With high-profile elections peppering ballots this year and next, campaigns in Louisiana are facing the same kind of staffing challenges as traditional businesses, especially when it comes to finding senior positions like manager.
The problem is multifaceted, more than a half dozen campaign professionals said in interviews last week. Some blamed the so-called “Great Resignation,” while others pointed to a generational shift in talent here. Either way, candidates and consultants in Louisiana will be leaning on hires from outside of the state over the next two cycles and beyond.
How could this be? Louisiana, after all, is known for its politics.
For starters, seasoned pros who made names for themselves on campaigns in the past have changed career paths. Many have moved from the staff level to corporate jobs, or from campaign manager to general consultant.
That’s the story with Kyle Ruckert and Lynnel Ruckert over at Bold Strategies in Baton Rouge. After years of helping candidates get elected and then govern, both made the leap from the staff side of Washington and Louisiana politics to consulting.
Kyle Ruckert said he and his wife don’t regret the decision. “I know several other former campaign manager friends who have traded in their suitcases and gotten outside the DC bubble to advise businesses and candidates,” he said, “and now they have time to sit in their hometown bleachers instead of random state fairs around the country.”
The general loss of experience in the industry is notable. Not long ago, high-level campaign staffers were expected to have four or five cycles worth of experience. These days, hirers are lucky to find someone with a just a couple of cycles under their belt.
That’s because many young people on the staff level are leaving politics altogether, rather than transitioning into new roles in the industry, according to Nicholas Foster, the Louisiana state strategist for Majority Strategies. Foster, 23, recently made the transition himself from staffer to consultant.
“A lot of people I worked with on the legislative staff ended up going the legal route, either through Civil Service or private practice,” Foster said. “I think you’ll find very few people looking to get into campaign work. There’s a lot of fear with that. Sometimes it’s not steady work.”
Recognizing that trend, Foster said not long ago Majority Strategies saw an opportunity to build a staffing service for conservative campaigns. The service proved to be so popular and competitive that the company eventually shuttered operations. “Why rent these people out when we, as a vendor, can use them on our projects and work?” Foster said. “Campaign placement is just so difficult.”
Kristine Breithaupt of Last Word Strategies, another campaign veteran out of New Orleans, said she adapted to the inconsistency of campaign work by picking up new clients such as schools, law firms and non-profits. But she doesn’t face the same staffing challenges with those clients. “I constantly find myself scratching my head when new (political) clients are looking for campaign managers, field consultants, finance directors and other staff,” she said. “There is only a handful of us who do campaign work year-round in Louisiana. There is a definite shortage.”
Lionel Rainey of LR3 Consulting said he has worked six campaigns in four states this year — including flipping an Oregon state House seat last week — and staffing was a challenge everywhere. “But it’s worse here,” he added. “I’m probably going to go out of state for all of our campaign managers for this cycle and next. There’s just no one to hire.”
Competition is another factor worth considering. Roughly 10 years ago, veteran consultant Roy Fletcher predicted in an interview with LaPolitics Weekly that his own practice, and others, would eventually transition away from campaigns to accommodate more work from political action committees and independent expenditure outfits.
In an interview last week, Fletcher said his prediction has become a reality. “The PACs and the IE work are influencing the scarcity in campaign workers,” said Fletcher. “Look, it’s easier to do IE work sometimes. You don’t have to work for a candidate. It’s steady. A lot of consultants will take that option all day over campaigns.”
Mary-Patricia Wray of Top Drawer Strategies, who’s handling three statewide campaigns in 2023, said job boards for staffers are filled with opportunities for PAC and IE-based jobs. “The pay that’s being offered is consistently more, and there seems to be more jobs posted everyday,” she said.
As for the campaign side of things, Wray said she wasn’t convinced there was a staffing shortage as much as the industry is evolving. “Being a campaign manager isn’t a full-time job,” she said. “It was a gig before there was a gig economy. That’s why people are becoming more comfortable going out of state. You get exactly what you want — someone who is coming here for a short-term job and then they leave. The organizational chart simply looks different now. Campaigns are made up of consultants who manage vendors, not staffers who manage tasks.”
Jeremy Alford can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.