BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is vying for a second term as the Deep South’s only Democratic governor, trying to keep national politics from sinking his chances at outright victory in Saturday’s open primary election.
In addition to choosing their governor, Louisiana voters will decide whether to keep six other Republican statewide elected officials for another term and whether to rewrite four provisions in the state constitution.
All candidates, regardless of party, run against each other on the same ballot. Runoff elections, as needed, will be held Nov. 16 among the top two vote-getters in each competition if no candidate reaches more than 50% of the vote.
Edwards faces five opponents on the ballot, though the competition is focused on two major Republican challengers: Ralph Abraham, a third-term congressman and physician from northeast Louisiana, and Eddie Rispone, a Baton Rouge businessman who has spent millions of his own wealth on the race.
Abraham and Rispone are competing for the No. 2 spot, hoping to force the race into a runoff. They suggest Edwards is out of step with Louisiana, saying taxes he supported to balance the budget are too high and are chasing people and businesses from the state.
Edwards says Louisiana is rebounding from an economic recession and a decade of budget crises after a bipartisan tax deal ended the state’s financial instability. He’s touting fewer people uninsured after he expanded Medicaid and a decline in the state’s prison population after a legislative overhaul of criminal sentencing laws.
The candidates have spent more than $24 million on the race, and outside PACs have added millions more in TV advertising, digital media spots and mailers.
OTHER STATEWIDE SEATS
Six Republican incumbents are seeking reelection to their statewide positions: Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, Attorney General Jeff Landry, Treasurer John Schroder, Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain and Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon.
The races for lieutenant governor, attorney general and insurance commissioner are certain to be settled Saturday, with only two contenders in each race. Of those, Donelon faces the fiercest competition, an intraparty challenge from Tim Temple, who’s worked in the insurance industry for 20 years and put $1.8 million of his own money into the race. Donelon, in office since 2006, is seeking a fourth term as commissioner.
Few other opponents to the GOP incumbents have done significant fundraising.
Nungesser, seeking a second term, faces Willie Jones, a New Orleans Democrat. Landry, also in his first term, has drawn opposition from Ike Jackson Jr., a Democrat from Plaquemine and lawyer who once worked in the attorney general’s office.
Among their multiple challengers, Ardoin, Schroder and Strain face rematches with Democratic candidates they defeated in prior elections.
Ardoin worked as a top deputy in the secretary of state’s office before winning the job in last year’s special election. One of his three opponents is Gwen Collins-Greenup, who has worked in notary and real estate businesses and lost to Ardoin in the 2018 runoff.
Schroder, a former state lawmaker who won his position in a 2017 special election, has two opponents, including New Orleans area lawyer Derrick Edwards, who unsuccessfully challenged Schroder two years ago.
Strain, a veterinarian in office since 2008, has four people vying to unseat him, including Charlie Greer, a Natchitoches Parish farmer who ran unsuccessfully in 2015. Other contenders seeking to oust Strain also are farmers. New Orleans vegetable and flower farmer Marguerite Green and Lettsworth tree farmer Peter Williams are Democrats, while rice and crawfish farmer Bradley Zaunbrecher from Egan is a Republican.
Voters are deciding four proposals to change the Louisiana Constitution.
Amendment 1 would create a property tax exemption for certain raw materials and other maintenance items headed for oil and gas drilling work in the Gulf of Mexico’s Outer Continental Shelf.
Amendment 2 would broaden how money from a state education fund can be used, allowing spending on three additional schools and educational programming from Louisiana Public Broadcasting.
Amendment 3 would widen the authority of the state tax appeals board to let the appointed board members determine whether certain tax and fee measures are constitutional, without a taxpayer having to go to court to settle a tax dispute. The Board of Tax Appeals decision could be appealed to the courts, or a taxpayer could still take a disagreement directly to court instead.
Amendment 4 would let the city of New Orleans exempt properties with up to 15 residential units from property taxes, as an incentive to create affordable housing.