Katie Bernhardt is running for Chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party. She currently represents the third congressional district as Democratic State Executive Committeewoman. Many Democrats have expressed concerns about her candidacy, particularly a history of ties to conservative candidates, her support for Republican policies and her ties to the oil and gas industry.
A party loyalist and person with considerable knowledge of Ms. Bernhardt’s background, Kathy Hurst, offered information on Katie’s candidacy that many Democrats may find troubling. Upon further research following the information Mrs. Hurst provided us, we were able to corroborate most of the allegations regarding her past support of Republican candidates and ties to the oil and gas industry.
Ms. Bernhardt’s record of contributions to conservative Republican candidates in the state raises questions about with whom her allegiances lie. In 2015, in the primary race for Governor of Louisiana, Katie Bernhardt contributed $1,000 to one of Governor John Bel Edwards’ primary opponents, Republican candidate Scott Angelle. At the time, then candidate John Bel Edwards was favored to win the primary race, and polling between David Vitter and John Bel Edwards demonstrated a significant lead for Edwards. Despite this, Katie contributed a significant amount to Scott Angelle.
In July 2015, Katie Bernhardt donated $250 to the Republican Police Chief of Scott, Louisiana, Chad Leger. Chad Leger was running for sheriff of Lafayette Parish at the time against Mark Garber. Both were Republicans, but Mr. Leger’s behavior and stance on important issues such as immigration were more consistent with those of tea party Republicans.
In his campaign against Garber, Mr. Leger focused on a Neustrom administration policy against detaining suspected undocumented immigrants beyond their given sentence. This is a request at times made by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement while the federal agency investigates a person’s legal status. Garber responded at the time that then candidate Chad Leger’s emphasis on undocumented immigrants was simply a “fear-mongering” campaign.
What is more troubling, during his campaign and prior to Katie’s contribution, Mr. Leger railed against hispanic immigrants in a facebook post, writing “this is the United States of America and if you don’t like the rules of our land, you have two choices, either learn and follow them which would include learning to speak English or move back to the country you came from.” Scott Police Chief Chad Leger ultimately ended up being defeated in the race by Republican Mark Garber by a margin of 46 percent to Leger’s 39 percent.
Katie Bernhardt’s husband, R. J. “Ramon” Fonseca, owner of Standard Title LLC and Standard Law contributed $300 in March 2019 and $700 in May 2019 to the Louisiana Realty Political Action Committee. The Louisiana Realty Political Action Committee, in turn, contributed $30,000 to the Louisiana Republican Victory Fund for John Bel Edwards’ opponent, Eddie Rispone. Standard Law, a company owned by Katie Bernhardt’s husband, donated $1,000 to Republican Congressman Clay Higgins’ PAC (Redemption PAC), which gave $5,000 to Donald Trump. Katie Bernhardt told Christy Green that the donation to Clay Higgins was for Mardi Gras tickets.
Katie Bernhardt is currently the President of Empire Energy Corporation, an oil and gas company she inherited from her father following his death in 2013. This is important context as it sheds light on her support for Republican State Representative Stuart Bishop in Louisiana District 43. Bishop, also Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, supported a measure in May 2020 that would suspend the severance tax on oil and gas starting from the date it’s adopted until 60 days after the end of the 2021 legislative session. Opponents argued that this would result in massive windfalls for the oil and gas industry while depleting much-needed funds from the budget to support crucial needs for education, health and economic development during the COVID pandemic. Bishop also tried to pass bills that would allow oil companies to do their own environmental impact statements and then keep results secret as private business information. This would prohibit the public from making public health requests for vital health and environmental information.
Specifically, Katie’s husband, R.J. Fonseca under his company’s name Standard Title LLC donated $500 to Stuart Bishop in September 2019. Also, according to DSCC Representative Kathy Hurst, Katie Bernhardt’s husband had a sign out in front of his business, Standard Law, supporting Stuart Bishop when he ran for state representative against Leslie Bourque. Under DSCC bylaws, public support of a Republican candidate when a Democratic candidate is in the race is not allowed and could be grounds for censure.
State Representative Ted James who was initially running for the position of State Party Chair dropped out after receiving pressure from Bernhardt’s surrogates and Cedric Richmond. James claimed he dropped out of the race to focus on the Biden/Harris campaign. Before his decision, several of Bernhardt’s surrogates blamed Representative James for being dismissive of women and wanted to support a “progressive” woman, Katie Bernhardt, for chair.
Ironically, after Representative Ted James dropped out, Katie Bernhardt wrote in a Facebook post with an attached press release that she was honored to have the support of Representative Ted James. However, after Woolard supporter Kathy Hurst messaged him to ask if the endorsement of Katie is true, he replied that it’s true that it’s circulating, but he has not agreed to an endorsement and if he decided to support someone, it will come from him and not a leaked document. Ted James’ endorsement of Katie would seem odd in light of Katie’s surrogates arguing that he has been sexist and dismissive against women.
