Advocate
Candidates John Schroder, Sharon Hewitt, Stephen Waguespack, Hunter Lundy and Shawn Wilson take part in the first televised debate of the Louisiana governor's race earlier this month. Early voting for the Oct. 14 primary begins next week.

Every Friday, politics reporter Molly Ryan rounds up the news of the week from the campaign trail and beyond. 

A quick reminder for voters who want to participate in the Oct. 14 primary: The final registration deadline is tomorrow – Saturday, Sept. 23.

Eligible Louisianans can check their status and fill out an online registration form at the secretary of state’s website, and on geauxvote.com.

Republican state Rep. Richard Nelson drops out of governor’s race

Nelson, who represents Mandeville in the Louisiana House of Representatives, was among the seven major candidates vying for the state’s executive seat. He hasn’t polled above 2%, and he announced his exit from the race Wednesday.

In his announcement, Nelson also said he’s endorsing fellow Republican Jeff Landry, Louisiana’s attorney general and the frontrunner in the gubernatorial race.

Voters should know that, according to the Secretary of State’s office, ballots were made ahead of Nelson’s announcement, so his name will still appear on ballots, despite the fact that he’s dropped out.

Last week, in Lafayette: Jeff Landry appears in what might be his only debate of the primary season

In the debate, hosted at KLFY-TV in Lafayette, all seven of the then-major candidates for governor appeared together for the first time. (A few days later, state Rep. Richard Nelson announced his exit from the race.)

Some of the candidates took the opportunity to directly challenge frontrunner Jeff Landry, who had, up to that point, declined to participate in the other debates of the primary season. Landry has been known to get heated in debate and discussions, but in Lafayette, the volleys were generally measured.

The first topic candidates tackled – abortion – brought Democrat Shawn Wilson in stark contrast with Landry, who he blasted for attempting to track down Louisianans who had traveled across state lines to receive abortion care.

“It's unfortunate that the attorney general has recently signed on with other attorneys general to talk about finding out when women travel to other states,” said Wilson, who would not clearly state whether he was pro-choice. “When does it stop?”

Landry pushed back, suggesting that the care patients received in abortion clinics was unacceptable and did not prioritize women’s health.

“I think it's important that this entire issue be focused on women's health care, as well,” he said. “If you would see what was going on in those clinics … the concern was not the health care of women.”

Later, Wilson picked up the challenge again, contrasting Landry’s response on abortion against his opposition to COVID-19 restrictions like mask mandates and vaccines. Landry said he would never support such shutdowns and mandates, and he said he would never let the government interfere between a person and their doctor.

Secretary of State candidates talk voting systems, election integrity and election denial

Five of the eight candidates for secretary of state participated in a forum Wednesday hosted by the nonpartisan Public Affairs Research Council: Democrats Gwen Collins-Greenup and Arthur Morrell and Republicans Nancy Landry, Mike Francis and Brandon Trosclair.

The candidates’ discussion focused on the type of voting system they might implement as the state’s chief election officer. The Legislature passed a law in 2021 that bans the voting machines Louisiana has been using, and it requires whatever new system the state implements to have a paper trail. It will be up to the next Secretary of State to decide what the state’s next voting system will look like – and to put that system into place.

Secretary of State candidates participate in an online forum hosted by the Public Affairs Research Council on Sept. 21, 2023.
Molly Ryan
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WRKF/WWNO
Secretary of State candidates participate in an online forum hosted by the Public Affairs Research Council on Sept. 21, 2023.

Most of the candidates at the forum said they prefer a system that combines digital technology with a paper trail.

Brandon Trosclair, who has often repeated unproven claims of voter fraud, was the only candidate who said he does not believe President Joe Biden won the 2020 election. Trosclair was the only candidate who said he favors a system that would rely exclusively on hand-marked and hand-counted paper ballots.

The other candidates maintained that a completely paper method would be slower and less efficient and accurate — and would cost more money.

Nancy Landry, a former state representative and the current first assistant secretary of state, advocated for a voting system that employs technology and keeps a paper trail that can be audited. Democrat Gwen Collins-Greenup agreed.

