It may not feel like it now, but Louisiana’s statewide elections slated for 2023 are right around the corner. And while some of the politicians lining up for these jobs profess it’s a little early, the political reality is many of them need to kick their campaigns (shadow or otherwise) into high gear this year. After all, each statewide cycle of late has trumped its predecessor in terms of money spent and the cycle that commences in two years is unlikely to be an exception.
Let’s start at the top of the ticket. The first news reports about the next election for governor were published just days after Gov. John Bel Edwards was re-elected in November 2019, so it’s not an exaggeration to describe the 2023 race to replace him as highly anticipated. So far, however, the potential contenders floated for the big race have all been Republicans, leaving onlookers to ask: Who will be the Democrat?
The answer to that question could end up being Sen. Gary Smith, who represents portions of Lafourche, Jefferson, St. Charles and St. John parishes. Smith is being encouraged by party boosters to consider the race and his supporters have been quick to cast him in the same centrist mold that has served Edwards well. In the coming months more Democratic names will surely surface, but for now Smith is the first into the developing fray.
There has also been growing speculation about a bid from Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain, who is viewed by some as a Republican compromise to the far-right politics of Attorney General Jeff Landry and the centrist offerings of Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser. While Strain said in an interview he’s focused on the job he has now, both Landry and Nungesser have been the most aggressive of the potential contenders in staking out early ground.
Another name often added to the mix in political conversations is Treasurer John Schroder, who says his top priority is overseeing the COVID-19 relief funding that’s flowing through his office. “I’m flattered so many people have talked to me about it,” Schroder says. “Who wouldn’t be? It won’t be a decision or topic I take lightly.”
The field will be crowded and anyone who flirted with the race in 2019 will be asked to look at it again by supporters, including but not limited to Sen. Bret Allain, Congressman Garret Graves, Sen. Sharon Hewitt, Congressman Mike Johnson, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, Congressman Steve Scalise and Louisiana Association of Business and Industry President Stephen Waguespack. None of the politicos on this shortlist is making noisy or noticeable moves toward the race at this very moment, but a few of them might in the coming months.
Should Nungesser run for governor in 2023, there are a couple of names worth watching for that post. House Ways and Means Chair Stuart Bishop, a Lafayette Republican, says he is seriously considering the race. Given his position leading the House’s tax-writing committee and his reputation for being an aggressive fundraiser, Bishop is in a position to build an enviable war chest. Also keep an eye on GOP Public Service Commissioner Craig Greene of Baton Rouge, who is said to be sizing up the race and meeting with consultants.
Others expected to take a look at the race can all be found in the state House, including Rep. Larry Frieman, House Speaker Pro Tem Tanner Magee and House and Governmental Affairs Chairman John Stefanski.
On another front, it has been many years since Louisiana has seen a House speaker angle for higher office, but that may happen this term. Speaker Clay Schexnayder is considering a bid for agriculture commissioner. As a key player in the creation of Louisiana’s hemp program and the former chair of the House Agriculture Committee, Schexnayder will be able to walk the walk and talk the talk. He’ll also be able to raise some cash.
There have been no indications that longtime Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon is ready to hang it up, but if he does it will be best to keep tabs on Senate Insurance Chairman Kirk Talbot. Lobbyists who represent the industry like his chances and have encouraged him to maintain an open mind about the statewide contest.
While it may feel a bit early to speculate about these contests, it’s never too early for candidates to start fundraising and angling. So just keep an eye on these developing races of importance, because that’s all we can do until 2023—watch.