The press release by the Stokes campaign…
“With the blessings and encouragement of family, friends, constituents, and doctors, I am announcing my candidacy to become our next Secretary of State. I have tremendous respect for the proud history of this office, its role in protecting the integrity of our election system, and the service it provides to entrepreneurs. I will strive to improve upon what I can, remove the obstacles that drag the office back, restore morale across the entire department, and ensure that our elections are fair, honest, secure, and carried out with professionalism. Being a CPA, small business owner, and reform-minded legislator, I am prepared for this challenge and expect to take this office to new heights for the citizens of Louisiana.”
There is likely going to be a sizable field for the race to replace Tom Schedler, who resigned last month as pressure built following the sexual harassment suit filed against him. Among the other names in the mix besides Stokes are LSU Board of Supervisors member Mary Werner, who is the daughter of former congressman and Louisiana Democrat Party chairman Buddy Leach, Rep. Paul Hollis, former Jefferson Parish president John Young, who narrowly missed the 2015 runoff in the Lt. Governor’s race ultimately won by Billy Nungesser, Sen. Gerald Long, former Jindal administration commissioner of administration Angele Davis, who narrowly missed the runoff in the special-election treasurer’s race last year, and even House Speaker Taylor Barras.
Barras’ situation is interesting. He’s a vice president at Iberia Bank, which is a pretty good private sector job, and should he decide to throw his hat in the ring for Secretary of State it would indicate a couple of things – first, that he’s getting out of the banking business and going into politics full-time, and second, that he wouldn’t be House Speaker anymore. That would mean a special election for Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives for one year – that year being an election year, at that – and the resulting chaos would make for fascinating theater. Given that without Barras in the mix it’s nearly impossible to figure out who would take over – both Cameron Henry and Walt Leger, the two perceived favorites for the job in January 2016 before Barras emerged as a compromise candidate, are term limited after 2019 and Henry is all but certain to be elected to Conrad Appel’s Senate seat next year – a midterm House Speaker election might well become a stage for an early jump on the following term.
Another potential candidate whose decision could impact future legislative leadership is Sen. Sharon Hewitt. Hewitt’s name has come up as a potential dark horse gubernatorial candidate in 2019, something which would likely be closed off were she to run for Secretary of State this fall. Her name has also come up as a potential candidate for President of the Louisiana Senate in the next term should she run for re-election; there are a lot of people around the state who are determined to find someone with a solid track record of fiscal and economic conservatism to run that body, and aren’t excited at the prospect of Sen. Rick Ward, whose conservatism is often incomplete, getting the job.
From a conservative perspective the Secretary of State job is mostly immaterial but potentially disastrous. The functions of the office, which chiefly include overseeing business filings and elections, generally run themselves. The job is more or less ministerial rather than political. The exception to this would be the management of the state’s voter rolls, which in the past were very sloppily administered and a large amount of suspected voter fraud resulted. But those rolls were cleaned up after Hurricane Katrina, by a not especially partisan Republican Secretary of State in Jay Dardenne. What that means is so long as a reasonably competent and honest Republican is in that office it’s no cause for concern; if a Democrat wins the seat it portends thorough and complete disaster. In 2015 the Democrats ran LSU law professor and social justice warrior Chris Tyson against Schedler and he campaigned on election day, and even automatic, voter registration. Imagine the opportunities for fraud inherent in those.
Which brings us back to Stokes, who is one of the least-liked members of the House Republican delegation and has, in the past, made overtures to the “other side.” Her campaign is likely going to create headaches for the state Republican party and divide the conservative movement. The guess is if Hewitt or Barras get in the race Stokes can’t win, but depending on the campaigns the others might run she might be viable against such a field.