It’s also important to point out that Governor John Bel Edwards did endorse Ted James for Party Chair and Lynda Woolard for Vice Chair, but when Representative James dropped out of the race, Governor Edwards did not offer any support or endorsement of Katie Bernhardt. Perhaps, this may be due to Bernhardt’s ongoing support for Governor John Bel Edwards’ opponents in key races.
In a Facebook comment in response to party loyalist and Woolard supporter, Kathy Hurst, Bambi Polotzola, Executive Director of Governor’s Office of Disability Affairs, commented that she “will not support anyone for chair who, in the legislative race last year in every instance of two democrats in the runoff – one male and one female- supported the man. Perhaps, it’s just that all the men were better candidates but as a person who believed in the ability of women as leaders, it’s very troubling to me.”
In a group messenger thread between Alicia Breaux and Kathy Hurst, Alicia made the case against Ted James as Chair as the party, commenting “Ted James has a rep for being dismissive of women. As a progressive feminist that does not sit well.”
Ironically, Katie Bernhardt, by every standard, is not a progressive. Katie seeks to broaden the party to include pro-life Democrats and has taken positions against anti-choice candidates. She has supported pro-life Republican and Democratic candidates such as Chad Leger, Stuart Bishop, Scott Angelle, and Foster Campbell. Also while she contributed to Republican Stuart Bishop in his re-election bid and supported his efforts to eliminate the severance tax, between 2018 and 2020, she did not make a single contribution to a female Democratic candidate, despite five candidates running during this time-frame.
The other women who ran locally in her district during this time include Mimi Methvin a former federal magistrate for Congress in 2018 against Clay Higgins, Leslie Bourque against Stuart Bishop for House District 43, Jean Menard for LA Senate District 26, Rhonda Gleason for House District 45 and Theresa Rohloff for Scott City Council.
In the past year, an email was sent out from Katie Bernhardt’s business address, 921 Kaliste Saloom Rd, Lafayette, LA 70508 supporting former Louisiana State Senator Derrick Shepherd for Parliamentarian of the Democratic State Central Committee. In 2008, according to WAFB news report, Shepherd was arrested and charged with simple battery, theft, and unauthorized entry of a dwelling. He also pleaded guilty to money laundering charges and was released in 2019 after serving an eleven year prison sentence. Why did Katie Bernhardt support a convicted felon for Parliamentarian of the Democratic State Central Committee, and if she didn’t, how can one explain the email supporting him that had her business address on it ?
In her platform, she has publicly disagreed with outgoing Executive Director Stephen Handwerk’s position that we need a broader progressive coalition of Democrats, and made the case against a ‘purity’ test for the Louisiana Democratic Party.
Ms. Bernhardt rightfully seeks to increase the reach and influence of the state Democratic Party. To this end, however, her goal is to simply become a more conservative party – a “Republican Lite” party. She also laments the concentration of Democrats in New Orleans. Strangely, her platform pits urban Louisianians against the working class – as if the two are mutually exclusive. “We need to expand [Louisiana Democratic Party] visibility beyond these small progressive clusters, re-engage with minority bases (who we owe deeply for carrying us this far), and engage with what I call ‘working Louisianans.’”
Her solution is simply “to elect more democrats” – with no questions asked as to their political leanings. “We can no longer afford to have a purity test to be a part of the LADP,” she writes in her platform, inviting anti-choice democrats into the movement under the guise of “big tent” positioning. However, Ms. Bernhardt’s record shows that she is not merely interested in expanding the party; her record paints her as a conservative democrat, interested only in progressives and New Orleanians to the extent that they have a “D” beside their name. The fact that progressives put John Bel Edwards in office is of no consequence to her.
But that’s ok – she donated to Republican Scott Angelle’s campaign for governor, and her husband’s company donated to Eddie Rispone’s Political Action Committee. She also donated to pro-life candidates, Stuart Bishop, Chad Leger and Democrat Foster Campbell. There isn’t a record of a significant donation to a progressive candidate. Does Katie Bernhardt’s big tent Democratic Party include progressives at all or is she trying to form a Republican-lite Democratic Party that is opposed to a woman’s right to choose and supports big oil. Based on her contributions to pro-life Republican candidates and ties to big oil, it sure seems that she is attempting to achieve the latter. Many are concerned about whether progressives will be included at all in Katie’s big tent party.
- Note: Cedric Richmond has endorsed Katie Bernhardt for Chair of the Democratic Party as of August 28, 2020. Prior to his official endorsement, we received information from an anonymous source that Cedric asked Ted James to drop out of the race so that he could support Katie Bernhardt, a wealthier and more conservative Democrat who has greater ties to rural voters.
To access the DSCC representatives email list, please go here.
Charlie Schully contributed to this report.