LA Democrats Leadership Changes Rules to Avoid Sole Endorsement of Black Candidates

Louisiana Democratic Chair Katie Bernhardt with Vice-Chair C. Travis Johnson. Photo Courtesy of Louisiana DSCC

In an astonishing move that has upset many Louisiana Democrats, party leadership changed the rules mid-session on Saturday in order to avoid giving a sole endorsement to two Black men running for office in the state who had won the endorsement of the party’s executive committee — Gary Chambers, who is running to replace sitting Republican Sen. John Kennedy, and Davante Lewis, who is running for Public Service Commission.

Under previous rules, both men would have won the Democrats full endorsement. However, during Saturday’s meeting, Democratic Party Chair Katie Bernhardt changed the rules in what she claims is an attempt to prevent division in the party.

“Our job as the Democratic Party of Louisiana is to maintain party unity and provide a fighting chance to defeat incumbent John Kennedy, who has failed in his role as U.S. Senator to responsibly represent the people of Louisiana,” the party said in a released statement. “Once a resolution is proposed, procedurally it is mandated a vote by the committee of the whole. The members of the DSCC spoke with that vote, and it is our duty to uphold the will of our members. We believe that all three endorsed candidates for U.S. Senate, along with our endorsed Congressional candidates and all Democratic candidates for PSC are strong candidates who can get voters to the polls. We will be here every step of the way to support all of them in that endeavor,” said Party Chair Katie Bernhardt.

However, many in the party – including Chambers – are claiming party leadership, particularly Bernhardt, made a racial decision. In both the senate race and the Public Service Commission race, the candidates endorsed by the Democrats’ executive committee were Black men. The executive committee had recommended Davante Lewis in the PSC race.

“Katie made it clear she wanted a dual endorsement in the senate race of Chambers and Mixon and was not happy with the votes on the [executive committee] in US Senate and PSC3,” said Katherine Hurst, DSCC 43 Representative and Secretary of LA Democratic Party 3rd Congressional District Caucus in a Facebook post detailing the events of the day.  “She emphasized she was “elected to bring in WHITE VOTERS.”

Chambers noted that Bernhardt had previously told him a Black man couldn’t win in the state of Louisiana.

At the discretion of the Chair Katie Bernhardt every rule the @LaDemos followed to endorse other candidates in the same meeting, the chair threw out to help split my endorsement with her candidate @lukemixonla,” Chambers said on Tuesday. “Katie told me ‘I don’t think a Black man can win in Louisiana.’”

“The worst part is, the chair forced it to happen with over 40 proxy votes she controlled the vote of the people who didn’t even attend the meeting. She assigned the votes to people she knew would oppose me being the only endorsed candidate,” Chambers continued.

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