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Stokes to make Democrats, conservatives choose

If Louisiana Democrats eschew a Trojan Horse strategy for the secretary of state special election this fall, Republican state Rep. Julie Stokes will do her best to make that choice difficult.

Signaling her large appetite for political ambition, Stokes declared earlier this month for the office left open when its former elected occupant Tom Schedler resigned amidst charges of sexual harassment. At this time last year, she was out campaigning for the treasurer’s job that became available with GOP Sen. John Kennedy’s election.

But an unfortunate cancer scare led to her withdrawal just days before qualifying. Happily, she beat back that foe and returned to her legislative duties. Now she hopes to vanquish political opponents for the statewide job.

Not only does this second try at a state executive post show Stokes’ hunger for an expanding political future, but also indicative of that is this job suits her less well than treasurer. As a Certified Public Accountant who has worked in that field for years, she could claim some competence in overseeing state banking and investing. Obviously, the secretary of state post has little to do with that, which runs elections and document filing for governments, regulates notaries, and maintains business filings.

Throughout her revamped electioneering website, Stokes repeatedly calls herself “conservative,” which is not entirely unjustified. According to the American Conservative Union’s legislative scorecard, she has a 2015-16 score of 61; for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry’s which concentrates on fiscal and regulatory issues her cumulative 2016-17 score is 81; and for 2017 for the Louisiana Family Forum’s which concentrates on social issues she achieved a 73. Her lifetime Louisiana Legislature Log rating, which looks at a range of issues while also measuring degree of reformism, is just under 80. (Higher scores indicate more conservative voting in all cases.)

But after Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards took office in 2016, she seems to have veered more towards the center, if not actually to the left on taxing and spending issues. Whether representing strategic calculation to build a record of achievement or simply having natural inclination unblocked with a liberal replacing a conservative as governor, she has seemed more amenable than most Republicans to raising taxes and less likely to shrink government.

That tendency, for example, had earned her the enmity of the Americans for Prosperity interest group, who recently placed her on its “Taker’s Dozen” list, or legislators it sees “voting to take money out of the pockets of Louisianans.” And, many observers considered her the Democrats’ preferred treasurer candidate when it became clear no quality contender from that party would contest that race.

In her term, she also has added social justice warrior credentials as a leading antagonist to class clown GOP state Rep. Kenny Havard, who has a tendency to insert foot in mouth when it comes to perceptions about women’s roles in society. In separate incidents over two years, Stokes has raced to reprove remarks from the sophomoric to defensible made by Havard. Neither set merited the amount of disdain received from Stokes that seemed more designed to project a particular image.

Whether that history and her becoming the first to announce formally a candidacy makes Democrats forgo backing a competitive contestant of their own remains questionable. That being the office with least political content and having no history in sending its occupants to higher office still could make it low-enough stakes for Democrats to take a pass.

If so, Stokes may become the favorite, able to peel off enough voters from both parties to triumph. That will discomfit true conservatives who might fear she could use the job despite its past to position herself for a bigger stage, although they can take comfort in the fact that in this year’s regular session when legislators considered the rare bill that actually had ideological content dealing with the duties of the office – whether to allow felons still under an order of imprisonment to vote five years after leaving prison – she voted with conservatives against it.

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