Louisiana Congresswoman-elect Julia Letlow on her work, tragedy, healing, children

Greg Hilburn
Monroe News-Star
Julia Letlow speaks with James Caillier and Misti Bryant both of Lafayette on Tuesday night before speaking to reporters at an event in Opelousas. Letlow is running for the 5th Congressional District seat her husband, Luke Letlow, was unable to fill after he died of complications due to COVID-19 in December, 2020.

Louisiana Congresswoman-elect Julia Letlow, fresh off of an historic, landslide win in Saturday's primary election, isn't planning to bask in her victory for long.

"I'm ready to go to work," Letlow, R-Start, said in an interview with USA Today Network. "I can't get there fast enough."

But Letlow, whose candidacy gained national attention after her husband Congressman-elect Luke Letlow died in December from COVID-19 complications, can't join Congress as the only woman in the state's delegation right away.

Her 5th Congressional District win, in which she secured 65% of the vote, must first be certified by Republican Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin before Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi schedules her swearing-in ceremony.

But Letlow, who will become the first Republican Louisiana woman to serve in Congress, does have a good idea of what her committee assignments will be when she gets to Washington.

Julia Letlow addresses a crowd of supporters Tuesday night at the Med-Express office in Opelousas.

Louisiana Republican Congressmen Mike Johnson and Steve Scalise, members of the steering committee for committee assignments, are seeking to reserve spots on the House Agriculture and House Education and Labor committees.

"I would love a seat on agriculture," said Letlow, noting the 24-parish 5th District is largely rural and perhaps the largest row crop district in Congress. "Agriculture is the backbone of the district."

Letlow said she would also be comfortable on House Education and Labor, especially with her extensive background in higher education.

She took a leave of absence from her job as an executive administrator at the University of Louisiana at Monroe during the campaign. Letlow will have to give up her job at ULM before joining Congress.

Johnson said the committee assignments aren't guaranteed, but he's confident the reservation he and Scalise made on Agriculture will hold and is hopeful for the seat on House Labor and Education.

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"Those are great places for her to land," Johnson said. "She'll be able to make a strong impact from those committees."

Letlow said Saturday night's win culminated three months of heartbreak, adrenaline and the seeds of healing that are only just beginning to sprout.

"There were more tears and laughter and joy Saturday," she said. "I could just feel (Luke) smiling down with pride."

Letlow said the couple's young children — Jeremiah, 3, and Jacqueline, 1 — will often commute with her to Washington along with a nanny who has helped care for them during the past year.

This photo of the late Congressman-elect Luke Letlow, R-Start, his wife Congresswoman-elect Julia Letlow and their two children Jeremiah, 3, and Jacqueline, 1, was taken outside the couple's Richland Parish home on Monday, December 7, 2020, two days after Luke Letlow's runoff election win. After his death, Julia Letlow "picked up the torch" and won a special election on March 20, 2021, to replace him.

"We're still working out the logistics," she said. "But we also have a lot of support from family with both sets of grandparents."

Family friend Scott Franklin of Rayville, who was finance chairman for Luke Letlow's campaign, said the couple's legacy will forever be entwined.

"I’m so proud of Julia," he said. "Her children will forever be able to look at their mother for a source of bravery. I hope that they will always know that their dad was a fine man who deserved so much more."

Letlow said she isn't intimidated by the task ahead.

"I truly believe everything has prepared me for this moment," she said. "I'm confident and ready to serve. I'm up to the task."

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.