Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder said Wednesday that he will run for secretary of state, pledging to uphold what he called a robust and well-managed state voting system that in recent years became the subject of swirling conspiracy theories about election mismanagement.
Schexnayder felt a pull to continue his public service as his time presiding over the House comes to a close, he said in a statement. As secretary of state, he said he would seek to further improve the "secure and respected" election division built by current Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin.
"I want to build on that success until Louisiana elections are ranked No. 1 in the nation," Schexnayder said.
His announcement comes at a critical moment for Louisiana's election systems. It follows a months-long campaign by some conspiracy theorists alleging that those systems are riddled with fraud — claims that could have ramifications for the ongoing effort to choose new voting machines and the broader direction of the Louisiana Republican Party, which dominates state politics.
Ardoin, a Republican who oversaw the state’s elections for the past five years, said Tuesday that he will not run for re-election because of “pervasive lies” about Louisiana’s voting system that have proliferated since former President Donald Trump’s 2020 loss.
Ardoin oversaw the controversial stop-and-start effort to replace Louisiana’s voting machines, which was complicated by the pandemic and a wave of conspiracy theories promoted by Trump supporters, who made baseless claims that the state’s elections were overtaken by fraud.
Schexnayder's decision ends months of speculation about the speaker's political future. He had publicly weighed both running for lieutenant governor and joining a crowded GOP field in the race for governor following the end of his speakership.
The Gonzales Republican was a little-known House member when he assembled an unlikely coalition to win the speakership in 2020.
Schexnayder has since clashed with Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards on budget, coronavirus and other issues as the GOP-dominated House has come into conflict with the governor more frequently than has the upper chamber, which is also controlled by Republicans.
Schexnayder will enter the race with over $900,000 in his campaign and political action committee accounts, according to Lionel Rainey, a campaign consultant.
State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Slidell Republican and a candidate for governor, said Tuesday that she has received calls asking if she would consider running for secretary of state because of her work on election integrity and voting systems. But Hewitt said that she is "fully committed" to her run for governor and would remain in that race.
Several other candidates have entered the race for secretary of state: Public Service Commissioner Mike Francis, an independently wealthy Republican, has already said he is running, as has Brandon Trosclair, a Republican backed by GOP activists who have criticized Ardoin and the state’s elections process.
State Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge, said he is reconsidering a bid after earlier saying he wouldn't run against Ardoin.