LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY) — The second of four scheduled debates in the race to be the next Governor of Louisiana featured no small measure of fireworks.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, a clear frontrunner on the polls, made his first and possibly only debate appearance at the KLFY studios Friday evening, and he was in the crosshairs of the other candidates. But he was not the only one on the receiving end of attacks.
The debate included Landry, Shawn Wilson, John Schroder, Stephen Waguespack, Sharon Hewitt, Hunter Lundy and Richard Nelson. The participants were chosen as the top seven of the 15 qualified candidates based on statewide polling.
In his opening statement, Schroder jumped on a theme that candidates have been attempting to stick to Landry, corruption.
“We have to address the cronyism and corruption reputation of this state that stains us,” Schroder said. “As your governor, the rules will be the rules and access will be equal to all.”
On the topic of abortion, Wilson also took aim at Landry.
“It’s unfortunate that the attorney general has signed on with other attorneys general to talk about when women travel to other states (to have an abortion),” Wilson said. “When is it going to stop? Absolutely, I trust women’s decisions. I’ve always trusted women’s decisions. That is my position, and it has always been my position.”
Waguespack joined the chorus of those taking Landry to task.
“Jeff is willing to put doctors in jail, and women in jail if they cross state lines if they go and address their own health care needs,” Waguespack said.
“Stephen is a lawyer, but he hasn’t read the law,” Landry responded. “Our office, the attorney general, has clarified that there is plenty of room to give doctors the decisions they need.”
Landry was given an opportunity to address accusations in attack ads against him that accused him of corruption, including one that resulted in his campaign asking for and being granted a restraining order for an ad run by Louisiana Leadership Fund.
“What you see on TV in those types of attacks unfortunately does nothing to focus on the issues that are plaguing this state,” Landry said. “The campaign I’ve been running since October of last year is focused on those issues.”
Schroder was asked, as a candidate who has targeted Landry directly, to provide an example of corruption or cronyism.
“It’s not against the law, but how does it look when a trial lawyer firm out of Texas got the biggest fine from the insurance commissioner of $2 million, and the attorney general took a $5,000 donation 30 days, 45 days after?” he said. “It’s not wrong, but it looks bad, it smells really bad, and it erodes the public’s trust.”
Landry was not the only target in the debate. Six of the seven candidates said they would support bringing toll roads to Louisiana to help fund repairs. Only Lundy did not.
“A toll is a tax,” Lundy said, who then went on the attack against Wilson, formerly the secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.
“In March of this year a bridge that was built by the Department of Transportation crossing the Intercoastal Canal in West Baton Rouge Parish was declared unusable,” Lundy said. “They didn’t put the pilings in, and so the bridge was sinking. He quits, he doesn’t fix it, and he says he’s running for governor in April. It’s going to take $10 million to fix it. If we did things the right way, we wouldn’t have to look at tolls.”
Hewitt took aim at current Gov. John Bel Edwards when the topic of police transparency, specifically the Ronald Greene case, came up.
“One thing I will not do as governor is get a text message from State Police about a citizen who died at the hands of State Police, and then roll over and go to bed and forget about it,” Hewitt said. “I think the cover-up has been from Governor Edwards’s office. If you recall, in 2019, this was an election year. I do not think as governor he has pursued this case and held State Police accountable, as he should.”