By Sam Karlin, Staff Writer, NOLA.com, January 13, 2023 —
State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Slidell Republican, announced Friday she will run for governor, capping a week of highly anticipated entries into the race to succeed Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Hewitt announced Friday she intends to compete for the open seat, which is being vacated because Edwards, a Democrat, is term-limited.
As chair of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, Hewitt led the Senate GOP’s redistricting efforts last year, and had influence on voting issues, gubernatorial appointments and legislative affairs. She is also chair of the Senate GOP delegation. She was first elected to the Senate in 2015.
Hewitt said in a statement she's running to cut taxes and grow the economy, touting her business background. In a biographical spot released Friday, Hewitt played up her background working for Shell on deepwater rigs after graduating from LSU. Hewitt says she was one of the first women executives of an oil major.
She decried “big characters who talk a big game,” casting herself as a “doer” who would improve education, support the oil industry and “reject anti-police, soft-on-crime policies.”
“Politicians have failed our state for decades, saddling us with a failing tax code, struggling schools, and rising crime in our cities,” Hewitt said. “It’s time for a governor who will get things done. That’s why I’m running to lead this great state I love."
She joins Attorney General Jeff Landry and Treasurer John Schroder, both Republicans, in the field of declared candidates. The field is expected to get crowded after U.S. Sens. John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy and Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser all opted out of the race.
U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, is also considering a bid. He said in a radio interview this week that his phone has been “absolutely blowing up” since Kennedy announced he wasn’t running. Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, a Republican who ran fourth in the 2015 primary, said Friday he is not running this time despite getting calls encouraging a bid. State Rep. Richard Nelson, R-Mandeville, is mulling a bid.
Hunter Lundy, an independent trial attorney from Lake Charles, also announced his candidacy this week. Lundy ran for Congress in 1996 as a Democrat, losing to Chris John in a runoff.
On the Democratic side, Edwards’ transportation secretary, Shawn Wilson, state Democratic Party chair Katie Bernhardt and East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore all say they’re considering bids. If Democrats coalesce around one candidate, many observers expect the Democrat to be a lock for a runoff. Louisiana has a unique jungle primary system where all candidates face off in the primary, regardless of party, and the top two vote getters advance to a runoff if no one hits 50%.
If elected, Hewitt would be the state’s first woman Republican governor. Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, the only woman to serve as the state's chief executive, was a Democrat.
At this point, Landry holds a big fundraising edge over his competitors, and he also wields an unusual early endorsement from the state Republican party. But challengers hope to capitalize on Landry's tendency to be a polarizing force in state politics, which stems from his eagerness to wade into divisive cultural issues and engage in public spats with other elected officials.
The next campaign finance reports are due in February, but Landry’s campaign said he will report $6.5 million on hand between his campaign and PAC. Hewitt had about $288,000 on hand the last time she reported, about a year ago, while Schroder had about $2 million on hand.
State legislators are at a disadvantage in a gubernatorial race for a couple reasons, said John Couvillon, a Republican pollster. They have a smaller constituency of people who know them than statewide officials, and as a consequence, they tend to have a harder time raising money.
But Edwards was a little-known state representative in 2015 when he ran for governor, and he caught fire, amassing significant money on his way to a shocking upset over then-U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a Republican who many saw as the frontrunner.
Couvillon said the summer months are crucial for candidates to spend money getting their name out and introducing themselves to voters. He also said it remains to be seen whether any Republican candidate will seek to carve out what Couvillon called a “swim lane” in the middle of the field.