Almost all of the major candidates expected to run in statewide elections — a little more than six weeks away — paid their fees and signed their documents before lunch Tuesday, the first official day of qualifying.
Candidates need to officially qualify Tuesday through Thursday to ensure their names will be on the Oct. 24 primary ballot.
This year’s gubernatorial field is packed with established politicos for the first time since 2007, when Gov. Bobby Jindal was first elected. Jindal cannot run for a third consecutive term.
Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter, of Metairie and the acknowledged front-runner in the governor’s race, arrived in a minivan with his wife, Wendy, minutes after the doors opened at Secretary of State Tom Schedler’s office.
Vitter was asked, given his partisan record in Washington, whether he could work well with Democrats and others in Louisiana. “Of all the candidates in the race, I have the strongest and most concrete record of bipartisan accomplishment,” Vitter said.
Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, R-Breaux Bridge, arrived carrying two granddaughters. “I’m excited about introducing my brand of politics to Louisiana,” Angelle said.
Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards, of Amite, greeted Angelle in the lobby. They introduced their wives to one another.
All four candidates have criticized Jindal and the governor’s budgeting practices and they all have said they would schedule a special session of the Legislature shortly after inauguration to tackle systemic problems in how state government raises and spends taxpayer dollars.
“It’s time to turn the page on the Jindal era,” Edwards told reporters after signing in.
Whoever wins the election likely would be a one-term governor because of the hard decisions necessary. “I’m prepared to take on that challenge,” Edwards added.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, whose Baton Rouge home is near the Secretary of State’s office, said: “I’ll be in there getting my hands dirty.” He added that he would cut the number of staffers in the Governor’s Office as part of his plans to reduce spending.
Vitter has more money available — “zillions of dollars,” says Dardenne — than his three main competitors combined. He and Angelle already are advertising on television. Edwards began his television campaign over the weekend and Dardenne says his will be up soon.
A handful of protesters enlivened the proceedings. One wore a diaper, which referred to Vitter’s prostitution scandal from 2007.
Two women wearing construction helmets protested Angelle for his involvement with Sunoco, an oil company. Two others dressed in berets and French Navy shirts criticized a European trip Dardenne took in 2014.
The candidates ignored the protests, though Dardenne’s wife, Cathy, stopped to tell the demonstrators that they looked cute.
Angelle, Dardenne and Edwards headed out for campaign events. Vitter returned to Washington as Congress’ summer recess is about to end.
The governor’s race also picked up a couple of self-financed candidates.
Cary J. Deaton, a Metairie intellectual property lawyer, signed up as a Democrat in the gubernatorial race. A former Republican who has run in several past statewide races, he said he would fax a letter this afternoon asking for the support of President Barack Obama. “We cannot afford to be ostracized by the president of the United States,” he said.
Kentwood’s Beryl Billiot, who handles oilfield insulation for a Mississippi company, quietly signed up to run for governor without party affiliation. New to political campaigning, he left without talking to reporters. In the parking lot, still holding his paperwork, Billiot said he’s running because too many voters are despondent that their voices are being drowned out by special interests. He is self-funding a campaign that will rely on social media.
Dardenne’s bid for the top job has led to a heated race for the second-ranking state official.
Jefferson Parish President John Young; state Sen. Elbert Guillory, of Opelousas; and former Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, all Republicans running for lieutenant governor, were among the first to sign up Tuesday morning.
East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden, the Democratic candidate considered the front-runner in the race, is expected to qualify Wednesday.
Democrat Chris Tyson, son of the late U.S. District Judge Ralph Tyson, discussed changes he would make in the Secretary of State’s office while members of Schedler’s staff watched.
Tyson said Schedler had embroiled the office in an unnecessary lawsuit. He also said that as secretary of state, he would pursue same-day voter registration, which Louisiana legislators have been reluctant to embrace in the past.
Schedler plans to qualify Wednesday.
Attorney General Buddy Caldwell also is in a tight race against two fellow Republicans seeking to unseat him.
Caldwell, who was the first candidate to qualify Tuesday, said he made good on his “commitment to restore integrity and credibility,” a goal he claimed to have accomplished “by putting together a highly skilled team of lawyers and support personnel equal to any in our country.”
Former Congressman Jeff Landry, of New Iberia, contradicted that statement, saying, “I will end Caldwell’s scandalous era of corruption, nepotism and cronyism; and I will bring honesty, integrity and hard work to the Attorney General’s Office.”
Marty Maley, a former prosecutor in Iberville Parish, said that as attorney general, he would fight for victims’ rights and promote early intervention efforts.
Jennifer Treadway, a Baton Rouge regulatory attorney, qualified as the first opponent incumbent Treasurer John Kennedy has faced in his last couple bids for re-election. She blamed Kennedy and Jindal for fiscal irresponsibility “and tyrannical leadership” that has kept Louisiana from progressing.
She pointed to Kennedy’s aggressive television campaign commercial schedule and his runs for other offices while serving as treasurer. “Louisiana deserves a treasurer who will focus on being treasurer of Louisiana, not on seeking a higher office,” she said.
Kennedy said other state officials have called him names because he is one of Jindal’s most frequent and loudest critics. “I try to speak truth to power,” he said.
Asked if he would be a potential candidate for the U.S. Senate should Vitter, who Kennedy has endorsed, win election to the governor’s mansion, the treasurer said the heavy schedule of television ads are aimed at getting out his re-election message.
Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon also picked up a challenger to his re-election bid.
Matt Parker, of Monroe, complained that insurance rates are still too high despite Donelon’s policies to attract companies to compete in Louisiana.
Donelon said the answer to the high rates is for consumers to shop around.
In the races for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, six of seven incumbents filed on the first day: Carolyn Hill, Baton Rouge; Jim Garvey, Metairie; Holly Boffy, Youngsville; Mary Harris, Shreveport; Lottie Beebe, Breaux Bridge; and Kira Orange Jones, New Orleans.
BESE President Chas Roemer, who lives in Baton Rouge, has said he is undecided on running for re-election. Roemer did not return a call for comment. BESE sets policies for about 720,000 public school students statewide.
The eighth elected BESE member, Jay Guillot, of Ruston, is not seeking a second term.
On Tuesday, 44-year educator Gary Jones filed for Guillot’s post. Jones is former superintendent of the Rapides and Claiborne parish school systems. He retired from the state Department of Education in June.
BESE has 11 members. Three are named by the governor.
Tyler Bridges and Will Sentell, of The Advocate Capitol news bureau, contributed to this report. Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCNB. For more coverage of government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.