With the 2023 Louisiana Legislative Session beginning Monday, April 10, the LRA, the Louisiana Retailers Association and NFIB held a gubernatorial forum at Juban’s Restaurant in Baton Rouge. It was the first event during this campaign season where all seven candidates shared their vision for what Louisiana’s priorities might be during their administration. Taxes were front and center of discussion for the audience of restaurant industry and small business professionals. Key topics included inventory, franchise, sales and income taxes. Several candidates focused on addressing our education system deficits so we can prepare our workforce for the jobs that will be available today, and in the future.
The forum began with Senator Sharon Hewitt (R), who was elected in 2016 to represent the 1st district, which encompasses portions of St. Tammany, Orleans, Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes. Hewitt expressed her commitment to propelling the state forward by improving schools, reducing wasteful government spending and improving the overall quality of life for residents. In her role as Senator, she’s authored and passed one of the most significant literacy bills in the history of the state. As a career engineering executive with Shell, she has led the state’s efforts to invest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education programs, which are designed to attract high paying jobs to our state and retain graduates beyond college.
State Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) touted his experience as a small businessman before he was elected to serve in Congress. He noted he was the only advocate for small business and restaurants opposing the operating restrictions placed on the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Landry shared his vision for a Louisiana that needs to improve education, and restructure its untenable tax code. He also discussed the necessity to address crime, noting three cities in Louisiana are rated in the top ten for crime in the US.
Hunter Lundy (Ind.) from Lake Charles has never run for state office. He built a multi-state law practice and sold his business to focus on the Governor’s race. He’s also owned restaurants and other businesses. He says, as an independent, he isn’t beholden to any party. He wants to see us address our infrastructure and education outcomes, while creating more training for future jobs that will encourage business to locate here.
Richard Nelson (R), a first term House member from Mandeville District 89, noted that after living outside the state, he and his wife chose to raise their three sons back home. He spoke about our lack of a competitive measure for income tax when we look at our neighboring states. He discussed legislation he passed out of the House last year that would require 3rd graders to read at grade level by the end of the school year or be held back for remediation and further testing. He implored us to use the education system for outcomes that make our graduates desirable to employers.
State Treasurer John Schroder (R) threw his hat in the race early this year drawing on his nine year experience in the House of Representatives and his almost six years serving as state treasurer. During the forum, he remarked that service in his current role, which focuses squarely on the state’s fiscal responsibility, makes him the best choice to lead Louisiana as its next governor. Ahead of the 2023 Legislative Session, he’s shared his position on how to best use the state’s revenue, and how to be more proactive against natural disasters. Schroder would specifically like to see the legislature create a disaster fund so that the state has more cash on hand to quickly respond to disasters. Additionally, he noted that we shouldn’t crack open the state’s reserves if fully funded unless it was for one time spending.
Stephen Waguespack (R), is the former LABI CEO. He spoke on his success as chief lobbyist for the business community passing tort reform and pushing to consolidate Louisiana’s archaic sales tax collection system. Waguespack shared his memory of leaving Louisiana in the early 1980’s with his family as his father had to seek employment outside the state. He wants to create a vibrant economy that makes people want to be here, while providing the jobs needed to sustain them. For the past 10 years, he’s led LABI and been a leader in improving the tax and fiscal accountability in Louisiana.
Lastly, attendees heard from Shawn Wilson (D), a Lafayette resident who has spent the last 25 years in government under democratic and republican governors. For the last seven years, he served as Edwards’ Secretary of Department of Transportation and Development, but stepped down from that position to run for governor. He spoke of the nearly 7,000 miles of roadways rebuilt or added, and funds secured to replace the 1-10 bridge over the Calcasieu River and gained the first tranche of dedicated funds to construct a new bridge over the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge. And while he has not held elective office, his vision for the future touched on education, job creation, tax reform and building a budget process that avoids wild dips like we’ve seen in previous terms. He also discussed seeking and deploying the remaining federal grant dollars from multiple programs that arose during Covid. He noted his historical approach to build bridges—both literally and figuratively.
The primary election will take place on October 14, 2023. Should no candidate exceed 50.1% of the vote, the top two candidates in votes will face off in the runoff election on November 18, 2023.
Top Row (pictured left to right) : Senator Sharon Hewitt (R), Shawn Wilson (D), Hunter Lundy (IND), State Attorney General Jeff Landry (R)
Bottom Row (pictured left to right) : Richard Nelson (R), State Treasurer John Schroder (R) and Stephen Waguespack (R)