Widow of congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 complications can run for his seat

Around the South

BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — In the race to succeed late U.S. Rep.-elect Luke Letlow, another candidate has filed her campaign papers: his widow.

Julia Letlow submitted her qualifying documents for Louisiana’s 5th congressional district race Thursday. Her bid for the seat comes less than a month after her husband, 41, died of COVID-19 complications on Dec. 29.

“I’m so thankful Luke paved the way for the 5th district,” she told reporters at the state’s election office. “I intend to continue the mission he started, to deliver real results for the people and the communities I love so much.”

Mrs. Letlow had never sought elected office before “besides sixth-grade president,” but she is no stranger to public life. She has overseen external affairs at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and was a finalist for the school’s presidency last year. She frequented her late husband’s fall campaign trail throughout Louisiana’s 5th congressional district — which runs through Alexandria and Monroe, then splinters into Acadiana and the Florida parishes.

Mrs. Letlow’s platform mirrors that of Mr. Letlow, who campaigned on expanding broadband, agriculture and job development in the largely rural district.

“I see the importance of education from early childhood all the way to a graduate degree, if you so desire, and all points in between,” she said. “I’ll be an advocate for education, because I feel that is one of the critical pieces in helping elevate a region out of poverty.”

The Richland Parish Republican will face at least a half-dozen opponents. The list includes Opelousas Republican Allen Guillory, who questioned the widowed mother of two’s ability to serve.

“I asked her to please think about this,” Guillory said after filing his qualifying papers Wednesday. “Those kids could lose two parents.”

Mrs. Letlow responded to Guillory’s remarks Thursday, claiming her children — 3-year-old Jeremiah and 1-year-old Jacqueline — are two of her reasons for running.

“I absolutely do not see it as a problem for raising kids, in fact, I think it’s a positive,” she said. “There’s no better example you can set for them, to see you in that role.”

“And you know what?” she added. “They’re going to be along for the ride, and they’re going to be better for it.”

Other candidates include: Democrat Candy Christophe from Alexandria; Republican Chad Conerly from Kentwood; Republican Horace Melton III from Shreveport; Republican Sancha Smith from Opelousas; and Republican Errol Victor.

The list of hopefuls can still grow. Aspiring candidates have until Friday at 4:30 p.m. to file their qualifying papers at the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office in Baton Rouge.

All the contenders will face off in an open primary March 20. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent outright, the top two vote-getters will face off April 24.

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