Abortion and COVID Mandates Take Center Stage in Louisiana Governor Debate

Seven Louisiana governor candidates sparred over abortion, COVID mandates, and more in a heated debate ahead of the state's election.
Abortion and COVID Mandates Take Center Stage in Louisiana Governor Debate
The Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge, La., on April 17, 2020. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Savannah Hulsey Pointer

A crowded group of candidates took the debate stage in Lafayette, Louisiana, on Sept. 15, with six men and one woman speaking in a newsroom stage, vying for the votes of Louisiana.

The candidates addressed how they would deal with issues such as policing and infrastructure, keying in on contentious topics such as their position on abortion and potential COVID-related government shutdowns.

The debate, which took place at the KLFY studios in Lafayette, Louisiana, included current Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, Republican state Sen. Sharon Hewitt; Hunter Lundy, a Lake Charles-based attorney running as an independent; Republican state Treasurer John Schroder; Stephen Waguespack, the Republican former head of a powerful business group and former senior aide to then-Gov. Bobby Jindal; and Shawn Wilson, the former head of Louisiana's Transportation and Development Department and the lone major Democratic candidate, and 37-year-old state Rep. Richard Nelson.

The participants were chosen as the top seven of the 15 qualified candidates based on statewide polling, though Mr. Landry is backed by former President Donald Trump and widely thought to be the race’s frontrunner.

The current attorney general, whose recent litigation on the part of the state has garnered him conservative backing, did not take part in the last debate, held on Sept. 7, something that was brought up at Friday’s event.

Abortion took the spotlight as one of the first and most contentious issues, with Mr. Landry saying that while the question of exceptions for situations such as incest is a “difficult conversation,” but he is “100 percent pro-life” and has “defended ... pro-life laws, and we've taken cases all the way up to the United States Supreme Court.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Mr. Wilson, who introduced himself as the “product of a single-family home” and the husband of an educator, said he believes “women should have the right to make a decision with a doctor.”

Wilson said vehemently that, “ I think there should be exceptions. I'm the only candidate that has supported exceptions from the beginning. Whether it's [the] life of the mother rape or incest.”

The other five candidates fell between Mr. Landry and Mr. Wilson on the issue of abortion, leaning primarily toward the pro-life end of the spectrum.

Another emotionally charged issue was a question about the potential for the next governor to enact harsh mandates should the state see an increase in reports of COVID-19 cases.

When asked about the possibility of shutdowns or mask and vaccine mandates, Mr. Lundy said succinctly. “No. I would not do that.”

He went on to assert that the evidence is “overwhelming” that those mandates hurt children and that scientific study has since contradicted much of what was thought to be true about those techniques' effectiveness near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr. Landry spoke directly to his conservative southern audience in answering the same question, saying, “As Governor, I will never allow the government to get in between you and your doctor. I will never let the government get between you and your hairdresser and also will not let the government get between you and your priest or pastor.”

The attorney general was previously accused of “cronyism” by Mr. Schroeder in a television advertising campaign. When questioned about the issue, Mr. Schroeder doubled down on that accusation, saying, “The Attorney General has to live to a different walk and talk than every single citizen in the state because he is the top cop,” and accusing Mr. Landry of taking money from questionable sources.

The state’s top law enforcement officer responded, saying anyone who had concerns about his campaign could visit a newly launched site to get answers to their questions, but that “those attacks do nothing to help the people in his great state. They do nothing to fix crime, nothing to fix education, and nothing to fix our economy.”

This year's governor's race in Louisiana has attracted prominent candidates, as there is no incumbent on the ballot. John Bel Edwards, the only Democratic governor currently in office in a state in the Deep South, cannot run for reelection due to term limits, providing Republicans with a significant opportunity to assume control of the state's executive branch.

Under the state's "jungle primary" system, all candidates are on the same ballot on October 14. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters advance to the November 18 general election.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.