In the final moments before qualifying for the November election ended Friday, interim Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin reversed previous statements that he would not run and joined the race.
Ardoin’s last-minute announcement — he had said repeatedly and as late as Friday morning that he had no plans to run — capped a wild final day of qualifying that saw one congressional candidate led away in handcuffs.
“I made the final decision at 4:20 p.m. with my wife,” Ardoin said at 4:30 p.m. as the doors closed for candidates wanting to get their name on the Nov. 6 ballot. He said he had nothing against the eight other candidates for secretary of state but felt the issues facing elections during the next 12 months were substantial enough that Louisiana shouldn’t have a secretary of state who must learn on the job.
All six incumbents in the U.S. House of Representatives drew multiple challengers. None of the opponents are well-funded, while all the congressmen have heavy campaign war chests.
One of the two incumbent Louisiana Supreme Court justices on the ballot, Associate Justice Greg Guidry, attracted an opponent. Richard Ducote, of Covington, is considered one of the nation’s leading child abuse/domestic violence litigators.
Justice Jeff Hughes did not draw an opponent and will return for a 10-year term on the high court.
Public Service Commissioner Craig Greene, R-Baton Rouge, also held onto his seat when nobody signed up to run against him.
Voters also will be asked in November to choose a handful of appellate and district court judges, three state representatives — one from Slidell — plus a few mayors, police chiefs and aldermen around the state.
The November election will be followed, where necessary, by a Dec. 8 runoff. Early voting for the primary is from Oct. 23 to Oct. 30, except on Sunday.
Police arrested Billy Burkette, an Independent from Pride, after he filled out the paperwork and paid the $900 in fees to get his name on the ballot for the 5th Congressional District seat, which covers northeast Louisiana and extends along parts of the Florida Parishes.
Elections personnel recognized his name and phoned the State Police to see if he had any outstanding warrants. He was taken into custody by East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff's deputies.
He was wanted for impersonating a law enforcement officer. Burkette said, as he was being led away in handcuffs, that he was chief of police and chairman of the Louisiana Band of Choctaw Indians.
Burkette polled 18 percent of the vote in a 2016 run against incumbent U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham Jr., R-Alto.
Abraham drew two other opponents in his 2018 re-election bid.
U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, is the third most powerful member of Congress. But he picked up five opponents — three Democrats, an Independent and Libertarian — to his bid for a sixth term representing the 1st Congressional District covering suburban New Orleans.
None of the challengers have raised money — Scalise has millions — but they argued the congressman seems more interested in pushing a national Republican agenda than seeing to the needs of his constituents.
Scalise answered those claims by pointing to his legislation that would extend the flood insurance program through the end of hurricane season.
U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, said the biggest priority in his district is easing traffic through Baton Rouge.
Graves said motorists spend $900 more per year sitting in traffic. He is in conversations to find a way to capture some of that additional spending, perhaps through energy savings, to fund road improvements and a Mississippi River bridge.
Moments later, Andi Saizan, a Baton Rouge software engineer, signed up to challenge Graves as a Democrat.
A mother of four, Saizan said she decided to run after talking with Graves about his votes on health care. He had voted to take away protections for pre-existing conditions. She disagreed with his stances on federal programs like Medicaid and Medicare, and the federal health care law.
Graves also faces opposition from Justin DeWitt, a Baton Rouge Democrat who is the first openly gay congressional candidate from Louisiana. Devin Lance Graham, an Independent from Gonzales, also signed up to run against Graves.
Midterm congressional elections around the country likely will attract much attention as the Democrats are said to have a reasonable chance to win a majority in the U.S. House. However, all of Louisiana’s incumbents are excepted to win easily.
A possible exception is first-term U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Port Barre, who, although a clear favorite, faces significant competition from six opponents.
These are regional races. The only race that will appear on ballots in all 3,904 precincts across Louisiana will be the one to replace Tom Schedler, who abruptly resigned as Secretary of State earlier this year on the heels of sexual harassment allegations.
Nine candidates signed up to run for the final year of Schedler’s term. The winner will be on the ballot in 2019 for a full four-year term.
The secretary of state holds the state seal, administers Louisiana’s elections, handles business incorporation documents, archives state government’s papers and is the third highest-ranking state official.
The surprise candidate was Ardoin, who became interim secretary upon Schedler’s resignation after eight years as Schedler's first assistant secretary.
Baton Rouge state Rep. Rick Edmonds also signed up for the race on Friday, as did Turkey Creek Mayor Heather Cloud, a Republican; Gwen Collins-Greenup, D-Clinton; Thomas J. Kennedy III, R-Metairie; and Matt Moreau, no party-Zachary.
Edmonds said his goal was to rebuild trust in the Secretary of State’s Office and government in general. “I want to sign an integrity promise for the entire state,” Edmonds said.
Former state Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Pearl River, and Renee Fontenot Free, D-Baton Rouge and a former first assistant secretary of state, signed up Wednesday, the first day of qualifying. State Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, qualified on Thursday.