By Jeremy Alford, Sarah Gamard & Mitch Rabalais
Like he did during last year’s special election for state treasurer, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy is picking sides again in the special election for secretary of state — by endorsing no one in particular and critiquing one person specifically.
At the same time, the developing race has picked up its second announced contender, Attorney General Public Protection Director Reneé Free, who confirmed her candidacy recently to LaPolitics.
The first announced candidate was state Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, who is once again fading the electoral heat being cast by Kennedy. As previously reported by LaPolitics, Kennedy had an anybody-but-Julie approach to last year’s cycle, due to her tax votes and her support of former Congressman Charles Boustany’s 2016 bid against the now-junior senator.
Kennedy is back on the attack as Stokes builds up her front-runner status, what with $184,000 in cash on hand and vote-rich Jefferson Parish as her base of support.
“Kennedy is on Moon Griffon right now suggesting that Julie Stokes go ahead and switch parties and be a Democrat,” Hayride publisher Scott McKay wrote on Facebook recently, referring to Griffon’s statewide political call-in radio show.
Free, meanwhile, is ready to mix it up as well.
“I’m not interested in running,” the Democrat said, “I am running.”
She served under four attorneys general and three secretaries of state, and was instrumental in the consolidation of the latter office with the now-defunct Elections Department.
Some state legislators are close to officiating their place in line, too.
Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, for one, has been meeting with large donors to map out a plan.
“I’ve had a lot of meetings in the last couple of weeks,” Edmonds said. He intends to run for re-election to the House, “unless something changes.”
Rep. Paul Hollis, R-Mandeville, said he is leaning against seeking a third term in the House and is “very serious” about running for secretary of state. He recently had a sit-down with Kennedy about the topic while the senator was home for recess. Hollis wouldn’t divulge further specifics.
At one time rumored to be a candidate but now out of the running for the SOS special election is LSU Board of Supervisors Member Mary Leach Werner. She is dedicating her “time and energy” this year to her board gig. As for 2019, when there will be regular elections for secretary of state and lieutenant governor, both of which she’s being encouraged to pursue, Werner said she’s interested.
Other potential candidates include Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia; Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger, D-New Orleans; Rep. Scott Simon, R-Abita Springs; Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe; Sen. Gary Smith, D-Norco; Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield; Democratic Lake Charles attorney Michael McHale; former GOP Sen. A.G. Crowe; and former Jefferson Parish President John Young, a Republican.
Political History: Breaux’s last-minute win
Late U.S. Sen. Russell B. Long’s 1985 announcement that he would retire after 36 years in the upper chamber was unexpected, as he had been building his war chest and campaigning for the next year’s re-election. But what was more unexpected was the nasty race that unfolded in the contest to succeed him.
Congressman Henson Moore, a Baton Rouge Republican who had been contemplating a challenge to Long, became the first candidate to jump into the race after the news broke in February of that year. Former Republican Gov. Dave Treen briefly considered getting in, but ultimately decided to pass. So as the sole GOP entry, Moore could enjoy a monopoly on fundraising and support.
Congressman John Breaux of Crowley was the next candidate in. The conservative Democrat with a solid base in his Acadiana congressional district was a formidable contender. Other Democratic candidates in the field included Senate President Sammy Nunez, Sen. J. E. Jumonville and Insurance Commissioner Sherman Bernard. Then-Gov. Edwin Edwards was urged to consider a bid, but he was more occupied with ongoing legal problems.
It soon became a head-to-head between Moore and Breaux. Breaux played the ground game hard by criss-crossing the state on the campaign trail. But Moore outspent him 3-1, blanketing the state with ads and signs. Moore also enjoyed support from the White House, with President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George Bush making trips to Louisiana to fundraise and campaign for him. Reagan even cut a TV spot for Moore in the Oval Office, telling viewers, “America needs the talent and hard work of confident, people oriented leaders like Henson Moore.”
On Primary Day, Moore finished first with 44 percent of the vote and moved into a runoff with Breaux. With a comfortable lead and a flush war chest, it looked like Moore would flip Louisiana’s Senate seat for the first time since Reconstruction.
However, Republicans’ dreams were derailed when documents surfaced implicating the state GOP and Moore’s campaign as complicit in a complicated effort to suppress African-American turnout. When Moore tried to tie Breaux to the alleged corruption of Edwards, Breaux’s former boss, the governor got his money and support behind the congressman from Crowley.
On Election Day, Breaux won the seat with 53 percent, keeping it in the Democrats’ hands. Republicans would not win back a U.S. Senate seat for another 18 years.
They Said It
“Hey, you know what you never forget? You never forget your seventh special session of the term.”
—State Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, shortly after the governor announced he would be calling legislators back to Baton Rouge
“I think we’re all smart people in here — for the most part.”
—Carmody, speaking to the Louisiana House of Representatives