Jim Beam column: Lundy is No. 4 from Lake City

Published 6:36 am Wednesday, July 26, 2023

If memory serves me correctly, Lake Charles has had only four major candidates for Louisiana governor, but reformer Sam Jones was the only one of the first three who succeeded. Jones served from 1940 to 1944, couldn’t succeed himself and lost the 1948 Democratic runoff to Earl Long.

Hunter Lundy of Lake Charles, who describes himself as an independent, is one of seven announced candidates trying to replace term-limited Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in this year’s Oct. 14 primary.

The late Frank T. Salter of Lake Charles, district attorney of the 14th Judicial District, ran for governor in 1971. There were 20 candidates that year — 17 Democrats, 2 Republicans, and 1 member of the American Party.

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Edwin  W. Edwards, who served an unprecedented four terms as governor, won his first term in 1971. Salter finished 9th with over 31,000 votes (2.8%).

Robert G. “Bob” Jones of Lake Charles, the son of Sam Jones, ran for governor in 1975, the first time Louisiana voters participated in the open primary when members of all political parties ran together. If no one gets over 50 percent of the vote, there is a general election with the top two primary finishers.

Jones had served in both the state House and Senate and was a member of the Young Turks who made significant reforms in operations of the state Legislature.

Edwards won a second term with 62.3% of the vote in the primary. Jones finished second with over 281,000 votes, or 24.2% of the total. There were four other candidates.

Lundy’s campaign is based on three main target areas — crime, poverty, and education. “We fix crime and we fix poverty by fixing education,” he said.

On education, he attacks “teaching to the test.” Real learning opportunities are in the classrooms, playgrounds, and athletic fields, he said. Starting average pay for first-year teachers in Louisiana is just $40,500, he said,  while Arkansas increases its minimum teacher salary from $36,000 to $50,000.

“We know that early childhood education reduces a child’s chance of future incarceration by 20%,” Lundy said. “If we can cut crime 20% just by teaching kids to read and be good citizens when they are little, we have to do it.”

Lundy said he would renew the 0.45% increase in the state’s 4-percent state sales tax that is set to expire in 2025. He opposes the idea of returning to sales taxes on food for home preparation or on medications. He also opposes reduction in the state’s $75,000 homestead exemption.

Crime can be reduced by cutting the number of released individuals who return to crime, he said. That can be done with emphasis on getting GEDs, technical training, drug treatment, and faith-based programming, he said.

Lundy said state and local governments need to increase the pay of law enforcement officers and firefighters. He said in 2022, Louisiana was No. 51 in firefighter pay, with the District of Columbia included.

On energy, he supports incentivizing job growth in the biofuels industry, offshore and wind energy, including metal fabrication of turbines and offshore servicing. Lundy said rooftop solar creates jobs and Texas saw a 9% growth last year.

As a trial attorney, Lundy supports lawsuits filed by coastal states against oil and gas companies. He said BP had to pay for its damages and other companies should also be held accountable.

Louisiana’s roads are ranked 48th in the nation and extending the 0.45% state sales tax would help pay for transportation improvements, Lundy said. He added that the state’s poor infrastructure is a major driver of  high auto insurance rates.

Lundy said he has raised more than $1.5 million in contributions statewide, so the media have been regularly incorrect in calling him self-funded.

In an interview with The Advocate, Lundy said he doesn’t believe in gun control and opposes vaccine mandates.

As for his campaign, Lundy told the newspaper, “I’ve always been on David’s side against Goliath. I’m going to fight one in this race, too,” referring to poll leader Republican state Attorney General Jeff Landry. “And I’m going to beat him.”

The four other Republicans in the race have that same goal. They are state Treasurer John Schroder, Stephen Waguespack, former head of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, state Sen. Sharon Hewitt of Slidell and state Rep. Richard Nelson of Mandeville. Shawn Wilson, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ former transportation secretary, is the only Democrat in the race at this point.

Candidates will begin signing on the dotted line in two weeks, and we will have a better feel about how this 2023 campaign is going to shake out.