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5th Congressional District candidates jockey ahead of early voting



MONROE, La. – Voters will begin casting ballots Saturday when early voting opens for a special election to fill the 5th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

There are 12 candidates in the race for the March 20 primary election.

The special election was called in light of Congressman-elect Luke Letlow’s death last December. Letlow, 41, of Start, died at a Shreveport hospital while receiving treatment for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, in southern Monroe, voters will begin casting ballots for a slot on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Section 1C.

Candidates for the appeal court include Fourth Judicial District Court judges Marcus Hunter and Larry Jefferson as well as Monroe attorney J. Garland Smith. Each candidate is a Democrat.

Early voting will be conducted at the Ouachita Parish Registrar of Voters office at the Health Unit on DeSiard Street in Monroe from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. as well as at the West Ouachita Senior Center on North 7th Street in West Monroe on March 6 and March 8-13 from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

In the week after her husband’s death, Dr. Julia Letlow, of Start, announced she would become a candidate to represent the congressional district. Along with many other Republican outfits, the state GOP endorsed her candidacy.

On Monday, Letlow spoke to the Ouachita Parish Women’s Republican Club about the loss of her husband as well as how she learned from him and from former Congressman Ralph Abraham. (Before his campaign last year, Luke Letlow served as Abraham’s chief of staff.)

“Boy, did I learn some amazing lessons from Luke Letlow,” Letlow said. “I got a front row seat.”

Letlow is the director of external affairs and strategic communications at the University of Louisiana-Monroe. She assured the gathering she shared the attendees’ conservative values in spite of her career in higher education, an apparent jab at complaints that most faculty members and staff at universities are liberals.

Letlow briefly touched on policy issues Monday, noting her support for pro-life policies and a citizen’s right to own and bear firearms under the Second Amendment.

Letlow earned applause from many people at the Women’s Republican Club gathering when she alluded to the possibility of becoming the 5th District’s first female representative.

The Women’s Republican Club allowed another 5th District candidate, Sancha Smith, to speak at the gathering. Smith is a Republican from Opelousas.

Smith, who also is a Christian minister, sparked bouts of laughter with her direct speaking style.

“I’m fearless, baby,” said Smith, who noted she was “unapologetically pro-life” and had always held that record.

Among other accomplishments, Smith said she previously operated a non-profit organization teaching teenage women the importance of character and abstinence from sex before marriage.

“I’m a black woman, a conservative Republican running in the deep South,” Smith said. “I’m a fighter, baby. Those Democrats want none of this.”


Letlow and other candidates weighed in on recent executive orders by President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial during interviews with The Ouachita Citizen.

The lone Democrat in the race, Sandra “Candy” Christophe, of Alexandria, told this newspaper she would support the hike of the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“As a business owner, I am aware that we need to have a balance,” Christophe said. “As a mother and a grandmother, I am aware that the price of milk and water and gas have increased, yet there are many families that are struggling to make it on minimum wage. It’s unfair for these things to increase in price but not their wages.”

During the primary election in last November’s congressional race, Christophe placed third behind Luke Letlow and state Rep. Lance Harris. She collected 16 percent of the vote.

Concerning the minimum wage, Letlow told The Ouachita Citizen she was not in favor of raising the federal minimum wage.

“I’ve been speaking to businesses in the 5th District, and they have said such a change would be devastating,” Letlow said.

Jim Davis, a no-party candidate from Monroe, also opposed raising the minimum wage.

“Our region, the 5th congressional, cannot support a $15 an hour wage,” Davis said. “We are an agricultural region. Our infrastructure has to be developed. We need more jobs, more manufacturing and factory jobs. Our economy is a long way away from supporting a $15 an hour minimum wage. Right now, it would disrupt our economic system.”

Allen Guillory, a Republican from Lawtell, took a different position from some of his fellow Republicans by voicing support for the wage hike.

“I agree it should be raised,” Guillory said. “I say it only because I am in the transportation business. We move household goods, and I’ve done this for 30 years. I’ve watched some of the rates go up on the shipping side, based on the cost to move the goods. I think we need to catch up. We don’t need to be ridiculous with it.”


Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate acquitted Trump on the charge of inciting an insurrection stemming from remarks he made at a rally on Jan. 6 that was later followed by a mob trespassing at the U.S. Capitol. Four people died that day.

When asked whether they would have voted to acquit or convict Trump, had they been serving in the House, the candidates offered a variety of answers.

“I would have voted to acquit,” Letlow said.

“I absolutely would have voted to convict,” Christophe said. “He is guilty as charged.”

“Talking about the former president won’t move us forward,” Davis said. “What’s been done has been done. Let’s stop the fighting between Democrats and Republicans.”

Without any hesitation, I not only would have voted ‘No,’ I would have voted, ‘Hell, no,’” Guillory said. “I don’t think the man should be responsible for other people’s actions.”



Candidates speaking with The Ouachita Citizen were either opposed or silent on whether transgender athletes should be allowed to compete in women’s sports. Recently, Biden’s administration withdrew from a lawsuit—begun under the Trump administration—seeking to ban transgender athletes from competing in women’s sports.

“I need to research that further,” Christophe said.

Letlow, who previously ran track at ULM, opposed recent changes allowing transgender athletes to compete alongside women.

“I do not believe transgender athletes should participate in women’s sports,” Letlow said. “As a student athlete, I don’t believe that’s fair.”

Davis noted the matter was a “divisive” issue and said he could only speak about his position.

“God only made male and female,” Davis said. “He did not make transgender people. That’s my position. I have Christian views, though I do not impose those views on other people.”

Guillory characterized his objection to transgender athletes as a defense of women, not an objection to the larger LGBT movement.

“I think it’s totally unfair,” Guillory said. “Nothing against the transgender or LGBT communities, but I think it’s unfair for a young lady to do the best she can be, physically, and have to compete against a transgender person.”


Candidates also commented on Biden’s recent executive order halting construction of a border wall separating the United States and Mexico.

“I’m for the border wall,” Letlow said. “I think it’s an important part of protecting our borders.”

According to Christophe, finding money for people struggling with COVID-19 was a more pressing need than continuing the costly construction of a border wall.

Davis said he supported the construction of a border wall, with some exceptions.

“I support the plan Joe Biden has on the table for immigration,” Davis said. “A border wall cannot stop people from coming in legally. Our country was founded by immigrants. If we want to stop all immigrants from entering the country, we are no longer America.”

Guillory, who noted his work in the shipping industry included transporting part of the border wall to Arizona, supports the construction of Trump’s border wall.

“I am in 100 percent support of a border wall,” Guillory said. “Through my work in shipping, I’ve seen what happens at the border. I don’t have a problem with people coming into America, but they should come the right way.”

Other candidates in the race include Chad Conerly, a Republican from Kentwood; Robert Lansden, a Republican from Ponchatoula; Jayce Magnuson, a Republican from Opelousas; Horace Melton III, a Republican from Shreveport; Vinny Mendoza, a Republican from Shreveport; Richard Pannell, a Republican from Dry Prong; and Errol Victor Sr., a Republican from Slidell.