‘New face in politics:’ Richard Nelson, underdog governor-hopeful, impresses local mayors at LMA forum
ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - The Louisiana Municipal Association’s (LMA) gubernatorial forum wrapped up on an enthusiastic note. For more than an hour, all seven candidates vying to be Louisiana’s next governor pitched their plans to make changes on the state and local level to municipal leaders concerned about their infrastructure projects and taxes.
MAKING AN IMPACT
Though each candidate touched on their own approach to those issues, Mandeville-based State Rep. Richard Nelson (R) appeared to draw the most reaction throughout his allotted speech time - and the most applause.
“The young man that went last brought the room together,” said Leesville Mayor Rick Allen of Nelson. “And it’s that energy I think that the American people are looking for, not just in Louisiana, I think across America. It’s election time and people are looking for a new face in politics.”
It is that new face that Allen believes could lead to an upset in the upcoming gubernatorial election.
At only 37, Nelson is the youngest contender in the race, garnering the least amount of campaign cash and carrying the least amount of name recognition. However, his focus on exchanging the legacy of former Gov. Huey P. Long for a decentralized state government resonated with local mayors who had never heard from him before.
“There is a reality to what we do every day and what it takes to do that, but when someone that young and that energetic gets up there and says things the way he did, Representative Nelson is going to win some folks over,” explained Mayor Rich Dupree of Pineville, noting his table of staff were impressed by what Nelson had to say, as well.
From his legislative efforts to restructure the state’s tax code over his tenure in office to education initiatives, like his recently enacted law to improve elementary literacy rates, Nelson believes his track record struck a nerve with municipal leaders.
“When you really look at who knows how to solve a problem and who has done it already, I’m the only one who’s ever done anything to move this ball forward,” said Nelson. “People see that when you’re talking up there it’s not just talking points.”
Nelson’s time in Louisiana politics consists of a stint in the state legislature since 2019, short compared to his competitors’ time in Baton Rouge. While Woodworth Mayor David Butler was impressed by Nelson’s ideas, it was that lack of experience that left him preferring Dr. Shawn Wilson, the only Democrat in the running.
EXPERIENCE OVER IDEAS
“You’ve got to work across party lines, whether it be Independents, Democrats or Republicans. Dr. Shawn Wilson has done that,” said Butler. “I like what he has to say. It’s not rhetoric. He knows what he wants to do, and he’s been there and done it.”
Wilson emphasized his more than 20-year career in infrastructure and development, as well as the relationships he has formed with cities and towns represented in the audience of LMA members.
“All politics are local, and that is where the rubber really meets the road,” explained Wilson. “And my job as governor will be to be their advocate, to be their supporter, and to be a partner in making this state much better than it is today working with local government leaders.”
CANDIDATES POINT TO THEIR TRACK RECORDS
While Nelson and Wilson seemed to grab the attention of Central Louisiana leaders, other candidates had similar things to say, all addressing why they felt they were most qualified to meet the state’s needs.
State Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R) pushed people to consider a candidate’s past as a predictor of their future in the governor’s seat. For Hewitt, that is her legislative achievements.
“People around the state haven’t always known of the things that I’ve done,” said Hewitt. “So, it’s great to highlight a few of those things and to talk about real issues and what I’m going to do as governor and also what I have already done as a legislator.”
John Schroder, as the outgoing state treasurer, believes he is the right person to make sure infrastructure projects important to locals actually come to fruition through creatively managing the purse strings with the next treasurer.
“On any given day, we’re sitting on almost $2 billion dollars in cash at the treasury. I want to work with the next treasurer to get more creative on how we can fund projects,” explained Schroder.
Stephen Waguespack, the former CEO of Louisiana’s Association of Business and Industry (LABI), also sees his background as an advantage. He emphasized continued partnership with locals to move the state forward.
“I’m tired of our jobs, our people, our way of life going to other states. And I’m tired of other southern states dominating while we slip behind. And y’all are on the front lines. You see it more than anyone else,” said Waguespack, addressing municipal leaders.
Lake Charles attorney Hunter Lundy, an Independent, made sure mayors knew he was not going to be a ruler if elected governor and work across party lines to put money back into local government.
“We have to fix the poverty and blight in Louisiana,” said Lundy. “You know, if we want our kids to stay here, we have to change the perception of the rest of the nation on Louisiana.”
Front-runner and Louisiana Republican Party-endorsed candidate Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) focused on his background as the state’s top prosecutor in his address. He emphasized the need to fix the criminal justice system impacting communities, including improving education opportunities in juvenile detention facilities to equip young offenders and prevent reoffenses.
In regards to jobs, Landry said the state needs to focus on the people who have “broken their backs.” If the state gives back to them, Landry believes the growth in business and industry will be organic and more people will want to come to the state.
The 2023 LMA Convention was the first to have successfully had all candidates running for governor attend and give remarks.
Qualifying for the Fall 2023 election begins Tuesday, Aug. 8. The primary election is set for Oct. 14.
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