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Louisiana now has a prominent Democratic candidate in the governor’s race: Shawn Wilson

Shawn Wilson is the former secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.
Courtesy of Louisiana Illuminator
Louisiana Illuminator
Shawn Wilson is the former secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.

Former Louisiana Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson became the only major Democratic candidate to enter the governor’s race Monday, emphasizing his record of working in a bipartisan manner to build roads and bridges across the state.

“We will always face obstacles. To overcome them requires leaders that will work with everyone, at all levels of government, regardless of party or ideology,” Wilson said in a campaign video released Monday. “From fighting crime in our cities to flooding in our homes and businesses.”

Before retiring Friday, Wilson worked for the state government for 25 years and spent the past seven as head of Louisiana’s Department of Transportation and Development and a member of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ cabinet.

In that position, Wilson supervised a once-in-a-generation investment of state and federal funding into Louisiana infrastructure. He presided over the agency that manages the state’s roads, bridges and port projects at a time when there was more money on hand for building projects than there had been in decades. Much of that funding came in during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the federal government tried to shore up the economy with a surge in spending.

But while Wilson has extensive experience in state government, he has never held elected office and has only launched a campaign once previously. He lost a race for Lafayette City Council in 2007 and hasn’t run for election since then.

Nevertheless, as the only prominent Democratic candidate in the field, Wilson stands a good chance of making the gubernatorial runoff between the top two candidates in November. In October’s primary, he will likely have the 30% to 40% of the state’s voting population that identifies as Democratic to himself, while the Republican vote splits among several candidates.

Four GOP candidates – state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, Attorney General Jeff Landry, state Rep. Richard Nelson and Treasurer John Schroder – have entered the governor’s race. Congressman Garret Graves and Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder are also considering campaigns.

Political independent Hunter Lundy, a wealthy attorney and Christian preacher, is also running and raising more campaign money than some of his GOP contenders.

Still, Democrats have struggled to win statewide elections in Louisiana over the past decade. Only Edwards, who won governor’s races in 2015 and 2019, has managed to get elected as a Democrat statewide since 2014.

A longtime resident of Lafayette, Wilson holds an undergraduate degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Louisiana Lafayette and a doctorate in public policy from Southern University.

This story was originally published by the Louisiana Illuminator.