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Meet Louisiana’s (Likely) Next Governor

Republican attorney general Jeff Landry seems the likely successor to Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. Also, Michigan Democrats utilize their full control of state government while election officials across the nation feel forced out.

Jeff Landry
Jeff Landry (Shutterstock)
Shutterstock
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Meet Louisiana’s (Likely) Next Governor: Throughout his tenure as Louisiana attorney general, Jeff Landry has caused problems for Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. Now he’s the man most likely to succeed him.

On Tuesday, the Republican Landry reported having $9 million cash on hand for his race to succeed the term-limited Edwards this year. That was three times as much as his nearest competitor. It’s not just his financial advantage that makes Landry a formidable competitor, says political scientist Jeffrey Sadow of Louisiana State University Shreveport, but the statewide network of support he’s built up. “So far, he’s doing all the right things,” Sadow says.

Not everyone is convinced. Landry has put social issues at the center of his campaign, to an extent that has made even some fellow conservatives uncomfortable. Last month, Stephen Waguespack stepped down as president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry to enter the race. He’s quickly raised a ton of money, but whether he can extend his support beyond a capitol insider crowd remains to be seen.

All candidates will appear together on the jungle primary ballot in October, with the top two finishers proceeding to a November runoff. Shawn Wilson is the only Democrat in the race and, as Edwards’ former transportation secretary, has the governor’s support. He’s not only assured of making the runoff but will likely be the top vote-getter in the first round of voting. Actually winning will be another story. Back in 2015, Edwards was elected thanks to a combination of fierce Republican infighting and a weak GOP opponent. Wilson probably won’t get so lucky.

What has been pretty common in Louisiana politics, thanks in part to the late primary date, is that one candidate can get hot at the end. Landry’s poll numbers are strong but not overwhelming. There’s a large GOP field, and he also has to worry about an independent named Hunter Lundy who is challenging him for the votes of religious conservatives. Landry may have a ceiling of support and potentially his numbers could be dragged down just enough for someone to surpass him at the finish line. “Jeff Landry appeals to the more conservative red-meat part of the Republican Party, but we do have a contingent of more moderate Republicans not sold on him,” says John Couvillon, a Louisiana-based pollster.

The reality is that the other GOP candidates, while perhaps putting more emphasis on economic issues, don’t take stances all that different from Landry’s. Landry has been able to put himself in pole position thanks to the power of his office, where he’s been able to block Edwards from assuming powers for himself through executive orders, both before and during the pandemic. Landry has also blocked dozens of state contracts that included anti-discrimination language protecting LGBTQ rights and has frequently joined the parade of Republican attorneys general suing the Biden administration.

Such actions have provided Landry with a twofer – furthering his policy preferences and earning publicity at the same time. “At least to the Republican base, it clearly identifies him as someone fighting for the agenda,” Sadow says.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (TNS)
Life’s More Fun in the Majority: When Darrin Camilleri was first elected to the Michigan Senate in 2016, he was the only Democrat to flip a seat. His party hadn’t controlled the chamber since the early 1980s, so morale was bad and it was difficult to get much done. All that has changed. Last year, Democrats took control of both the state Senate and House in Michigan. That, coupled with Gretchen Whitmer’s re-election as governor, gave them full control of state government for the first time in 40 years.

They have acted accordingly. Under Democratic control, Michigan this year has repealed its 1931 abortion ban, offered protections against employment discrimination for LGBTQ individuals, rolled back a tax on retirement income and expanded the state’s earned-income tax credit. Last week, Whitmer signed legislation requiring universal background checks for firearms sales, as well as a safe storage requirement.

On Wednesday, the Senate sent red flag legislation to Whitmer’s desk, allowing law enforcement agencies to take guns away from those who represent a threat to themselves or others.

In March, Michigan became the first state since 1965 to roll back a right-to-work law. “A big part of our coalition to get to this majority was union men and women across Michigan,” says Camilleri, who sponsored the repeal bill. “For us, it was really important to stand up for our values.”

The story is much the same in Minnesota, the other state where Democrats won legislative control last November and with it the trifecta of the political branches. Minnesota Democrats have passed laws to protect LGBTQ rights, codify abortion rights and require the state’s energy sources be carbon-free by 2040. A proposal to legalize recreational marijuana has been wending through the legislative process, making stops at 15 separate committees on its way to the House floor.

The parties do present clear choices nowadays. Power is divided in only 10 states – the lowest number since 1952. There’s clearly a national progressive playbook on certain issues such as abortion, says University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs. On other issues, such as mental health and sentencing reform, Jacobs says each state’s agenda is likely to be shaped by the particular players involved, including interest groups, and how different ideas “ripen.” The same is true on the Republican side, where states that have turned completely red in recent years have pursued similar ideas – including passage of right-to-work laws, abortion bans and bills repealing LGBTQ rights.

Camilleri says that although Michigan legislative candidates received support from across the country, much of the state’s legislative agenda has been “homegrown.” Democrats have been all about delivering on the promises they ran on, he says. “Seeing so much action on the priorities our constituents have been demanding is really fulfilling,” he says.
Campaign signs amongst flowers
Holding elections in April of an odd-numbered year is not great for turnout but does increase chances of yard signs complementing spring flowers. (Alan Greenblatt/Governing)
Election Officials Feel Forced Out: People running elections find themselves under siege, facing harassment and threats, as well as conspiracy theorists who challenge them at every turn. As a result, many are quitting.

Top election officials in more than half of Nevada’s counties have left office since the 2020 election. In Kentucky, 23 county election clerks decided not to run for re-election last year, out of 120. Last month, the director of elections in Buckingham County, Va., and her entire staff left, due to a change in local political leadership that led to arguments about baseless voter fraud claims.

In Texas, turnover in local election offices has reached 30 percent since 2020. Heider Garcia, the well-regarded elections director in Tarrant County, Texas, submitted his resignation letter on Sunday. Last summer, Garcia testified before the U.S. Senate that threats had led him to be concerned about the safety of himself and his family. He made it clear in his resignation letter that he couldn’t work with Tim O’Hare, the new top executive in Tarrant County, who created an election integrity task force despite the lack of evidence of voter fraud in the county.

Last year, a poll by the Brennan Center for Justice found that “60 percent of [election] officials are concerned that threats, harassment and intimidation against local election officials will make it difficult to retain and recruit election workers.” You can’t run elections without workers. If they feel undermined rather than supported by elected leaders while under attack by part of the public, no one should be surprised if even more decide to leave the field.

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Alan Greenblatt is a senior staff writer for Governing. He can be found on Twitter at @AlanGreenblatt.
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