Jim Beam column: Has anyone seen frontrunner?

Published 6:26 am Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Louisiana’s Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry has skipped all but one of the gubernatorial debates that have taken place before the Oct. 14 primary. So, Landry has taken a lot of heat for failing to tell voters in detail exactly what he plans to do if elected governor.

The AG’s game of hide-and-seek comes as no surprise. It’s a carbon copy of Landry’s mentor and idol, former President Donald Trump, who has decided to skip the national Republican presidential debates.

It also comes as no surprise that Landry’s opponents in the race have been his severest critics. Jeremy Alford in his LaPolitics Weekly of Sept. 29 has kindly repeated some of their comments.

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Other media have said the toughest remarks have come from Hunter Lundy of Lake Charles, the independent candidate for governor.

“Jeff Landry is not a good man, and we would be embarrassed if he were elected governor,” Lundy said.

Democrat Shawn Wilson, who many believe will end up in a runoff with the Republican leader (Landry at the moment), said, “You have to take note that the top law enforcement officer in the state isn’t here. He’s absent from the job and he’s absent here tonight. The first part of the job is showing up.”

Republican Stephen Waguespack, who is trying to get into the runoff with Landry, took an indirect dig at the AG by slamming Wilson.

“Shawn is a very nice person, a friend of mine. But if you vote for Shawn to go into a runoff, you’re basically voting for Jeff Landry, because he won’t be able to beat him,” Waguespack said. “If you’re a Republican, you should vote for me because you were robbed of the debate you wanted.”

The Associated Press reported that Republican state Treasurer John Schroder during a Sept. 7 debate said, “I showed up, unlike the attorney general. He’s been a no-show for all these issues. And I think he’s been a no-show on crime for the last eight years.”

GOP state Sen. Sharon Hewitt said on Sept. 7, “I think Jeff is going to be more, ‘My way or the highway.’ That is his leadership style.” Hewitt has also criticized Landry’s close connections to trial lawyers who have sued oil and gas companies.

While we don’t know much about Landry’s specific gubernatorial plans, he has made one position clear. He told Breitbart News that constitutional carry will “finally be secured once he is in the gubernatorial office.” The newspaper said Landry doesn’t believe Louisiana residents should need a permit from the government to carry a gun in order to participate in Second Amendment freedoms.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who is term-limited, has vetoed each attempt to enact constitutional carry legislation. He has also protected Louisiana citizens from other social legislation.

Republicans already have two-thirds control of both the state House and Senate and their control is expected to increase even more. Other laws vetoed by Edwards will definitely be introduced and signed if a Republican takes office, which is highly likely.

The Advocate said Sunday, “With a Republican seemingly poised to move into the governor’s mansion and a host of legislative seats up for grabs, outside groups are funneling millions of dollars into little-watched state legislative races in a bid to shift the state’s government significantly rightward.”

Lane Grigsby, a wealthy Baton Rouge businessman and a prolific donor to Republican causes, has put $215,000 into political action committees that are active in legislative races, along with tens of thousands to candidates.

“We’ve been working for a long time toward getting a conservative House and Senate and governor. We’ve made considerable progress,” Grigsby said. “We’ve always had some degree of frustration. Last cycle in the House, the speaker was elected by a renegade small group of RINOs (Republican in name only) teaming with Democrats.”

Significant criminal justice reforms were enacted in 2016 and 2017 that lowered the state’s record incarceration rate, but those laws are also in jeopardy. Landry heads a newly created violent crime task force that is expected to recommend repeal of some of those reforms.

Those who support the reforms that were enacted with large majorities are worried that Landry could aim to roll them back if he replaces Edwards. That is extremely likely if Landry is elected.

Like nearly half the states in this country, Louisiana’s Legislature has moved about as far right as you can get. Moderate lawmakers who always tried to get conservatives and liberals to find some middle ground (compromise) have left the state Capitol.