LAFAYETTE — Jeff Landry learned the value of a hard day’s work in the sugar cane fields that blanket the Teche Area.
Fresh out of high school at 17, Landry went to work in the fields where he performed tasks like scraping cane, planting cane by hand, driving tractors and clearing drainage ditches with a shovel.
“In the sugar cane fields you work Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Landry said. “Once they start grinding they don’t stop. Working in the fields truly helps to sharpen a person’s perception of hard work and makes you appreciate things.
“When everybody else is out there celebrating the holidays and you are driving a tractor with no cab in the middle of bad weather you learn something,” he said. “A little hard work is good for people.”
In the three decades since working those fields, Landry has used that work ethic to help himself achieve a lifetime of goals. Landry graduated from college, worked as a sheriff’s deputy, served in the Louisiana Army National Guard, received his law degree and passed the bar, opened his own business, served in the United State Congress and was elected as Louisiana’s Attorney General.
A lot on his plate
Jeffrey Martin Landry was born in St. Martinville on Dec. 23, 1970, to parents Edna, a school teacher, and Al, an architect. Landry developed an ease talking to people, possibly from spending countless days tagging along with his mother — who in addition to being a teacher, was also a longtime high school basketball coach.
“You kind of end up with an extended family,” Landry said of that time spent with his mother. “I remember going to the gym a lot. I ended up having a lot of aunts.”
Landry attended St. Martinville Senior High School but didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do with his life. But he did know one thing — he wanted to serve his country. So he joined the Louisiana Army National Guard while still in high school.
“I always wanted to serve in the military,” Landry said. “I had a grandfather who served during World War II and my dad served in the National Guard. It is about what the Cajun culture is all about — faith, family and serving country.”
Landry served in the National Guard from 1987-98 and left with the rank of sergeant.
Landry’s time in the Guard also gave him the opportunity to go to college, as he received full tuition through the GI Bill. Three years after graduating from high school, Landry began his studies at University of Louisiana at Lafayette (then known as University of Southwestern Louisiana) and would graduate in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science
“I knew I wanted to get out my mama and daddy’s house,” Landry said with a laugh.
Landry’s time as a part-time college student was interrupted by his service in the National Guard. He spent one year overseas working as a military police officer when he was activated during Operation Desert Storm.
“It was an amazing experience,” Landry said. “I was able to serve my country and see another side of the world — it was truly a blessing.”
When he returned home from active duty, it didn’t take long to find his career path.
His time as a military police officer had planted a seed for law enforcement. So Landry became a deputy with the St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office.
After nearly a year working in the parish jail, Landry transitioned to becoming a patrolman where he mostly served bench warrants. In addition to working for the sheriff’s department, Landry continued to take courses at UL, serve in the National Guard and sometimes still work the fields.
How did he balance all of those responsibilities?
“It never seemed to be problem back then because I was single,” Landry said. “Back then I was only committed to myself so it was pretty easy to juggle all of those things. I only had hunting do’s but I had no honey do’s.”
It was during his time with the sheriff’s office that Landry was first exposed to politics.
St. Martin Parish Sheriff Charles Fuselier wanted to show support for longtime Iberia Parish President Craig Romero ,who was running for state senator. Fuselier told him to go help Romero with his campaign.
“I drove him around for like a month,” Landry said. “I learned a lot about politics and I learned whole lot about Iberia Parish. It was a really interesting race. My first foray into politics was a tumultuous race but I remember Craig was such a ferocious campaigner. He never stopped. I got to see that first-hand.”
“The funniest thing that happened in my political life was when Jeff knocked on my door,” Romero said as he recalled the moment. “I go to the door and I see a St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s car in my driveway in Iberia Parish and there is a uniformed deputy. He said, ‘Mr. Romero, I am Jeff Landry and the sheriff told me to come here and take you around St. Martin Parish.’
“I said, ‘I tell you what Mr. Landry. You go back home and put some street clothes and find an unmarked police car and we will go ride then.’ ”
Landry may have gotten a first-hand look at politics back then, but he never imagined he would one day run for public office — at least not a statewide race.
“If you would asked me back then if I would have run for a campaign, I would have said yes, but I think it would have been for sheriff,” Landry said.
Landry formed a friendship with Romero and even became part of his political team as a volunteer aide during legislative sessions.
“He had to pay Stewart Bishop and Blake Miguez though,” Landry said with a laugh about his fellow aides and friends. “He didn’t have to pay me.”
“Jeff was always so personable,” Romero said. “People just gravitate towards him. I remember one time I was called to have a budget meeting at the governor’s mansion with Gov. Mike Foster. I had gotten there and Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis was there standing at the door. I said, ‘Hello Angele, I am here for the meeting,’ and she turned to me and asked me where Jeff was. They were more interested in him being there than me.”
