Landry Skipping Sept. 7 Debate

BATON ROUGE (AP) — While five candidates vying for the Louisiana governor seat will be gathering next week for the state’s first major televised gubernatorial debate, early GOP frontrunner Jeff Landry won’t be there.

As for why the state’s attorney general is skipping the debate, Landry’s campaign team pointed to one of the organizers of the event — the Urban League of Louisiana, a civil rights organization.

“The participation of the Urban League raises questions about impartiality,” Kate Kelly, Landry’s communications director, said in a statement Thursday. “Media reports say their programs elected Democrats and their leadership and lobbying has been anti-Trump, anti-Second Amendment, and soft on crime which is devastating our cities and rural communities.”

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Shortly after it was announced that Landry would skip the debate, the Republican Party of Louisiana — who drew scrutiny after endorsing Landry early in the campaign season — called on all GOP candidates to boycott the debate.

“This debate format is a biased sham that is purposely designed to damage Republicans,” said party Chairman Louis Gurvich. “No Republican candidate should fall for antics like this. To have the radical Urban League as an outside panelist and not balance its ultra liberal viewpoint with a conservative organization is wrong.”

Judy Reese Morse, president and CEO of the Urban League of Louisiana, said they are a nonpartisan organization who advocates on behalf of Black Louisianans and other underserved communities. When it comes to the debate, Reese said the organization’s focus is to ensure candidates have the chance to share their platform.

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According to event organizers, the Urban League did not craft questions for the debate and would not be asking questions. Other organizers of the event include several media outlets, television stations and the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana.

This is not the first event where Landry has been absent, having missed several other prominent forums with candidates, The Advocate reported. Similarly, former President Donald Trump, who has endorsed Landry, skipped a recent debate saying that he saw little upside in joining his GOP rivals on stage last week, given his commanding lead in the polls.

Despite Landry’s absence and a push by the Louisiana GOP to boycott the event, other gubernatorial candidates took to social media to ensure they would be in attendance. They included Stephen Waguespack, a Republican who said he would “gladly participate” and believes “candidates should deliver their message to all voters as often as they can.”

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State Treasurer John Schroder, a GOP gubernatorial candidate, concurred; “Running away from answering questions most pressing to voters is not the kind of leadership we need in Baton Rouge.”

Organizers of the Sept. 7 debate invited the top five candidates, based on a poll. With Landry choosing not to participate the candidates who will appear are; Shawn Wilson, the former head of Louisiana’s Transportation and Development Department and sole prominent Democratic candidate; Hunter Lundy, a Lake Charles-based attorney who’s running as an independent; Waguespack, former head of one of Louisiana’s most powerful business groups; Schroder; and state Sen. Sharon Hewitt.

Landry, who is often in the spotlight over his involvement and staunch support of Louisiana laws including a gender-affirming care ban for transgender youths and near-total abortion ban, is one of seven serious candidates vying for the state’s top position in October. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, is unable to seek reelection due to term limits — opening a huge opportunity for Republicans to take control of the state’s highest office.

Landry said he would participate in a debate on Sept. 15 in Lafayette, which is sponsored by Nexstar Media Group.

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