Jeff Landry announces Louisiana governor transition team leaders. Here’s who they are.

Gov.-elect Jeff Landry announced Wednesday that several of the state’s biggest Republican donors will lead his transition team, a group who over the next two months will sketch out policies, recommend cabinet members and draft a political strategy aimed at implementing Landry’s conservative agenda across state government.

The team of seven men and one woman includes business leaders who are longtime Landry backers and prolific donors to the Louisiana Republican Party. It also includes a Baton Rouge lawyer for petrochemical firms, a former Republican U.S. representative and Landry’s wife, Sharon Landry.

The panel’s decisions will help inform whether Landry governs the state as a hardline conservative in the mold of his eight-year tenure as Louisiana attorney general, or through a more measured approach. Landry avoided talk of culture-war issues such as transgender health care and abortion on the campaign trail, instead speaking in general terms about a need to move the state forward with conservative values.

The transition team will hold meetings at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Landry said, breaking a tradition of past such teams meeting at LSU in Baton Rouge. Landry grew up near Lafayette and ULL is his alma mater. 

“This is home,” Landry said to a crowd gathered in an upper-level suite overlooking the Cajun Dome’s baseball field.

Landry did not say Tuesday when the meetings would begin or how often and for how long they would be held. Also unclear was the scope of the team’s work. The logistics of the transition process — which usually includes subcommittees focused on specific policy topics who make recommendations to the co-chairs — are still being hammered out, said Kate Kelly, Landry’s press secretary.

Leading the transition team is Kyle Ruckert, a seasoned GOP political operative who crafted campaign strategy for U.S. Sens. David Vitter, John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy before advising Landry’s gubernatorial campaign.

The team’s co-chairs include four GOP megadonors and Landry supporters: contractor Lane Grigsby; Harvey Gulf International Marine CEO Shane Guidry, who has had an unusually close working relationship with Landry while also serving as his top political backer; Steve Orlando, an oil services executive who previously ran a political action committee supporting Landry and is a neighbor of Landry’s in Lafayette Parish; and 2019 gubernatorial candidate and ISC Constructors board chair Eddie Rispone.

Also on the team is former U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, who clashed with Rispone as the two vied for a spot in the runoff in the 2019 governor’s race. Lawyer Tim Hardy, who was an environmental advisor to GOP Gov. Buddy Roemer and now mostly represents petrochemical firms for Baton Rouge-based firm Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, will also join the panel.

Sharon Landry, who Jeff Landry said has been a “quiet voice” behind his decisions since he won a congressional seat in 2011, rounds out the list of co-chairs.

“We’re a team,” Sharon Landry said.

The transition team’s makeup earned plaudits from Will Green, the newly appointed Louisiana Association of Business and Industry CEO, who called it a group of “talented leaders from several industry areas.”

State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Republican and former oil and gas executive who ran unsuccessfully against Landry for governor, said on Twitter that Landry missed an opportunity to include more women in his transition group, calling it “a swing and a miss” given the number of female business leaders in the state.

Though he led in the polls for the entire governor’s race, Landry stunned political analysts by winning the seat outright in the Oct. 14 primary election. Pollsters widely thought Landry would square off against Democrat Shawn Wilson in a November runoff contest. The timing of Landry’s victory gives his transition team more time than expected to chart the state’s political future before Landry assumes office on Jan. 8. 

Landry and Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards have clashed over the years on hot-button issues such as COVID-19 vaccines and the death penalty. But on Wednesday, the governor-elect said Edwards has been “extremely gracious” in his handling of the transition process. In a statement the day after Landry’s primary victory, Edwards congratulated Landry and called a smooth transition of power “a core tenet of American democracy.”

“I want to thank him for that,” Landry said.

In prepared statements, co-chairs said they would try to improve the state’s business environment and several said the best way to do that would be by reducing crime. Landry on Wednesday also reiterated his pledge to convene a special session of the Louisiana Legislature focused on curbing crime once he takes office.

“We want to make sure the goal of our criminal justice system is how do we keep people from going to jail, not how do we get people out of jail,” he said. “And we also want to make sure…that we concentrate on the rights of victims, not on the rights of criminals.”

Louisiana saw a surge of violent crime coinciding with the height of the COVID-19 pandemic; but that trend has leveled off in major cities, with homicides dropping in New Orleans and Baton Rouge this year after hitting record highs, data show.

Still, the GOP has continued to use crime as a political cudgel against Democrats, including in Louisiana. Landry and legislative Republicans have slammed Louisiana’s bipartisan criminal justice reforms enacted in 2017, blaming them without evidence for spiking crime, although the reforms focused mostly on releasing people convicted of non-violent crimes.

A new panel Landry chairs is weighing measures to roll back those reforms.

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