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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

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Louisiana ballot set, with surprises during sign-up period

Louisiana ballot set, with surprises during sign-up period

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's registration period for the fall election ended Friday with an unexpected, last-minute candidate entering the secretary of state's race and a congressional candidate led out in handcuffs.

All of Louisiana's incumbent congressmen face challengers seeking to oust them in the Nov. 6 election, though few opponents are well-financed for their campaign effort. One of the men running against Republican incumbent Ralph Abraham for a northeast Louisiana-based seat was arrested shortly after signing up for the race.

The competition at the top of the ballot, to fill the remaining year of the secretary of state's term, drew the most contenders with nine people vying for the job. In a surprise, interim Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, who had repeatedly said he wouldn't seek the elected position, reversed course and announced he registered to run to hold onto the seat.

Ardoin, a Baton Rouge Republican, said he changed his mind 10 minutes before qualifying wrapped up. He said he's passionate about the work and believes he's been doing the job well.

"I don't think we need on-the-job training," he said.

Ardoin had been the chief assistant to Republican Tom Schedler and took over when Schedler resigned in May amid sexual harassment allegations. Ardoin said he hasn't "raised a dime" for a campaign.

"But I have had people call and offer me contributions," he said.

Among the other candidates are Turkey Creek Mayor Heather Cloud, a Republican; Republican former Sen A.G. Crowe of Pearl River; GOP Rep. Rick Edmonds of Baton Rouge; Democrat Renee Fontenot Free of Baton Rouge, who worked as top assistant to two prior secretaries of state; and Rep. Julie Stokes of Kenner.

As the three-day candidate sign-up period closed Friday, contenders registered to oppose each of the state's six U.S. House members: Republicans Steve Scalise in the 1st District, Clay Higgins in the 3rd District, Mike Johnson in the 4th District, Abraham in the 5th District and Garret Graves in the 6th District and Democrat Cedric Richmond in the 2nd District.

One of Abraham's challengers, Democrat and farmer Jessee Fleenor, said he entered the congressional race Friday because he didn't want Abraham to win re-election without opposition. Fleenor said he wanted to "offer the people some options and give people an actual choice. Let's call it democracy."

After Fleenor registered for the race, two more contenders for the seat signed up. None has reported any fundraising.

In the final hour of the registration period, one of Abraham's opponents — Billy Burkette, an independent candidate who said he's the chairman of the Louisiana Band of Choctaw Indians — was arrested at the secretary of state's office where he filled out his qualifying paperwork. Burkette is accused of falsely impersonating a police officer, said Meg Casper Sunstrom, spokeswoman for the secretary of state.

"They say I'm not chief of police for the Louisiana Band of Choctaw Indians," Burkette said as he was led out of the building in handcuffs. "I am."

Abraham, Higgins and Richmond didn't file their re-election paperwork in person, sending representatives on their behalf. Scalise, Johnson and Graves showed up themselves on Friday.

Scalise, the third-highest ranking GOP member of the House, was still using a crutch a year after being shot at a practice session for the congressional baseball game. He said after nine surgeries, only continued rehabilitation remains. He's drawn five opponents.

Three people signed up to run against Richmond, leader of the Congressional Black Caucus. Johnson faces two opponents, and Graves is one of four contenders on the ballot for his seat.

Higgins, who lags many of his fellow incumbents in fundraising and faces questions about his vulnerability, drew six opponents for the seat representing southwest and south central Louisiana. He's the only incumbent congressman in the state to face an intra-party fight.


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