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Rep. Matthew Willard

The recent election cycle was disastrous for Louisiana Democrats. Republicans made a clean sweep of statewide offices — by landslide margins in most cases — and captured a supermajority in both the House and Senate.

In ruby-red Louisiana these days, it’s not easy bein’ blue.

State Rep. Matt Willard, of New Orleans, recognizes the challenges awaiting him as the new chair of the Louisiana House Democratic Caucus. Despite the recent electoral blowout, Willard remains hopeful that Dems can get things done.

“It’s gonna be tough,” admitted Willard, who recently won his second term without opposition. “I know Democrats in Louisiana are frustrated, even jaded, at this point, but part of my job is to reinvigorate those voters. While the numbers aren’t on our side, we can still find ways to succeed at representing the working families of Louisiana.”

The key, said Willard, will have to be bipartisanship.

“We have way too many problems for partisanship to get in the way of the Legislature working in a bipartisan manner to bring relief to the people of our state, most of whom are suffering right now,” Willard said, ticking off a list of travails facing every household and business in Louisiana. “Affordable insurance for homes and autos — and availability. Education. Public safety. We all need to focus on quality-of-life issues."

Bipartisanship is a two-way street, however. House and Senate Republicans have enough votes to do whatever they want without Democratic votes — if GOP lawmakers can stick together.

Moreover, many Republicans, including Gov.-elect Jeff Landry, ran on platforms that focused on culture-war issues such as restricting abortion and LGBTQ+ rights.

“Culture war bills get the attention of the media and onlookers, but the real work that helps the people of Louisiana often goes unnoticed,” Willard said. “We have way too many kitchen-table issues that need to be prioritized.”

Senate Democrats have not yet chosen their caucus chair, but that leader will face the same challenges confronting Willard in the House. To be relevant, legislative Dems will have to make friends in high places — with the House and Senate leaders and with Landry.

Willard said he already has a good relationship with the apparent new House Speaker, Rep. Philip DeVillier of Eunice.

“We served on the House Ways & Means Committee for the last four years,” Willard said. “We were often on opposite sides, but we always kept our discussions respectful and cordial. What we want from a speaker is what every House member wants, regardless of party — someone who will be a friend and an ally. We want someone who’ll give us access, help members get on committees that they want, and help members deliver for their districts.”

Willard admits he doesn’t have a relationship with Landry, but he plans to reach out soon to the governor-elect.

“I think when you talk about the issues in Louisiana, we can agree on what the problems are,” he said of Landry. “We may differ on how to address them. I want to offer our ideas on how to move the needle forward — and get his take on those things.”

Willard stops short of using the word “optimistic,” but he’s known as someone willing to reach across the aisle to get things done.

“I try to see the best in people,” he said. “Besides, if my Republican colleagues shut out the Democrats, they’d be shutting out the people we represent, which is more than 30% of the state. I don’t think they want to do that.”

We’ll know soon enough. Even under the best of circumstances, it won’t be easy bein’ blue for the next four (or more) years.

Clancy DuBos is Gambit's Political Editor. You can reach him at