Later this week, Dr. Shawn Wilson will announce his intention to run for governor of Louisiana. Currently, Wilson serves as the Secretary for the Department of Transportation and Development. Wilson has the experience and capacity to serve as the second African American governor in Louisiana history. But can a Black Democrat win the governor’s seat in conservative Southern state like Louisiana?
In modern history, Louisiana has never elected an African American to a statewide office. In 1995, African American Congressman Cleo Fields made the runoff in the gubernatorial race. But citizens elected
Mike Foster in a landslide in the runoff election. Since then only one other candidate has even made the runoff for any statewide office in Louisiana. But this election is for an open seat and an examination of the field so far indicates Wilson has a shot of making the runoff. And if you make the runoff, then anything is possible. Even a Black governor in Louisiana. But before that happens, a lot of other things have to happen. Let’s look at that.
Much has been made of the current state of the statewide Democratic Party. Katie Bernhardt is the current chair of the party. She made a now controversial video that seemed to promote herself as a candidate for governor. The immediate and universal reaction was negativity. If the video was to check to see if there was support for a Bernhardt for governor campaign, the response was clear. Bernhardt subsequently announced that she is not running for governor. An inside source within the party said the real purpose of the video was to excite Democrats across the state about the upcoming elections. Despite general displeasure with the current state of the statewide party, they raised over $500 thousand dollars for Democratic candidates. The Party typically supports all Dems in every race. But if they truly want to elect another Democratic governor, the party must truly support the best possible candidate.
Black Governor in Louisiana
Wilson is not the only big name. Current New Orleans City Council at Large member Helena Moreno is a leader in early polls statewide. In fact, she polls better in a gubernatorial run than she does in a widely anticipated run for Mayor of New Orleans. Other potential gubernatorial candidates include, former Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins and East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore. Wilson is the biggest name statewide of the group. And he can claim to have improved nearly every parish in the state.
The racial demographics of the state also help Wilson. 31.4% of the population of the state of Louisiana is African American. And in Louisiana, people vote race before party. That explains why even though 39.2% of the electorate are Democrats compared to 33.6% Republicans, Democrats only hold one statewide office. Black people turn out in high numbers for historical elections. Turnout and motivation is higher when a candidate will be the first and has a real chance at winning. Think Obama, Morial, Holden or Wes Moore in Maryland. Each galvanized the African American electorate and catapulted to victory.
Current Attorney General Jeff Landry and State Treasurer John Schroder are the two biggest names on the Republican side. But state Senator Sharon Hewitt of Slidell recently worked across the state in the latest Republican gerrymandering redistricting session. She gave soothing words of comfort to her colleagues who voted to deny representation to African Americans. Of the six available Congressional districts, there is only one instead of the two that should be drawn minority majority. So Republicans will split the conservative vote. As they cannibalize the vote amongst themselves, a clear path emerges for a strong Democrat.
As the leading African American contender, Wilson should easily make it into the runoff. Will he meet the same fate as Cleo Fields, or will the Democratic Party unite and form a strong COTV campaign and elect the second African American governor in the history of the state of Louisiana.
A Black Governor in Louisiana