New Orleans politician Arthur Morrell, a former state representative, served 16 years as a clerk of court in New Orleans. He said he wants Louisiana’s next voting system to be as similar as possible to the current system. And public service commissioner Mike Francis said he supports electronic voting machines.

According to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, Louisiana ranks seventh in the nation in election integrity.

New poll reiterates Landry’s lead in governor’s race

A new poll from Gray Media was released this week, ahead of next week’s early voting.

WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge reported that about 40% of the roughly 600 voters polled said they would vote for Jeff Landry, who continues to be the race’s frontrunner. The candidate with the next highest percentage, Democrat Shawn Wilson, came in at 24%.

The next candidate, Republican Stephen Waguespack, sits at 9% in the poll. He and Independent Hunter Lundy have both come up a bit since the last poll, but their numbers are still far below Landry and Wilson’s numbers.

The race has been an uphill battle for most of the candidates, in part because of the challenge of name recognition. Voters seem to know Jeff Landry – or, at least, they know his name – which bore out in this poll, too. He was the only gubernatorial candidate for whom more people said they knew who he was than didn’t.

Every poll this election season has put Landry as a heavy favorite and Wilson as a stronghold for second place. But polls only offer a glimpse into what potential voters might be thinking – and only tell a part of the story.

Louisiana’s Oct. 14 election is an open primary, which means that the two candidates who get the most votes will be on the ballot in the general election on Nov. 18 – unless a single candidate garners more than 50% of the primary vote, in which case they’d be declared the winner ahead of the general election.

Data released this week shows Louisiana reached its lowest unemployment rate – ever

The Louisiana Workforce Commission said that the state is sitting at an unemployment rate of 3.3% right now – the lowest unemployment rate in state history. The actual number of unemployed people – defined as the number of people who are not employed, but are seeking employment – is at its lowest point in state history, too.

The state’s unemployment rate is sitting below the national unemployment rate of about 3.8%.

Prepare for early voting with a guide to the constitutional amendments, interviews with the gubernatorial candidates – and more

Voters are preparing to hit the polling places for early voting in the primaries, which begins on Saturday, Sept. 30. Louisianans don’t need a reason to vote early; any registered voter may choose to do so, at designated early polling places.

Louisiana has an open primary, which means voters will be asked to choose the candidates they want to see on the ballot in the November general election for these offices:

  • Statewide: Governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasury secretary, attorney general
  • Locally: The specific races vary by location, but many voters will see state representatives, sheriffs, school board members, clerks and other public officials on the ballot.

The two candidates with the largest percentages of votes in each contest will land on the November ballot – unless a single candidate garners more than 50% of the votes. In such a situation, that person would be automatically declared the winner.

Tom Arthur
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Wikimedia

Voters in several localities will be asked to consider local matters – and statewide, voters will be asked to consider four potential amendments to the state constitution, each of which requires a majority vote at the polls to be implemented.

There are several resources available to help voters consider their options.

See a sample ballot: The Secretary of State’s website has a tool that allows voters to preview their ballots ahead of Election Day, down to the precinct level. Just select your parish and precinct information, and you’ll see which races and questions will be included on your ballot when you go to vote. | Find your ballot

Read up on the constitutional amendments in question: The nonpartisan Public Affairs Research Council published a new guide to the proposed constitutional amendments that voters will decide on this fall:

  • CA No. 1 (ACT 200, 2023 - HB 311) - Prohibits the use of private funds in the administration of elections. 
  • CA No. 2 (ACT 30, 2023 - SB 63) - Provides that the freedom of worship is a fundamental right worthy of the highest protection.
  • CA No. 3 (ACT 107, 2023 - HB 47) - Dedicates certain payments to be applied to the state retirement system unfunded accrued liability. 
  • CA No. 4 (ACT 48, 2023 - HB 46) - Restricts ad valorem tax exemptions for certain nonprofit organizations. 

Voters can dive into the full guide to the four amendments in the primary – as well as four proposed amendments that will be on the general election ballots in November – or browse a one-page version.

https://parlouisiana.org/publications/guide-to-the-constitutional-amendments/

Hear the gubernatorial candidates, in their own words: This spring and summer, all of the major candidates for governor have appeared on Louisiana Considered, talking with hosts about what they see as the top issues facing the state – and how they would address them. This week and next week, we’re re-airing those conversations:

Earlier this campaign season, we pulled together a roundup of the then-seven major candidates and where they stand on top issues facing the state.

