BATON ROUGE, La. — A Louisiana political organization seeking to elect more conservative Republicans to the state House and Senate is focusing on two dozen legislative races this fall and targeting three incumbent lawmakers for ouster, including one GOP member.
The Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority — led by Attorney General Jeff Landry and U.S. Sen. John Kennedy — is putting its support behind Republican candidates for 10 Senate and 14 House seats.
The political action committee is working to flip seven seats currently held by white Democrats to Republican control. But the organization also hopes to replace moderate GOP lawmakers with those who will shift the Legislature rightward.
"We're looking for people who are fiscally conservative, that understand that in order to grow Louisiana you have to grow our private sector," Landry said. "We're looking for people who understand the fundamentals of how that works, that understand that taxes are too high and the concept that less government means more economic freedoms."
The PAC mainly is targeting seats on the Oct. 12 ballot that are open because longtime lawmakers are term-limited and can't seek reelection. More than 40% of Senate members and nearly 30% of the House were unable to run again for their seats.
But the organization also sees a possible opportunity to unseat three incumbents, investing in GOP opponents against two Democrats — Sen. John Milkovich of Keithville and Rep. Malinda White of Bogalusa — and one Republican, Sen. Ryan Gatti of Bossier Parish.
Gatti is criticized by some Republicans because of his friendship with Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who was among his law school classmates.
"Sen. Gatti seems to have proven time and time again to choose the governor's wishes over the Republican Party's platform," Landry said.
In defending his GOP bonafides, Gatti points to his anti-abortion and pro-gun stances and his 2018 vote against a state sales tax backed by Edwards. But he also said it benefits his district to work with people of both parties.
"I'm going to continue to fight for the people of Bossier. I'm not going to tolerate bullying, but especially political bullying," he said. "I think it's shameful I'm being attacked for being bipartisan."
While that's the only race where the Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority is working to oust a Republican, the PAC is choosing among multiple GOP contenders in several races for open seats.
The committee particularly wants to build a new Senate configuration that's less moderate and less willing to go along with Edwards' agenda, if the governor wins a second term. Term limits are forcing many longtime Republican Senate moderates to exit the chamber.
"This is generational. That Senate is going to have a monumental change in it," Landry recently told state Republican Party leaders.
Help from the organization varies.
The PAC has given money directly to Senate candidates such as Cameron Henry of Metairie, Kirk Talbot of River Ridge, Reid Falconer and incumbent Beth Mizell. In other races, the organization spends money on attack mailers, digital ads and radio spots.
The committee has raised more than $1 million this election cycle, with $886,000 in the bank at the end of July, according to the latest campaign finance report.
In two House races, the organization's favored candidates already won when no one signed up to run against them. Republican legislative newcomers Michael Echols of Monroe and Thomas Pressly of Shreveport will take office in January.
The PAC was started ahead of the 2007 elections by former U.S. Sen. David Vitter as the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority. It was instrumental in Republican work to gain majorities in the House and Senate.
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