BATON ROUGE, La. — Julia Letlow, the widow of Republican U.S. Rep.-elect Luke Letlow, described herself as “both full of grief while also having hope for the future" as she registered Thursday to compete for the congressional seat her husband was unable to fill because of his death from COVID-19 complications.
After filing her paperwork for the March 20 election, Julia Letlow faced reporters at the same podium where she stood with her husband six months earlier when he signed up for his bid to represent northeast and central Louisiana. This time, she stood alone.
She pledged to continue Luke Letlow's vision for the 5th District, defended her own accomplishments and talked of the respect for public service she shared with her husband and wanted to pass along to their two young children.
“We don’t always get to choose what happens to us. But we do get to choose how to respond. Today, I choose to continue to move forward. Today, I choose hope,” said Julia Letlow, 39, a Republican who lives in the small town of Start in Richland Parish.
Her husband died Dec. 29 at the age of 41, only weeks after winning a runoff election for the congressional seat and days before he was scheduled to be sworn into office.
Julia Letlow said she knows the issues of the poverty-plagued district from travelling with her husband during the campaign and because of Luke Letlow's tenure as chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, a Republican who stepped down after three terms and endorsed Luke Letlow for the job.
Abraham now is supporting Julia Letlow for the seat in the special election.
“I wouldn’t have done this without his blessing,” Julia Letlow said of Abraham.
Julia Letlow has never run for office “besides sixth-grade president" but said she often had conversations with her husband about the possibility. She dismissed suggestions she was riding her husband's political coattails or trying to capitalize off sympathy to get the congressional job, saying she has her own experience to qualify her for the position.
“While Luke and I were a dynamo team and I miss him every day, still you’re your own individual person with your own qualifications and accomplishments in life, and I feel like I am very well qualified to run for this 5th Congressional District seat,” Julia Letlow told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday. “Look at my qualifications. Take a look at my bio. Make your decision there.”
She has a career in higher education, with a Ph.D. in communication. She's on leave from her job with the University of Louisiana at Monroe, where she works as top assistant to the president for external affairs and community outreach.
Six other contenders so far are vying for the congressional seat on the March ballot, including two who ran last fall. One of them, Allen Guillory, an Opelousas Republican, said Wednesday he’s worried about Julia Letlow’s two young children. Guillory said if Julia Letlow wins the congressional seat, “those kids could lose two parents.”
Julia Letlow responded that she's running because of 3-year-old Jeremiah and 1-year-old Jacqueline. “I hope to illustrate for them the power of fortitude, resilience and perseverance," she said.
Her campaign platform remains similar to her husband's priorities, with a focus on job development, expanded access to broadband internet and support for agriculture industries. She said she intends a bipartisan approach, “while staying true to my conservative ideals and values that I hold dear.”
Asked if she thought President Joe Biden was properly elected to the office, Julia Letlow paused. Then, she said she believes Biden “is the legitimate U.S. president." When pressed, she said she does not have the continuing concerns that some Republicans have cited about fraud. She noted those allegations were litigated in many court cases, where no widespread voter fraud was found.
“I have faith in our election cycle, I do,” she said. “I have faith in our democracy.”
The sprawling 5th District covers all or part of 24 parishes, including the cities of Alexandria and Monroe. It's one of two congressional seats on the March ballot. Voters also will fill the New Orleans-based 2nd District seat, which is open after Democrat Cedric Richmond left the position to work for President Joe Biden’s administration. The signup period for both races wraps up Friday.
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Melinda Deslatte, The Associated Press