An outside super PAC is muscling into the race for the 2nd Congressional District with a six-figure ad buy that hits state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson for missing so many legislative votes in 2020.
“She doesn’t show up for work,” begins a narrator. “Karen Carter Peterson missed 85% of her votes in the Legislature last year.”
The claim is factually correct, according to records supplied by the Louisiana News Bureau, a private company that tracks legislative votes.
The TV ad also notes that Peterson received per-diem payments from the Legislature on days when she was absent.
“At the height of the pandemic when Black Louisianans were dying in record numbers, I begged the Republican leadership for a mask mandate and social distancing to protect the hardworking staff at the Capitol,” Peterson said in a statement responding to the ad. “They refused. We have all had to make tough decisions to protect the health and safety of our loved ones, and that’s the truth.”
The new ad began airing Saturday in New Orleans and Baton Rouge and also is appearing digitally.
The new group hides itself behind one of those generic names that super PACs seem to favor — Progress for the People in this case — and supports state Sen. Troy Carter over Peterson in the election to replace Cedric Richmond in the House, said Terrence Clark, a spokesperson for the group. He declined to identify the donors.
Donors may give unlimited amounts to super PACs, whereas their contributions to individual candidates are capped. But super PACs are barred from coordinating with the candidates they support.
Clark said the group was formed by Louisianans who work with Democratic political firms.
While Peterson missed more votes than any other senator in 2020, she explained at the time that she didn’t feel safe returning to the Capitol after the onset of COVID-19.
That made her an outlier among legislators. Others expressed similar concerns, but continued to come to work.
Only one other senator, Gerald Boudreaux, D-Lafayette, missed more than 50% of the votes last year. He was dealing with the death of his daughter.
Carter could also face questions about his attendance record because he missed 25% of the votes last year, the fourth most of any senator, according to the Louisiana News Bureau. Apart from Peterson and Boudreaux, Sen. Greg Tarver, D-Shreveport, was the only lawmaker to miss more.
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The ad highlights three of the votes that Peterson missed that the ad’s sponsors figure will resonate with voters.
House Bill 43 established rules for visiting nursing homes during the pandemic. Peterson was one of the three absent senators.
Senate Bill 22 established rules for the preparation and counting of absentee and early voting ballots. She was one of six senators who weren’t present.
House Bill 140 nullified dozens of ordinances passed by local governments – including Baton Rouge, Mandeville and Kenner — that prohibited people from carrying firearms into playgrounds, parks, public buildings and commercial establishments where families and children visit. Peterson missed the initial Senate vote on the bill on May 29 but voted against the final version on June 1.
Peterson returned to the Capitol that day, the final day of the session, after being absent since the Legislature resumed its work on May 4.
Peterson explained her absence in tweets then by saying she felt unsafe.
Missing votes is not new for Peterson. Of the 37 senators who served the full four years of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ first term, only three missed more votes than she did, according to the Louisiana News Bureau. She missed 26% of those votes.
Carter didn’t rank much better. Only six senators, including Peterson, were absent more than him over that time. Carter missed 17% of the votes during that span, the bureau found.
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Peterson’s receipt of the per diem despite her absence was first flagged by Tom Aswell, a former reporter who publishes Louisiana Voice, a political blog. He reported that she collected “nearly $15,000 in per diem payments at $161 per day for 20 of the 24-day session in 2020 that she did not attend.” He put that amount at $13,685 in per diem and noted that she collected a $22,000 base salary as a legislator.
The firm that produced the 30-second TV ad, GPS Impact, worked for Gumbo PAC during the 2019 governor’s race. Gumbo PAC generated mailers and TV ads that helped power Gov. John Bel Edwards’ reelection victory that year.
The polling firm is ALG Research, which worked for Edwards, for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign in 2020 and for Richmond during his congressional campaigns.
Terrence Clark worked most recently for the campaign of U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat in Georgia.