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Here’s what we know about state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson’s resignation

karen carter peterson 3.jpg
Courtesy of State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson's website.

It was a resignation that shocked Louisiana’s political establishment – Last week Democratic state senator Karen Carter Peterson announced she was stepping down – citing issues related to gambling addiction and depression.

Here to discuss what we know at this point about the abrupt resignation of one of the state’s top Democratic politicians is Tyler Bridges – a political reporter for The Advocate and author of two books on Louisiana politics: The Rise and Fall of David Duke and Long Shot, a book about the 2015 governor’s race.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity

Adam Vos: What can you tell us about this surprising resignation and why Karen Carter Peterson is stepping down right now?

Tyler Bridges: We got news just after noon on Friday that Sen. Karen Carter Peterson had resigned. It was very abrupt. The resignation took place at 11:59 and she put out a statement and, as you mentioned, she cited mental health issues, depression, and also her gambling problem.

And we knew that she had had a gambling problem, that had been a story that had come out in 2019. It was broken by a WWLTV that she had self-banned herself. There's a little known provision in state law that allows someone who is a gambling addict to ban themselves from entering a casino. And if they are, they issue a summons, and that's what happened with Sen. Peterson. And so WWL got word of this. And then she put out a statement after acknowledging that she has a gambling problem.

So it did catch the political establishment by surprise because Sen. Peterson not only has been in the legislature since 1999 from New Orleans, but she's also was chair of the democratic party for eight years, from 2012 to 2020.

So she's been a power in politics, the democratic politics of the state of Louisiana. And then on Saturday, the next day, my colleague Gordon Russell and I reported that Sen. Peterson is under federal investigation. And so that's where things are right now.

As you just mentioned, the paper has reported that Karen Carter Peterson is the subject of a federal probe. What is known at this point about that potential federal investigation? 

I can't really say very much at this point, Adam. We know that subpoenas have gone out for various people who have done business with her.

Sen. Peterson has a consulting firm and had one with her husband, Dana. She has been a state Senator. She was chair of the party. She was a vice chair of the democratic national committee. And she's also worked for a law firm. Clearly it's something financial in nature and there's a lot of speculation. But exactly what it is, I can't tell you.

And Sen. Karen Carter Peterson has been a major force in democratic politics here in Louisiana. What are the potential political ramifications of her stepping down, especially right in the middle of the legislative session with what's going on right now?

So Democrats are short handed in the state Senate. Before her resignation there were 27 Republicans and 12 Democrats. Now there are 27 Republicans and 11 Democrats. And she's been a very, very powerful voice on liberal issues. She spoke very strongly for example, two weeks ago, against the Senate, overriding Governor John Bel Edwards on a veto of a bill that would only create one Black majority congressional district in the state of Louisiana. The governor and Sen. Peterson and other black members of the legislature wanted a second district. So she spoke very passionately about that. But, the Senate and the House overrode the governor, that was the first time in 31 years.

So the legislature's losing a very powerful, liberal voice, but she's also been very, very divisive. She has a number of enemies, for example, even in 2015, when she was chair of the party, the worst moment of the campaign for them was with little known candidate, John Bel Edwards. She tried to get John Bel Edwards out of the governor's race that he ended up winning.

The Democrats are down one politician in the Senate right now, but of course, they don't have anywhere near a majority. So it doesn't necessarily change the balance. Is it too early to speculate what will happen to her district? It is a very democratic district.

It is a very democratic district. It was drawn 10 years ago to elect a black Democrat. Although that district and sort of Uptown Broadmore, Central City, it actually trended more with an influx of white residents over the last decade. There's three potential candidates at this point, they're all state democratic state representatives, who have a share of that district. The president of the Senate Page Cortez has told me that he expects the election will probably be in November to replace Sen Peterson.

Adam is responsible for coordinating WRKF's programming and making sure everything you hear on the radio runs smoothly. He is the Baton Rouge-based host for Louisiana Considered, our daily regional news program, and is also frequently the local voice afternoons on All Things Considered.
Alana Schreiber is the managing producer for the live daily news program, Louisiana Considered. She comes to WRKF from KUNC in Northern Colorado, where she worked as a radio producer for the daily news magazine, Colorado Edition. She has previously interned for Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul and The Documentary Group in New York City.