For the past 12 years, an area south and east of Lafayette has been represented by a Cajun state senator known affectionately as “T-Fred” who dressed as an elderly aunt in hilarious TV commercials for his pharmacy and who sponsored the law that legalized medical marijuana in Louisiana.
Now two conservative Republicans are vying to succeed Fred Mills in the Senate in what has become a knock-down, drag-out battle that features a cast of colorful characters, including a radio talk-show host named Moon, a dog named Alice, a political operative nicknamed Shoe-Do and two former elected officials referred to in a negative flyer as “Money Bags” and “The Greaser.”
One candidate is state Rep. Blake Miguez from New Iberia. The House GOP delegation leader, he is running with the support of the business establishment in Baton Rouge, Lafayette-based talk show host Moon Griffon, New Iberia political operative Shoe-Do Lewis and the National Rifle Association. Miguez, an Eagle Scout, is a champion pistol shooter in his spare time. A polished speaker who seems to live, eat and breathe politics, Miguez boasts about forcefully opposing Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, though his Trump-style confrontational tactics turned off the speaker of the House and the Senate president, both Republicans.
The other candidate is Hugh Andre, also from New Iberia. His uncle and grandfather were sheriffs in St. Martin Parish, but Andre bootstrapped his way to become one of the largest sugar cane farmers in the area. Andre, so unpolished that he fails to tout many of his accomplishments in speeches, seems most comfortable riding a tractor and wearing clothes dirtied by his farmwork. He is supported by the political establishment in the three parishes of the Senate district — Lafayette, Iberia and St. Martin — who see Miguez as a publicity hound who can’t deliver infrastructure projects for his constituents.
The winner of District 22 will help determine whether the Louisiana Senate over the next four years continues to push conservative issues while operating in a bipartisan, pragmatic fashion, or veers right and embraces more ideological causes, such as scaling back support for public education, cutting health care spending for the poor and limiting LGBTQ+ rights.
Page Cortez, the term-limited Republican Senate president from Lafayette, is among the bipartisan group of local political leaders supporting Andre.
A rich history
The next senator will continue a long line of colorful people to represent District 22.
French-speaking Paul Hardy, from Cecilia, held the position in the 1970s and made a strong run for governor in 1979 before serving a term as lieutenant governor a decade later.
Oswald Decuir of New Iberia followed Hardy for 17 years and was succeeded for 12 years by Craig Romero, also from New Iberia. Along the way, Romero mentored a young sheriff’s deputy from St. Martin Parish named Jeff Landry who sought to replace him. Landry, now the front-runner in the governor’s race, narrowly lost the 2007 race to Troy Hebert, who was nicknamed “Pretty Boy Troy” for his Cajun charm.
Fred Mills succeeded Hebert and made headlines this year for temporarily stopping a bill that sought to ban gender-affirming medical care for trans youth. Mills, a Republican who is term limited, stood his ground even as ultra-conservatives roasted him nationally. Edwards ultimately blocked the measure from becoming law.
District 22 was designed to elect a conservative. Donald Trump carried it with 69% of the vote in 2020, said political analyst John Couvillon.
Two Democrats have also qualified. One is Melanie Mitchell, a former mayor of St. Martinville. The other is Phanat Xanamane, a refugee from Laos who has worked as an urban designer and community activist in New Iberia. Dexter Lathan is running as a political independent.
At least one private poll shows the better-known Miguez with the lead, with Andre attempting to force him into a runoff and then win that head-to-head matchup.
A recently created website is ripping Miguez, 41, over bankruptcies filed by entities in his family’s offshore oil and gas business several years ago after giving big campaign contributions to the state representative.
“My family has been no stranger to struggles of the oil and gas industry and the struggles of District 22. I’m just like anyone else in this district,” Miguez said, adding, “We paid off all of our obligations and we resettled all our debts.”
Miguez accused Andre at a recent campaign forum of not actually living in Senate District 22. Andre, 48, responded by holding up his driver’s license showing an address within the district confines.
More problematic for Andre is a caller to Griffon’s show who accused him of burning a sugar cane field even though he knew that an abandoned dog with puppies was out there. The dog was badly burned, and five puppies died.
“If Hugh doesn’t care about animals, will he care about you?” the Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority said in a mailer sent to voters that featured a picture of the dog, named Alice.
Andre said he tried for 10 days to lure the dog out of the cane field but finally had to burn the field or risk losing the crop. To counter the criticism, Andre has begun taking his dog, Murphy Mae, to campaign events.
A clash of styles
The stylistic differences between the two candidates were on display on a recent night when the St. Martin Parish Republicans met at the Atchafalaya Club in Henderson.
Andre spoke in broad generalities, noting his family’s ties to St. Martin and Iberia parishes, praising Mills and saying that he started by buying 75 acres of sugar cane and now farms 8,000 acres.
“This is me, what I wear every day,” Andre said, holding up a work shirt. “This is hard work, no quit, 4 in the morning, 10 o’clock at night, against all odds. You have to make it happen in farming every day.”
Miguez, wearing a short-sleeve shirt stitched with his name, boasted that he has voted against every tax increase during his 8½ years in the House and favors small government.
“I think you the taxpayers can spend money better than government can,” Miguez told the crowd. “I hold state government accountable in their spending, to live within their means.”
Nonetheless, Miguez paid for an ad last year in The Daily Iberian claiming his share of credit for more than $100 million in projects that the Iberia Parish delegation secured during the 2022 legislative session.
That prompted a public split in the often-tribal politics of the district between Romero and Miguez, his former Senate aide.
Romero said Miguez played no role in the $55 million obtained to dredge a 22-mile waterway for the Port of Iberia. Miguez, Romero said, had become so toxic with Edwards and Cortez that the former senator had to make repeated trips to Baton Rouge to convince the officials to approve the money.
Miguez responded to Romero’s comments by calling him “an ugly duckling.”
On Griffon’s radio show recently, Miguez presented the choice between him and Andre this way: “You can either elect a senator that’s going to go to Baton Rouge and fight for you and make your voice heard, or you can elect a senator that’s going to be controlled and join the good old boy club on day one.”
Asked during a break to name the “good old boys,” Miguez identified them using Griffon’s pejorative nicknames: “Money Bags” Romero, former state Rep. Ted “The Greaser” Haik, Cortez, district attorneys Bo Duhe and Don Landry, former district attorney Phil Haney and state Rep. Stuart Bishop of Lafayette. All of them support Andre.
“Blake doesn’t know how to get along with his legislators,” said Haik, who represented New Iberia for 20 years. “You lead by example and by compromise. You don’t try to bully them and degrade them.”
Haik, Romero and Haney have been political rivals for years but have joined forces to defeat Miguez.
That has prompted Hebert, in turn, to support Miguez because he doesn’t want to side with those three.
Said Mills about the voters in Senate District 22: “We might be a little dysfunctional, but we love each other.”