It was also during this time that Landry met and married Sharon LeBlanc of New Iberia. The two have a son named J.T.
Landry started his own oil and gas environmental service company, and became the executive director of the St. Martin Parish Economic Development Authority. He also began thinking about going back to school.
“My dad’s father was big on education,” Landry said. “My grandfather had no formal education and of course I came in as the first grandson and he always said, ‘That boy needs to go to law school, he needs to be a lawyer.’ I always brushed it off.”
That was until he sold his business and started thinking what he was going to do next.
“I was 28 at the time and started to look around and thinking what I was going to do,” Landry said. “So I decided to take my money and reinvest into the thing I believe in more than anything — myself.”
Landry looked at going back to school to get his masters’ degree but then he thought about an interaction he had with a judge while working at the sheriff’s office.
“I had called him about an issue once and he told me that he couldn’t talk to me because I wasn’t a lawyer,” Landry said. “That upset me. My thinking was, ‘You asked me to vote for you but you can’t take a minute or two to talk to me because I am not a lawyear?’ I thought that was ridiculous.”
Landry studied law at Southern University and finished his degree at Loyola University of New Orleans in 2004. But, initially, he had no desire to take the bar exam.
Landry’s wife, though, had bigger plans.
“He had put in so much time and effort,” Sharon Landry said. “He deserved to go take the bar.”
“Looking back now I am thankful,” Landry said. “But back then I had some choice words about it while I was studying for the bar. There are lot of things that I could thank her for. That is just one of them.”
In 2007, Landry made his foray into politics when his friend and political mentor Romero was termed out. Landry decided to run for Romero’s District 22 seat.
“I saw a lot of opportunities to fix things,” Landry said. “I like to solve a problem. I don’t like things lingering out there when there is a solution.”
Landry was the lone Republican in the race and ran against two experienced Democrats. In the end, Landry lost a tough campaign to Troy Hebert, 51 to 49 percent.
“I think people felt that I wasn’t too bad even though I was from St. Martin Parish,” Landry said. “But I lost. I decided after that I gave up any desire to run for office. That was it for me.”
Of course, it was not.
Two years later, Landry decided to run for the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Sharon didn’t speak to me for a couple weeks — there was radio silence,” Landry said. “There was so much going on with the big conservative movement, health care, the debt and the war I just felt that I needed to do something.”
“After he lost the Senate race I thought he was done, he’s lost and that we were good,” Sharon said. “When he said he wanted to run again for the congressional race I thought he was crazy. Finally I said, ‘Fine we will do it.’ But I thought to myself, ‘Fine, we will go lose and then we will finally be done with politics.’ I thought he just needed to get it out of the system.”
Landry wouldn’t be done with politics. He first defeated Speaker of the House Hunt Downer to earn the GOP nomination, and then easily bested Ravi Kishan Sangisetty of Houma in the runoff to become the second freshman Republican since Reconstruction to represent Louisiana’s 3rd District.
Landry’s district would later be folded into another, represented by Charles Boustany, due to population shifts in the years following hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Landry ran against his fellow Republican and lost in the runoff.
While his time in Washington, D.C., had come to an end, he had built up strong friendships, including one with current Majority Whip Steve Scalise.
Landry returned home and soon found himself back in another political race.
“I got approached to run for Attorney General while I was in Congress,” Landry said. “I didn’t want to be Attorney General, plus I had just gotten there and worked so hard to get the job.”
Landry decided to run for Attorney General and take on two-time incumbent Buddy Caldwell. Landry made the runoff and then easily defeated Caldwell by more than 130,000 votes.
“I was in the same place that I was when I got to U.S. Congress,” Landry said. “What the hell do I do now?”
What Landry did is try to deal with opioid crisis, welfare fraud, the restructuring and reforming the Department of Justice. He also became one of the more high-profile critics of Gov. John Bel Edwards.
“I am not telling you that the governor is a bad guy,” Landry said. “He is just bad for Louisiana. It is hard to sit back and see his policies. It is disappointing. I don’t wake up every day thinking how I can pick a fight with the governor. I wake up thinking what I can do to help make Louisiana great.”
Landry’s disagreements and lawsuits with the governor over the past few years led people to discuss Landry as a possible candidate to run against Edwards in next fall’s general election. But in early November, Landry made the announcement he was not running for governor, but instead would seek reelection as attorney general.
“I am not running for reelection because it is the best thing for Jeff Landry,” Landry said. “There is still plenty work for us to do.”