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“Everyone But Jeff” Republicans may have found a candidate for governor of Louisiana

The head of Louisiana’s biggest business lobby confirmed Tuesday morning that he was considering running for governor and potentially shaking up a field of Republican candidates who have so far disappointed some big Republican political donors.

“My wife and I are taking a look — and praying, reflecting, and talking with friends,” said Stephen Waguespack, a Republican who heads the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI). “This is one of the most important elections here in generations.”

“We’ll take our time and think about it, but we don’t have a decision yet,” he said.

Others said Waguespack has already made up his mind and started this week telling LABI Executive Committee members he would be entering the race. He is expected to announce his campaign on Thursday, just seven months before the Louisiana gubernatorial primary.

Before heading LABI, Waguespack worked for Gov. Bobby Jindal as his Executive Counsel and Chief of Staff. Jindal also appointed him a member of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Waguespack’s potential run is the latest sign that many in the conservative business community are unhappy with current options for the governor.

There are already four GOP candidates in the running: Senator Sharon Hewitt, Attorney General Jeff Landry, Treasurer John Schroder and Rep. Richard Nelson. Former Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson, a Democrat, and wealthy attorney Hunter Lundy, a political independent, have also launched campaigns.

None of them have been able to unite the corporate business community. Some wealthy donor-class Republicans are particularly concerned about Landry, who has far more campaign money to spend than other candidates and is serving as the presumptive front-runner in the race.

Business leaders and lawmakers privately complain about Landry’s temper — the attorney general has a reputation for bullying people who disagree with him and starting feuds with other elected officials.

They also say he focuses too much on divisive social issues — like what books are available in libraries — at the expense of addressing the state’s more significant challenges, like low literacy rates and economic development.

Most high-profile Republicans concerned about Landry will only voice their feelings behind closed doors, saying they fear retribution if he wins the election. Only a small group of Republicans were willing to speak openly about their concerns.

Rolfe McCollister, former editor of the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report, publicly complained last month about “the various warnings and threats [Landry’s] Sending to potential opponents and their supporters.”

“[Landry’s] also make threats like ‘You will not work in this condition,’” McCollister, a former LSU board member and Jindal booster, wrote in a column if you don’t side with Landry’s campaign. “Is that what you should expect from someone who claims they can lead our state to a brighter future?”

However, Waguespack may not have been the first choice of candidates for these “Everyone But Jeff” Republicans. A number of GOP officials — including U.S. scythes Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, Lt. gov. Billy Nungesser and U.S. Rep. Garret Graves — were pushed to run as Landry’s alternate last year. In the end none of them made it into the race.

Graves is the latest of those candidates to announce he will not run for governor, but the congressman hinted in a lengthy statement Tuesday morning that he expects another Republican to enter the field. He’s probably talking about Waguespack, who is his friend.

“In the coming days, the field will brighten up for the governor. And Louisiana will have a generational opportunity to create America’s greatest comeback story,” Graves said.

A Waguespack campaign could benefit from the unconvincing performances of other Republican candidates at a forum held during last week’s LABI annual meeting.

In his capacity as President of LABI, Waguespack conducted one-on-one interviews with each of the four Republicans already in the running in front of hundreds of attendees. With the exception of Nelson – who has trouble raising funds – the GOP candidates didn’t offer much in terms of specific political platforms, and some politically active businessmen were discouraged by the performances.

But Waguespack could face challenges as a latecomer. While he is well known among political insiders, it is not clear that he is known to ordinary voters.

His connection with Jindal could also be a problem. Democrats and Republicans are still upset that Jindal left the state government in financial shambles eight years ago. GOP lawmakers are among the most angry because it was up to them to increase state taxes in 2016 and 2018 to keep state services intact.

The other candidates, most notably the Attorney General, also have a significant lead when it comes to fundraising. Landry’s early support from the Louisiana Republican Party allows the state’s GOP to fund his election efforts — a benefit other candidates will not have.

Some of the state’s most prolific conservative campaign donors have also publicly supported Landry in the gubernatorial race. Lane Grigsby, founder of Cajun Industries, and Eddie Rispone, a Baton Rouge businessman and Republican nominee for governor in 2019, have both given money to the attorney general.

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Earlier this year, Rispone “maxed out” the amount of money he can donate to Cajun PAC II, which supports Landry’s choice. He donated $100,000 to the Political Action Committee in January — the largest sum approved by an individual in an election cycle.

This contribution is in addition to the $22,5000 that Rispone and his wife have contributed directly to Landry’s campaign since 2020, according to campaign funding documents.

But Rispone’s support of Landry won’t necessarily stop him from also supporting Waguespack, who is a personal friend.

“I’ve given money to two contestants in a race before,” Rispone said in an interview on Tuesday. “We would be much better off with one of those people.”

Grigsby didn’t respond to voicemails and text messages left on his cell phone.

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