Saturday’s Legislative Special Elections Could Be A Bonanza For Louisiana’s Conservatives

We’ve done a few things on the seven special election races for Louisiana House of Representatives seats set for Saturday’s primary, but with two days to go the buzz among business and conservative groups seems to be that the House is about to move a bit to the right when the returns come in.

There are essentially four seats where conservative institutional groups have been participating. In three of those the former holder of the seat was a Republican with a mediocre – or worse – voting record; namely, Chris Hazel, Kenny Havard and Rob Shadoin. Havard is the new parish president in West Feliciana, Shadoin took a job as the executive counsel for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and Hazel successfully ran for judge.

We’re hearing that all three of those races could be decided Saturday night, with the heavy favorite being the most conservative candidate running.

District 12, the Ruston-centric district from which Shadoin built a reputation as the most egregious RINO in the Louisiana legislature, is quite likely to go to Chris Turner, a Ruston businessman and staunch conservative who has picked up support from virtually all of the business trade groups. Here’s Turner’s campaign ad…

And here’s the ad the Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority put together for him upon endorsing him…

Turner’s opponent in the race is also a Republican, but Jake Halley has only spent about $2,500 on the race to date compared to the $27,000 Turner lists on his report. It’s all but assured Turner will win on Saturday.

A similar situation is taking place in House District 27, the Alexandria-area seat Hazel occupied. The leading candidate in that race is named Mike Johnson – not the same Mike Johnson who currently represents Northwest Louisiana in the U.S. Congress. But “Pineville Mike,” as his political consultant Jason Hebert (who has also done work for the Congressman) calls him, is expected to have a quite similar voting record. Here is the LCCM web ad which surfaced following their endorsement…

And here’s Johnson’s campaign ad…

Johnson’s opponent is a Democrat named Richard Kretzsinger. Nobody really believes this will be much of a race in a deeply conservative district Donald Trump and John Kennedy won with 83 and 84 percent, respectively, in 2016. Johnson has raised more than $120,000 in the campaign, a whopping number for a special election House race.

In District 62, which had been Havard’s seat, there’s a more crowded field. Republican Dennis Aucoin of Clinton, a former president of the East Feliciana police jury, has a reputation as a straight-shooting conservative firebrand and a businessman rather than a politician. Aucoin, who owns a logging company, is up against a field of four opponents – independent Roy Daryl Adams, who owns a grocery store in Jackson, and Democrats Jerel Giarrusso, Johnathan Loveall and Tarries Greenup. Giarrusso and Loveall are white; Greenup, the husband of 2018 Secretary of State candidate Gwen Collins-Greenup, is black. There is some discussion of Aucoin winning the race outright on Saturday, but if that doesn’t happen he’s likely to win a runoff matchup with Greenup in a district which is 42 percent black but otherwise Republican-friendly; Trump carried 55 percent of the district and Kennedy 56 in the 2016 elections.

Aucoin, who has been endorsed by LCCM, has raised around $30,000 for the race, which dwarfs the other candidates. Greenup’s 10-day report shows only $369 spent on his campaign, all of it from personal funds.

There is another race in a Republican-held district, that being in the Cameron and Vermilion Parish-located District 47. This was the seat formerly held by Bob Hensgens, who won a special election last year to replace Johnathan Perry after the latter won a judgeship. The District 47 race is one where most of the conservative groups like LCCM haven’t really played in this race, because both candidates – Cameron Parish administrator Ryan Bourriaque and Ben Rivera, a businessman from Maurice – look like fairly strong conservatives.

An issue which might play in that race, though, is the flurry of coastal lawsuits filed by the Cameron Parish Police Jury in 2016. Bourriaque didn’t have a vote on that question as the parish administrator, but the oil and gas industry is nonetheless peeved over the question and he hasn’t taken a strong position one way or the other. Some oil and gas money has flowed to Rivera as a result; he’s raised about $33,000 in the race while Bourriaque has brought in around three times that from a diverse list of donors that includes lots of different business groups and even some Democrats.

What Bourriaque does bring to the table, according to some of the business people, is that he understands the ITEP issue quite well having dealt with it quite a bit as industrial concerns have set up shop in Cameron Parish to build LNG facilities and the like. He also cuts an impressive figure in a political ad…

Which is not to say Rivera can’t also make a positive impression…

Rivera has one advantage over Bourriaque, which is that most of the district is in Vermilion Parish, where he’s from, rather than Cameron – one of the least-populous parishes in the state. Insiders say this one can go either way, and that from a conservative perspective the race would be essentially a “hold” going from Hensgens to either one.

A fifth race worth watching from a conservative standpoint is the fourth race the institutional players are involved in. That would be the contest in House District 18, where Republican Tammi Fabre of New Roads offers an opportunity for a pickup of a formerly Democratic seat. Major Thibaut, who was one of the state’s few remaining moderate-to-conservative Democrat legislators, left the seat after winning a race for Pointe Coupee Parish President last year, and Fabre is in a six-person scramble which will almost assuredly go to a runoff in March.

The question is, who’ll be in that runoff?

Fabre, who has the endorsement of LCCM, LABI, Associated Builders & Contractors, the Louisiana Association of Manufacturers and a number of other business and conservative groups, has raised about $50,000 in the race. That has put her in a competitive position with the big-money player in the race – a Democrat trial attorney from New Roads named Jeremy Lacombe. Lacombe shows some $80,000 in contributions, with a lot of trial lawyer and union money included in that mix. In the past it would be likely that Lacombe would win a race in a district like HD-18, but there’s a problem that money might not be able to solve.

Specifically, District 18 is 37 percent black, and black voters there will turn out heavily for black Democrat candidates. Gwen Collins-Greenup got 49 percent of the vote against Kyle Ardoin in the Secretary of State runoff last year, which indicates the other major Democrat candidate in the race, a lawyer from Port Allen named NaTashia Carter Benoit, is likely to make the runoff.

Benoit has raised around $20,000 so far.

There are three other candidates in the race – a pair of white Democrats named Bill Spencer and Sprout Spillman and a black Republican named Jason Fowler. None figure as major candidates, but Fowler’s entry into the race smacks of dirty pool by Lacombe’s camp. He’s 19 years old, and apparently has an arrest on his record for “terrorizing” – whatever that would mean. We’re told that the New Roads address Fowler gave when qualifying for the race is that of a house owned by a local attorney named Tom Nelson who turns up in Lacombe’s campaign finance reports as a donor, which might be significant of Fowler being a plant by the Lacombe campaign. He’s likely there to soak up a few votes from Benoit in the black community, as well as maybe grabbing a smattering of Republicans away from Fabre. Fowler could end up being the gambit that sneaks Lacombe into a runoff which otherwise would likely match Fabre against Benoit.

District 18 went 57 percent for Trump and 58 percent for Kennedy in 2018, which could be an indication Fabre can beat either Benoit or Lacombe in a runoff, though the opponent she wants is Benoit. The polls look fairly close between the three; a Benoit-Lacombe runoff is possible, though probably the least likely matchup.

Two other districts – HD-17 and HD-26 – will also be decided. Those are in majority-black districts being vacated by Democrats Marcus Hunter, who won a judgeship last year, and Jeff Hall, who is the new mayor of Alexandria.

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