Davante Lewis, a Black gay man, has become the first out LGBTQ+ person elected to a state governmental body in Louisiana and the first Black LGBTQ+ person elected to any public office there.
Lewis, an advocate for renewable energy, won a runoff election Saturday to become a member of the Louisiana Public Service Commission, the state's utilities, pipelines, telecommunications, and more, while also helping to determine the state's energy policies. It has the power to approve or deny rate increases by utility companies and influence whether utilities are powered by gas or renewables such as solar and wind.
The races for the commission are usually low-profile, and runoffs are rare, but the election drew substantial attention this year due to the effect of natural disasters and scrutiny on utilities' role in climate change.
Lewis ran on a platform of "holding monopoly utility companies accountable, reaching 100% renewable electricity by 2035, and a Ratepayers' Bill of Rights," says a press release from his campaign.
Lewis beat a three-term incumbent, Lambert Boissiere III, to represent District 3 on the commission, reports NOLA.com, a website for several Louisiana newspapers. Both are Democrats. They advanced to the runoff after being the top two finishers among five candidates in November. Two of the three candidates who were eliminated endorsed Lewis. In the runoff, Lewis won 59 percent of the vote, Boissiere 41 percent. Commissioners are elected for six-year terms.
"Lewis' campaign put Boissiere in the difficult position of defending the work of the PSC at a time when electric bills have soared, squeezing ratepayers, only a year after Hurricane Ida left millions without power, many for weeks," NOLA.com notes.
Much of Boissiere's campaign funding over the years has come from utility companies, while Lewis had the support of environmental groups, including Keep the Lights On, a political action committee connected with the Environmental Defense Fund. Lewis, a 30-year-old Baton Rouge resident, works for the Louisiana Budget Project, a progressive group.
He was backed also by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and U.S. Rep. Troy Carter, whose district covers much of the same territory as the commission's District 3, which runs from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, NOLA.com reports. He had the endorsement of the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund as well.
"For far too long, Black people and the LGBTQ community have lacked equitable representation in government --with the scars to show for it," said a statement from Victory Fund President and CEO Annise Parker. "Davante shattered this lavender ceiling because voters were enthusiastic about his life-long service to Louisiana, his commitment to working families and his keen ability to forge and activate diverse coalitions. We are confident these qualities and his exceptional career as a climate champion and public policy expert will make him an effective leader for all Louisianans, especially the LGBTQ community who have faced a sharp uptick in homophobia and transphobia this year. His election is a shining example that when LGBTQ people run, we win."
Before Lewis's win, there were two out elected officials in Louisiana, both white and both members of local bodies, not state: Catherine Davidson of the Alexandria City Council and Aaron Moak of the Baton Rouge Metro Council.
Lewis spoke to supporters Saturday night. "Tonight, we have begun a new chapter for Louisiana," he said, according to the press release. "Tonight, the people of Louisiana start taking our power back. Tonight, Louisiana has a Public Service Commissioner who's unafraid to hold [utility company] Entergy accountable, because I owe this victory to the people of Louisiana and their commitment to a brighter, cleaner, and 100 percent renewable future.
"Thank you to all of the people who gave their time, money, and votes. It is because of you that our movement for clean, affordable, and reliable utilities won out against the political and financial interests who invested so heavily in maintaining an unaffordable, unreliable, and unbearable status quo. We rose up and said Louisiana is ready for a new energy future. One in which every Louisianian can count on clean air and water, a warm house in the winter, a cool horse in the summer and utility bills that don't break the bank.
"Realizing this vision will take hard work from our entire movement. The monopoly utility companies, oil, gas and petrochemical industries and political establishment who tried to sink our movement will not disappear because of this election. We must continue to root out corruption and unrig the system, to hold me and my fellow commissioners accountable, and to advocate for bold, new solutions. But tonight shows that together, we are up to the challenge and I look forward to spending the next six years fighting every day for you."