As gubernatorial candidates line up in Louisiana, a musical chairs game has broken out for other constitutional offices.
At the beginning of the year, a historic three such officers perhaps had the state’s top job in their sights. Republican Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry already had made official his intention for it, and days later GOP Treas. John Schroder joined him. However, Republican Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser passed in favor of seeking his current post again.
In doing so, Nungesser initially pitted himself against GOP former Rep. John Fleming, who had announced formally for the job last year. That augured an interesting matchup, as a number of Republicans and conservatives had become disenchanted with Nungesser’s playing political footsie with Democrats like Gov. John Bel Edwards and his opposition to party-building efforts such as instituting closed primary elections for some or all contests in the state. By contrast, Fleming has impeccable conservative credentials, although the office has little ideological policy content in its administration.
However, Fleming, who had said he would wait on Nungesser before deciding but went ahead and announced much earlier back when Landry committed, appears to have second thoughts now. Fleming would have been a clear favorite without Nungesser involved, given his record and ample campaign resources, but with the lieutenant governor vying for reelection he would face a well-heeled opponent with the advantages of incumbency and plenty of name recognition.
Instead, he may have set his eyes on taking the spot Schroder vacated. Treasurer would be a better fit for him (frankly, almost any office makes for almost anybody a better fit given the lieutenant governor only formally oversees culture, recreation, and tourism) as not only does he have some experience with government finance as a member of Congress and in the upper reaches, including White House work, of the GOP former Pres. Donald Trump Administration, but he also was a successful businessman and ran a medical practice prior to his elected career.
This wouldn’t be good news to another Republican candidate who long ago announced for treasurer, state Rep. Scott McKnight. A senior administrator in the insurance business who has racked up a pretty conservative record in his three years in the House, it will be difficult for him to match Fleming’s resources or reputation as a fiscal conservative in a statewide contest should the latter formally switch his aspirations. Another already-announced Democrat would provide just token opposition.
With a Fleming transfer apparently imminent, another conservative Republican looks poised to slide into his place. Former state Sen. Elbert Guillory, who previously ran for it in 2015, stated last week on social media he would contest the office and seems certain to make it official at any time.
Years ago, Guillory made a splash when, as a black Democrat, he switched to the GOP. In 2015, he finished a distant fourth to three heavyweight candidates, one being Nungesser who barely made the runoff but then defeated a black Democrat in the runoff. He fared about as well when he ran for the Senate a year later. Since then, for a while Guillory experienced minor celebrity among conservatives, authoring a book and making numerous media appearances. On the less salutary side of things, he was arrested last year on suspicion of drunk driving.
Nevertheless, he faces an uphill climb. He had close to no money in his old campaign finance account in the middle of last year and he hasn’t shown much staying power in statewide races. Almost as old as Democrat Pres. Joe Biden, age also might prove a campaign negative. Still, he gives conservatives disgruntled with Nungesser an option and if no Democrat enters he might get a good chunk of that and the black vote to give the incumbent a run for his money.
Guillory’s entry, even if it just peels a few percentage points, squeezes more GOP House Speaker Clay Schexnayder who has teased a run for months. Fleming’s departure may encourage him, but Guillory’s entry will dampen that enthusiasm somewhat.