Coming up next week: The last of the debates, the start of early voting

The final gubernatorial debates before early voting will take place next week — on Tuesday and Thursday. Early voting will start just two days after that, on Sept. 30. The state has several designated early voting locations that will be in operation throughout the early voting period.

On Tuesday, Sept. 26, The Advocate is hosting a town hall with major gubernatorial candidates, starting at 11:30 a.m. That same day, Gray television stations will host a gubernatorial debate at the University of New Orleans.

On Thursday, Sept. 28, Louisiana Public Broadcasting is set to host the final gubernatorial debate, at 7 p.m.

Politics news from across the state

Southern University has lost $1 billion due to Louisiana’s ‘unequitable’ funding, feds sayThe Advocate, Baton Rouge

Southern University, a historically Black college in Baton Rouge, has missed out on about $1.1 billion due to inequitable funding distribution over the last three decades, according to a federal government review. The federal government is urging state officials to restore that funding through the state budget process over the coming years. Historically Black colleges and universities across the nation and in Louisiana have long seen funding disparities. And in the first gubernatorial debate this year, five of the major candidates said closing the wealth gap between Black and white Louisianans should be a priority of the governor.

Sen. Bill Cassidy backs effort to raise federal minimum wage for first time since 2007The Shreveport Times, Shreveport

Louisiana Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy is supporting an effort to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $11 over the next four years, with more time for small businesses to raise their wages. Louisiana does not have a state minimum wage, which means the state defaults to the minimum wage set by the federal government, which has not been raised since 2007. Gov. John Bel Edwards has unsuccessfully pushed for a minimum wage increase each of his eight years in office. Gubernatorial candidates Shawn Wilson, Hunter Lundy and John Schroder all said they would support a minimum wage hike. Sharon Hewitt said she would consider an increase, and Stephen Waguespack opposed any increase.

Louisiana Attorney General’s race will shape politics of abortion, oil and gas, and moreThe Advocate, Baton Rouge

In addition to the governor and secretary of state races this year, a slate of candidates is running to be Louisiana’s next attorney general. The voters’ decision will likely impact a variety of issues in the state, including debates on abortion and oil and gas. It will also have an impact on the nature of Louisiana’s relationship with the federal government. This year, voters will also decide on the next lieutenant governor and state treasurer. The positions of agriculture and forestry commissioner and insurance commissioner — both statewide seats — have already been decided because the candidates ran unopposed.

40,000 children dropped from Louisiana Medicaid as part of a massive reviewLouisiana Illuminator, Baton Rouge

The federal government barred states from disenrolling residents from Medicaid during the COVID-19 pandemic as a condition for receiving federal relief funding. Now, Louisiana is playing catch-up by disenrolling thousands of residents from the program. So far, about 40,000 children have lost their health care coverage through the program in June and July. The expedited disenrollment process is expected to continue through May 2024.

Louisiana’s population has flatlined, even as neighboring states surgeThe Advocate, Baton Rouge

Recent data dictates that Louisiana’s population is stagnant, and the state is struggling to keep up with other states in population growth. As neighboring states’ populations surge, Louisiana’s population has only grown by a mere 1.25% since 2010 — below the pace of growth for states like Alabama and Arkansas. This outmigration trend is nothing new; people have been leaving Louisiana for decades in search of better opportunities. And reversing the exodus has become a hot topic in this year’s gubernatorial race.

In a statewide poll, voters show strong support for early child care and education statewideThe Daily Advertiser, Lafayette

A new poll shows that a strong majority of Louisianans back prioritizing access to early childhood education and care in the next year. A strong majority of residents also indicated that they feel the cost of care, educator wages and lack of quality education are all serious issues in their areas that need to be addressed.

Every Friday afternoon at 4:45 p.m., politics reporter Molly Ryan brings listeners election and politics updates live on the Capitol Access segment of All Things Considered on WWNO and WRKF.

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

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