In a race with no real issues, candidates for lieutenant governor stress their credentials as they try to convince voters they are the best suited for the job.
The person holding the No. 2 post in state government is a heartbeat away from the governor’s office. If anything happens to the governor, the lieutenant governor takes over.
On a day-to-day basis, the lieutenant governor’s official job involves promotion of Louisiana culture, recreation and tourism, with the heavy emphasis on tourism.
Vying for the open seat are former Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, Jefferson Parish President John Young, East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor President Kip Holden and state Sen Elbert Guillory, of Opelousas.
Nungesser, Young and Guillory are Republicans and Holden, a Democrat. Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne is a candidate for governor.
The primary election is Oct. 24. Early voting begins Saturday and runs through Oct. 17, with the exception of Sunday.
There’s no disagreement among the candidates of the value of tourism as a revenue producer for the state, and all say they are committed to growing the industry. Last year, tourists spent $11.2 billion and generated a record $836 million for the state treasury.
Nungesser touts a plan he says will create 6,600 new jobs and grow revenues 10 percent annually. He advocates showcasing events which have not been promoted out of state and attracting smaller conventions. Young sets a $1 billion goal attained through more money invested in marketing and efforts to get more direct international flights.
Young said he will serve as both lieutenant governor and secretary of Culture, Recreation and Tourism as current officeholder Dardenne has done — eliminating a six-figure state job. Other candidates said they would wait and see.
The race has been fairly lackluster.
Nungesser and Young by far have spent the most money — in the $1 million each range. Each are running aggressive television ad campaigns.
Neither Holden nor Guillory has made much headway in raising campaign cash. Together they have spent a little over $100,000. Holden hopes that being the lone Democrat in the race will be enough to propel him to a runoff spot where the contributions would start flowing in.
Every chance the candidates get, they talk about their backgrounds, experiences and records in the public arena.
Nungesser, a businessman, entered politics in the aftermath of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina — upset about the poor response from officials in its wake and lack of help with recovery efforts in his devastated coastal parish. “I got angry. People told me to quit complaining and do something about it. I ran for Plaquemines Parish president,” Nungesser said. “We created jobs, greater opportunities and got levee improvements. We brought that parish back,” he said. “I ran the parish like a business.”
In the aftermath of the 2010 BP oil spill, Nungesser appeared frequently on national TV, bringing attention to the impact of the disaster on the state’s coastline and its seafood industry. “We stood up to BP and the federal government. When they tried to take advantage of the local community, I got angry. I stood up for our coast.”
“I want to do the job. I don’t need the job,” said Nungesser, who ran unsuccessfully for the post four years ago.
Young, a lawyer who specialized in maritime defense work, is a former assistant district attorney, parish councilman and current parish-president. He won election to the top Jefferson Parish job in the wake of a scandal that sent the former parish-president Aaron Broussard and some other parish officials to jail on corruption and fraud charges.
He talks about his role in restoring integrity and trust to Jefferson Parish government, including establishing an inspector general and ethics commission.
“Look at my record, Nineteen years of public service — seven as a prosecutor, seven as a councilman and five as parish president,” Young said. “I took over parish government when it was on its knees ... I’ve been through (hurricanes) Katrina, Rita, Ike and the BP oil spill. Jefferson Parish is better, stronger than ever.”
Young is not term-limited. He decided not to run for re-election. “I wanted to do this job,” Young said.
Holden is a former legislator and three-term mayor who cannot run for re-election next year.
Holden touts his record as chief executive of Louisiana’s capital city for a decade. “The proof is in the pudding,” Holden said.
Holden brags about the transformation of Baton Rouge under his tenure as mayor — the economic turnaround, expansion of arts, entertainment and cultural activities and top rankings in a variety of surveys as one of the best small cities in which to live and work. In addition, he also notes the revitalization of downtown and road improvements through the Green Light program.
“You have seen it right here in Baton Rouge,” Holden said. “I’m a salesman. I’m a promoter. ... I want to lift up every area of the state.”
Guillory talks about his 45 years in law and government and “the wisdom of all those years.”
The Opelousas native has had a varied career including decades as a criminal defense lawyer as well as working for government agencies in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Illinois and Washington. He was a state representative before he was elected to the state senate.
The candidates approaches to the role of lieutenant governor vary.
Guillory said he would use the lieutenant governor’s position as “a bully pulpit” on issues such as education and family values.
“I’m not going to be sitting on the back burner. I’ll be involved with the management of Louisiana,” Guillory said.
Nungesser said he wants to work as a team with the next governor as “long as he does the right thing.”
“I’ll do the heavy lifting to make this governor successful. I won’t be a threat to the governor. It takes someone working hand in hand who doesn’t care about the credit,” Nungesser said. “I will get involved in every thing. I want to be involved in the coastal plan, in creating jobs. We will get involved in everything physically possible…You will never hear me say that’s not my job.”
Young said there’s plenty to do as lieutenant governor who has state parks and museums under his watch as well as efforts to develop retirement communities, seafood promotion, and preservation of the French culture. “I also would like to do more, certainly economic development, but at the end of the day that depends on the governor and Legislature,” he said.
Holden said he would be working with elected officials and tourism interests in every area of the state to identify places of interest and events that can be marketed both in-state and out-of-state.
“For me, the job of lieutenant governor is not a stepping stone. It’s an opportunity to tell the world how great Louisiana is,” Holden said. “You have to get out there and sell and promote Louisiana.”