A comparative handful of voters Saturday chose Covington businessman John Schroder to be the state’s treasurer for the next two years.
He led Democratic New Orleans lawyer Derrick Edwards from the very beginning of the evening when the absentee votes were posted a minute after the 3,904 polling stations in all 64 parishes closed. Schroder polled 208,118 ballots or about 56 percent of the vote, according to complete but unofficial returns.
The race to fill the remaining two years of John N. Kennedy’s term as treasurer failed to attract money, attention, and in the end, voters. About 12.5 percent of the state's 2.97 million registered voters bothered to go to the polls — the lowest turnout of any recent statewide election.
In fact, it was the low turnout that caused the only suspense. Louisiana has elected only one Democrat to statewide office since 2008. In most parishes the treasurer’s race was alone or shared the ballot with local tax millage renewals. When the expected low turnout was coupled with a modestly higher turnout in the Democratic stronghold of New Orleans, which is electing a mayor, it gave Edwards an outside chance of an upset.
But that didn’t happen.
Over the past decade, Schroder represented Covington and western St. Tammany Parish in the Louisiana House of Representatives. He resigned in June to focus on a campaign that he began well over a year ago with visits to business groups around the state.
Kennedy, who resigned after 16 years as state treasurer to join the U.S. Senate, was a constituent of and model for Schroder.
“I look at it as picking up the baton,” Schroder told The Advocate recently, adding that he had no immediate plans to replace any of the 50-some staffers in the Department of the Treasury. He plans to continue Kennedy’s policies and procedures.
Schroder said he specifically intends to continue Kennedy’s policy of critiquing financial decisions made by legislators and governors.
“Government can live the same way they ask the taxpayers to. They can,” Schroder said. “This isn’t about what you want. It’s about what we can afford.”
Republican Schroder worked with Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards when both were “fiscal hawks” — trying to sidetrack budget writing policies they questioned — when both were in the Louisiana House. Nevertheless, Schroder said he would continue the running commentary about the governor’s fiscal policies.
Gov. Edwards congratulated Schroder in a statement: "John and I share a commitment to a more efficient and transparent state government, and I look forward to partnering with him. We offer our prayers and support to John as he transitions into this new role.”
The state treasurer has about 30 legally prescribed duties, including serving as chairman of the State Bond Commission.
Essentially, the treasurer acts as Louisiana’s banker, pooling the funds that come in from taxes and fees, then writing the checks that pay the bills when ordered by the heads of other agencies. When the money is not in use, a treasurer makes short-term investments, often for only a day or two.
The State Bond Commission oversees and issues the loans necessary to build roads and bridges and help local governments cover their expenses
Edwards would have been the first African American elected statewide. But he raised little money, campaigned less and routinely refused media interviews. State Democratic Party leaders refused until after the Oct. 14 primary to endorse Edwards, even though he was the only Democrat on the ballot.
Democrats backed Edwards after he led the primary field with 125,503 votes. He received 165,269 votes on Saturday.
Former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards made robocalls late Saturday afternoon telling people “to drop what you’re doing” and go out to vote for Derrick Edwards.
Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards did not get involved in the race. But Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate against Kennedy in 2016 was one of Edwards’ biggest donors.
This was only his second run for public office. He finished eighth in the 2016 U.S. Senate race.
Edwards stuck to his resume — he overcame paralyzing injuries to become a lawyer with a graduate degree in accounting — while taking swings at Schroder for talking about wedge issues not directly related to the job.
"He's actually trying to deceive the citizens of this state or he really has no idea what the office does," Edwards said in a radio interview.
Edwards said he would bring more transparency to the job.
An East Jefferson High School grad who grew up in Metairie, Schroder played football at Southeastern Louisiana University and was in the U.S. Army. He was a deputy in the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office before moving to St. Tammany Parish about 25 years ago to develop residential properties on the fast-growing north shore of Lake Pontchartrain,
He was punished in April 2010 with the loss of his seat on the House Appropriations Committee for two years after supporting a Democrat for the post of speaker pro tem. In December 2015, he was targeted by tea party-affiliated groups, who usually support him, with allegations of selling out Republicans after the Democratic candidate for House speaker said Schroder was his pick to be chairman of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee.
Schroder was chairman of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security and sat on the Special Committee for Military Affairs in addition to serving on the Appropriations, Joint Budget, Civil Law, Criminal Justice and Education committees. He was a chairman of the Taskforce for Legal Representation of Children and was a founder of the House Fiscal Budget Hawks.
“I want to finish up my career using all the things I have learned to make Louisiana better,” Schroder said when he resigned the House. “Louisiana has a spending problem. Until we fix it, we can't get into the revenue issue."