Long a Republican state, Louisiana is redder than ever under new governor

BATON ROUGE, La. — (AP) — Louisiana has long been reliably red. The Bayou State has voted for the Republican candidate in every presidential election since 2000, with residents overwhelmingly supporting Donald Trump during the past two, and the GOP has held a majority in the statehouse for years.

But policies in the state have veered even further right under the leadership of Republican Gov. Jeff Landry, who has carried out a sweeping conservative agenda in just six months on the job. This week he signed the nation's first law requiring that the Ten Commandments be posted in every public classroom and a first-of-its-kind bill allowing judges to order the surgical castration of rapists who prey on children. He enacted a new law classifying abortion pills as dangerous controlled substances. He expanded death row execution methods and concealed carry of a gun without a permit. And he has voiced support for a bill on his desk calling for a Texas-style immigration crackdown that could allow law enforcement to arrest and jail migrants who enter the U.S. illegally.

The moves have made global headlines and firmly embedded Louisiana in the conservative movement on practically every issue animating the Republican base in 2024. Democrats are appalled at the message Landry is sending but some conservatives in Louisiana see the moves as a bold and powerful step as he raises his national profile.

“From about 500 miles away, it certainly appears that he has been effective very quickly,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Texas-based GOP strategist who has worked for two Congress members and a governor. “He has hit the ground running and the potential is really high.”

‘Pent-up Republican policy preferences'

When Landry entered office in January, he did so with Republicans having secured every statewide elected position for the first time in nearly a decade.

With the help of the Legislature, he also upheld one of the country's strictest abortion bans and pushed anti-LGBTQ+ policies, including Louisiana's version of a "Don't Say Gay" bill.

While Landry hasn't indicated whether he will sign the Democrat-authored castration bill into law, many Republicans and several Democrats supported it.

GOP lawmakers, in turn, have often praised the former state attorney general and one-time congressman.

“It certainly gives you hope that your efforts are going to be productive when you’ve got a governor who you know where he stands on things and also know that there’s a good chance he will sign them,” said speaker pro tempore state Rep. Michael T. Johnson.

Johnson, who was elected to the House in 2019, described Landry as easy to work with, transparent and a leader who he believes will “move the state forward.” He added that the session was “more productive” because there were “clear and organized goals we were trying to accomplish.”

“I think what you saw in this latest legislative session is pent-up Republican policy preferences,” said Robert Hogan, a professor and chair of Louisiana State University’s political science department. “They opened up the floodgates and it started pouring out, with a lot of them very successful.”

Across the aisle, Democrats frequently decried Landry's efforts and the pace at which bills were passing, sometimes with little feedback from the public.

The LGBTQ+ community, which for eight years prior had an ally in the governor's mansion, has become one of Landry's harshest critics.

"It is definitely a different climate here in the Legislature, especially with Gov. Landry prioritizing these very harmful bills, pushing them through very fast and making it very difficult and uncomfortable to be here," said SarahJane Guidry, executive director of the LGBTQ+ rights group Forum for Equality, said in an interview during the session.

Louisiana's recent political shift was at times fended off by former Gov. John Bel Edwards, who couldn't immediately run again because of term limits.

Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South during his two terms, sought over eight years to steer the state toward more Democratic avenues by expanding Medicaid coverage, joining climate change initiatives and vetoing some of the measures that Landry has since signed into law.

Many voters seemed ready for the change Landry has brought, though. He won the election outright with 52% of the vote, obliterating the Democratic runner-up's 26%.

While not everyone wanted Landry for the job, many agree he has followed through on campaign promises — whether they support the policies or not.

“I'm not surprised one iota, this is completely what I expected when he became governor,” said Chris Dier, a high school teacher in New Orleans who has opposed a lot of Landry's initiatives. “I think a lot of the conversations before he even became governor were how do we respond to certain pieces of legislation when they pass.”

Eyeing a bigger stage?

In a time of Trump-era conservatives, some believe Landry could follow in the footsteps of other high-profile governors — becoming a national figure or running for higher office. His eagerness to put into place first-of-its-kind legislation, willingness to pick and enter national fights and tendency to court media coverage echo tactics employed by other politicians who rise to the national stage.

Pearson Cross, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana, points to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as examples of where Landry could go.

“I think Jeff Landry is very comfortable with that kind of profile. I think he feels like he is standing up for the state and representing his constituents who are generally conservative — and perhaps pushing back against federal government overreach,” Cross said.

Like Abbott, Landry was a state attorney general for years before he became governor. He also, like DeSantis, spent time in the U.S. House of Representatives, though with a much shorter tenure.

But Landry, whose office declined an interview request from The Associated Press, has given little indication of where his future aspirations lie.

He recently joined Abbott and other Republican governors at Eagle Pass, a Texas town that has become the center of a turf war over immigration enforcement, to discuss the border crisis. He also headlined the Tennessee Republican Party's annual fundraising dinner in Nashville last weekend.

He also signed a bill that hides from public records details about his schedule and/or those of his spouse or children on grounds of safety concerns. While not unusual, opponents argue the law will be used to hide who Landry meets with and where he travels to.

Chatter at the state Capitol is meanwhile swirling about whether Landry might be offered a cabinet position if Trump wins the presidential election in the fall. Steven Cheung, a spokesperson for Trump's campaign team, said there haven't been any discussions about who would serve in the administration. But, that hasn't stopped people from speculating.

“I think he has that (national recognition) and as it helps our state I certainly am glad, but I don’t want it to result in him leaving for a cabinet position,” Johnson said. “However, I think Louisiana has so much to offer, and if he can be an ambassador on a national level then I think absolutely that is positive.”

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