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Reports on Louisiana politics, government and the people shaping state policy

As qualifying in Louisiana ends, see who is officially running in the gubernatorial race

Molly Ryan
The new “I voted” sticker Louisiana voters will get in 2023 was created by artist Becky Fos.

The final stage for this year’s gubernatorial primary in Louisiana is set as the qualifying period to become an official candidate came to a close on Thursday.

The seven major candidates hoping to be the state’s next governor went to the Secretary of State’s Office at the State Archives to qualify for candidacy this week. Those include Independent Hunter Lundy, Democrat Shawn Wilson and Republicans Richard Nelson, Stephen Waguespack, Jeff Landry, John Schroder and Sharon Hewitt.

Qualifying to become an official candidate entails filing paperwork and paying a fee. But the governor hopefuls also spent time touting their policies and visions — and attacking each other.

Republican candidate Sharon Hewitt, the only woman in the race, criticized current frontrunner and Attorney General Jeff Landry, calling him a “job-killing lawyer” who is at least partly responsible for the state’s out-migration.

“He has damaged the most important industry in our state — the energy industry — and pushed high-paying jobs to Texas by siding with the trial lawyers instead of the oil and gas companies in the coastal lawsuits,” Hewitt said.

Landry said at qualifying that he is not worried about what other candidates say, acknowledging his lead in the race.

“Everyone knows who I am,” he said. “Lord knows they have turned me upside down and inside out, and y'all have asked me just about every nauseating question known to man. And we intend to put that record out there to the people of this state and then win this race.”

Landry has an especially strong lead over the other Republican candidates. But Republican candidate Stephen Waguespack — who is the former CEO of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry —- still feels confident in his odds.

“All of the political experts in smoke-filled rooms that have said this election was decided six months ago don't know what the heck they're talking about,” Waguespack said, adding that past governors faced similar issues on the campaign trail.

Independent Hunter Lundy emphasized a willingness to work with all parties and promised not to engage in the divisive, “typical politics that you’ve seen for so many years in Louisiana.”

He also said if voters want things to stay the same, then they should vote for the state’s “top cop” or the “road builder, and we have the worst roads in the nation,” referring to Landry and Wilson. Wilson is the former Secretary of the Department of Transportation and Development.

Wilson has also boasted his ability to work across the aisle and framed himself as someone who will “build bridges, not burn them.” But Wilson said he expects the election to grow divisive as himself and Republican Jeff Landry are the current frontrunners in the race.

“The Bible teaches us to turn the other cheek,” Wilson said about what he would do if he became the target of any political attacks. “And I've got two. After that, we will fight if we have to fight.”

John Schroder, another Republican candidate and Louisiana’s State Treasurer, spent more time criticizing general corruption and cronyism that he said he’s seen in Louisiana politics. He declined to give specific examples of such corruption but said that some members on state boards are “out of control.”

Schroder has also expressed a desire to bring attention to the state budget process, calling for transparency with state spending.

“The system of backroom deals will die when I'm in office,” he said.

Richard Nelson, a state representative from Mandeville, was the last major candidate to qualify. He said he avoids talking about other candidates because he doesn’t feel like he’s running against them. Nelson said Huey Long —- the former governor who is credited with shaping Louisiana’s political field —- is who he is running against. He was critical of how Long shaped the state.

“It's how Huey Long set the system: put all the power in Baton Rouge. Every man a king, but he was the only one wearing a crown,” Nelson said. “And so that's what I think we have to get away from if we want the state to grow. I trust everybody else to run their own races.”

Nine lesser known candidates also qualified this week to become an official gubernatorial candidate, bringing the total number of candidates in the field to 16. Candidates competing for other statewide positions, like Attorney General and Secretary of State, also qualified this week. The primary for all of those elections is on Oct.14, followed by the general election on Nov. 18.

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