Jim Beam column:Graves: Will he or won’t he?

Published 10:00 am Sunday, March 5, 2023

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By Jim Beam

Now that some of the big names have decided not to run for governor, it appears the next major moves are up to U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, and Democrat Shawn Wilson, the state’s former transportation secretary.

What is holding them up is anyone’s guess. However, Graves’ delay has introduced another possible candidate to the voters. He’s Speaker of the state House Clay Schexnayder, a Republican from Gonzales.

Like others before him, Schexnayder said, “There are still a lot of people outside of the current candidates. If he (Graves) gets in, I would not run. But if he doesn’t, it is definitely something I would look at very closely.”

The Advocate reported that political experts say a GOP contender who appeals to Louisiana’s mostly conservative base but who is viewed as more moderate than front-runner Landry could be a credible candidate. Graves apparently fits that description.

Four of the Republicans who have announced are state Attorney General Jeff Landry, state Treasurer John Schroder, state Sen. Sharon Hewitt of Slidell, and Rep. Richard Nelson of Mandeville. Hunter Lundy of Lake Charles, an independent, has also announced.

Those big names who have said they aren’t running are U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge, John Kennedy of Madisonville, and Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser.

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore, a Democrat, said he isn’t running. Democrat Gary Chambers of Baton Rouge, a civil rights activist, said he won’t run if Wilson enters the race.

Moore may be right when he says he isn’t running because the election has the potential to be “very ugly and nasty, like it’s played out in Washington on a daily basis.”

Jeremy Alford in The Tracker Tuesday had some interesting comments about the campaign. Alford said Graves, like Nungesser, had a private meeting with Landry.

“According to the congressman’s camp, Graves ‘mainly wanted to be very transparent about a few issues and establish clarity between them.’ Both would agree it was a positive meeting,” Alford said.

The Louisiana Oil and Gas Association held a gubernatorial forum and Alford said Nelson was somewhat of a new face for that crowd. Nelson visited the American Press editorial board Monday and I agree he had some on-target comments about Louisiana.

Alford reported that Nelson said, “If Louisiana were just average in this country, we’d all live four years longer and get a 33 percent raise.” Nelson is obviously referring to the fact that the state is on the bottom of too many lists and if we were higher up we would live longer and make more money.

Nelson is also right about the late-Gov. Huey Long being responsible for many of the state’s tax problems. Long’s homestead exemption, for example, has caused local governments to rely on high sales taxes and state assistance in order to carry out their public services.

Alford said if there’s a reform candidate in the race, it may be Nelson, who talked about pet projects “coveted by legislators for generations” that are financed by the state.

Speaking of reformers, Lake Charles has one who has entered the race for state treasurer. He’s Dustin Granger, a Democrat and financial adviser who ran unsuccessfully in 2021 in a special election for a local state Senate seat.

State Rep. Scott McKnight, R-Baton Rouge, is running for treasurer and former GOP U.S. Rep. John Fleming of Minden said he is running but hasn’t announced.

Schroder, while treasurer and at Landry’s urging, has nixed some investment companies for state funds because of their anti-oil and gas policies and their anti-gun stands. The Advocate said Granger, in a video announcing his candidacy, said it makes sense for the state to move away from investing in the oil and gas industry.

“ … What more do we have to show for unwavering allegiance to big oil than an economy that ranks last in the nation, and a climate crisis that threatens to make it even worse?” Granger asked.

“It’s time for a better Louisiana. It’s time for the Louisiana of the future,” he added.

The state could definitely use some reformers in public office because it’s true we haven’t gotten anywhere near where we need to be in too many areas. However, history has shown that Louisiana voters will accept only so much reform.

Anyone who doubts that needs to speak with family members and friends of former one-term reform governors Sam Jones (1940-44); Robert Kennon (1952-56); Dave Treen (1980-84); and Buddy Roemer (1988-92).

Despite little chance for serious reform, we need to continue to hope, work and vote for better times.