‘I’m not a partisan:’ Young face in the 2023 Governor’s Race
Richard Nelson, 36, leans on moderate position in race for state’s top office
ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - The youngest candidate in the state’s 2023 Governor’s Race, Richard Nelson (R), may only be 36 years old, but his experience in the political realm has been anything but limited.
Nelson currently serves as a second-term state representative for St. Tammany Parish in District 89.
The Mandeville native is one of five major Republican candidates in the governor’s race, but it is his moderate policy stances on several issues that have characterized his time in the legislature and in his bid for the top office.
“What’s really distinguished me in the legislature is my ability to kind of work with everybody. I’m not a partisan. I work with whatever political party has the best ideas, that’s the reality. And I think that’s what Louisiana really needs.”
“WE SHOULD NEVER AIM FOR AVERAGE”
Before starting his career in public service in his hometown, Nelson served as a diplomat for the U.S. Dept. of State for seven years, protecting embassies from terrorism and espionage.
He returned home to raise a family back in Louisiana, though, and it is the future of his family that is his focus in his campaign for governor.
”We should never aim for average. I mean I think Louisiana has everything to be in the top 10. And I think you need somebody who is young, who has the energy and drive to go out there and change it,” said Nelson. “I’m not in this for the next four years. I’m fighting for the next 40 years because I’m gonna be here. I’m raising my kids here, and I want it to be better. I think that’s the kind of horizon you need to look at. How are we going to turn this battleship around, so that, 40 years from now, people look back and say, ‘That’s when things changed.’”
He credits his prior experience with showing him the difference good government can make.
“You have borders all over the world and on one side, people have all the opportunity, electricity, running water, education, and you cross this imaginary line and on the other side, people don’t have it,” said Nelson.
That is an idea Nelson sees as a challenge to Louisiana, as well. Though not a foreign nation, Nelson said residents can drive across the state line into Texas and see the difference good government makes.
“If Louisiana were just average in the country, we’d all live four years longer and get a 33% raise.”
“You drive across a border into Texas, and in Texas, they’re basically average. You get three and a half years of your life back and a 33% raise,” explained Nelson. “That’s kind of the tragedy, but that shows you the difference good government makes. I mean, there’s no difference in the people here or the people there. Really, the only difference is that the government they have really functions to solve the people’s needs, and that’s why they just have better outcomes.”
Government in Louisiana is something Nelson has attempted to restructure in his past four years in the Louisiana legislature. However, he said making big changes requires someone to be on the fourth floor in the governor’s office of the capitol, not one of 140 part-time members of the Louisiana legislature.
The focus of those big changes in Nelson’s campaign: eliminating the state income tax.
“If you don’t move in that direction, where are we gonna be?” asked Nelson. “We’re gonna be the only state on the Gulf Coast without it, with an income tax, and that’s not gonna be the way to attract people and business here.”
He points to the growth of Texas and Florida, which far surpassed Louisiana in growth within the past decade, both without a state income tax. Additionally, neighboring states of Mississippi and Arkansas are headed down the same path.
Nelson emphasized that the elimination of the state income tax is also about de-centralizing the tax structure from Baton Rouge.
“You really have to give locals the ability to solve their own problems.”
Nelson claims Louisiana has hamstrung local residents and governments from doing that.
“At the end of the day, if you support local governments and local control of these issues, getting rid of the income tax and really fixing these fundamental issues in Louisiana’s tax structure, that’s your fight,” said Nelson.
Nelson’s approach to education reform has multiple levels.
On teacher pay, Nelson said Louisiana is always trying to catch up with the average.
“When inflation is 6-8% a year, giving someone a 4% pay raise is kind of a pay cut,” said Nelson. “That’s just math.”
One of Nelson’s primary focuses, specifically in the 2022 Legislative Session, is improving literacy rates. Nelson authored HB269, which would hold back third-grade students who struggle with reading. It failed by only a few votes on the Senate floor.
He compares Louisiana to Mississippi, which passed a similar law in 2013. Mississippi has gone from 49th in the country in third-grade reading to 21st.
”I think education is one of those foundational issues that we have to get right,” emphasized Nelson. “Businesses aren’t gonna come here, people aren’t gonna come here when they’ve got to pay $15,000 to send their kids to private school or they have the impression that the schools just aren’t good.”
Nelson credits improved literacy as a way to deter crime, as well.
“You can either teach people to read, or you can build more jails.”
However, he also believes the first deterrent against crime right now is to get more police officers on patrol.
In line with his ideas behind managing the state’s money, the state’s looming nearly $17 billion in unfunded pension liabilities has become a focus of Nelson’s throughout his time in the legislature. He said the state pays 7.5% interest on that debt each year, a total equivalent to the cost of building a new Baton Rouge bridge, which is estimated to cost $2 billion.
Going into the 2023 Regular Legislative Session, Nelson has filed legislation in an attempt to resolve that.
The location of North and Central Louisiana is often seen as one of the most important selling points for the region when it comes to economic development. Typically removed from the brunt of powerful hurricanes and roadways often intertwined with rich waterways, it is seen as an attractive landscape for business and industry.
Nelson once again points to his proposal for eliminating the income tax as a benefit for a region less populated than areas south of Interstate 10, with less representation.
“When you get North of I-10, I think that you start to lose your ability to influence getting money, getting your tax money back from the capital. You kind of lose that game every year,” explained Nelson. “So, I think having more money kept here in Central Louisiana, here in Alexandria, Shreveport and Monroe, I think you’d end up with a better deal in solving all your problems than relying on Baton Rouge to fund all the problems because the representation isn’t there to get your money back.”
The 2023 Gubernatorial Election is set for Oct. 14.
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