Karen Carter Peterson

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Karen Peterson
Chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party
Assumed office
April 28, 2012
Preceded byBuddy Leach
Member of the Louisiana Senate
from the 5th district
Assumed office
Preceded byCheryl Gray Evans
Member of the Louisiana House of Representatives
from the 93rd district
In office
Preceded byAvery Alexander
Succeeded byHelena Moreno
Personal details
Born (1969-11-01) November 1, 1969 (age 49)
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Dana Peterson
EducationHoward University (BA)
Tulane University (JD)

Karen Carter Peterson (born November 1, 1969) is a Democratic member of the Louisiana State Senate, having represented the 5th District since 2010. She is also the current Chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party. Peterson is the first woman to serve in this role.[1] In 2017, Karen Carter Peterson was elected for a four-year term as the Vice Chair of Civic Engagement and Voter Participation at the Democratic National Committee, focused on protecting voting rights and expanding voter participation.[2] The position was previously held by Donna Brazile.[3]

Since 2008, Peterson has served as Democratic National Committeewoman for Louisiana. Peterson previously served in the Louisiana House of Representatives.


Peterson was born and raised in New Orleans, the daughter of Ken and Gwen Carter. Her father was the first Black American to become Tax Assessor in New Orleans. Peterson graduated from Mercy Academy and in 1991 received a bachelor's degree in international business and marketing from Howard University in Washington, D.C. Peterson then returned to New Orleans to receive a law degree from Tulane University in 1995.[4]

State House of Representatives[edit]

Peterson served as State Representative for district 93 from 1999 to 2010. Peterson served as House Speaker Pro Tempore from 2008 to 2010.[4]

2006 Congressional campaign[edit]

Peterson was a candidate for U.S. Congress in Louisiana's 2nd congressional district (map) in the mid-term election of November 2006. She, along with several other candidates, challenged incumbent Democrat Bill Jefferson, who was the subject of an FBI investigation. She finished in second place with 19,972 votes (21.6% of the total votes cast), and therefore she and Jefferson entered a runoff round of voting on December 9, 2006. Jefferson prevailed by a 57%-43% margin, the lowest since his original election in 1990.

Peterson received endorsements from prominent Republican businessmen Joe Canizaro and Donald T. "Boysie" Bollinger. She was also endorsed by both the Louisiana State Democratic Party and the Orleans Parish branch of the Democratic Party. She centered her campaign around the argument that Jefferson's corruption scandal left New Orleans with a lack of credible and respected representation in Congress. Jefferson, in turn, accused Peterson of profiting from no-bid "sweetheart" contracts with the New Orleans City Council as their legal advisor for utility regulation. In 2009 Jefferson was convicted of eleven felonies.[citation needed]

Louisiana State Senate[edit]

In 2010, Peterson won a special election to the Louisiana State Senate from the fifth district after her predecessor, Cheryl Gray Evans, resigned. Peterson served the remainder of Evans' term. In 2011 and 2015, Peterson was re-elected to full four-year terms.[5]

On June 8, 2017, Peterson shouted an obscenity at Representative Dodie Horton of Haughton after Horton asked a group of senators present on the House floor to stop talking so that the budget proceedings being considered could be heard. Peterson later apologized for her verbal attack.[6]

Chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party[edit]

In the spring of 2012, Senator Peterson was elected Chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party by the Louisiana Democratic State Central Committee, ousting former chair Claude "Buddy" Leach by a vote of 85 to 75.[1]

BOLD political organization[edit]

Peterson is a political protégé of Jim Singleton, a former city councilman and the leader of the powerful Black Organization for Leadership Development (BOLD), which has repeatedly aligned itself in opposition to William J. Jefferson and his Progressive Democrats. With the help of BOLD, Peterson was elected in 1999 to the Louisiana state legislature as a representative for the 93rd district, which encompasses New Orleans, the upper French Quarter, and parts of Central City and Mid-City. In the state legislature, she was one of the most vocal supporters of a plan to reform the New Orleans public school system by putting it under state control. She was also a backer of levee board consolidation after the failures of the New Orleans Levee system following Hurricane Katrina.[citation needed]

Political positions[edit]


Peterson is a proponent of Obamacare and Federal Medicaid expansion. In a statement to the state Senate, she argued that critics of Obamacare were motivated by race.[7][8] The statement drew criticism from Governor Bobby Jindal and the leader of the Louisiana Republican Party, Roger Villere.[9] As a result of the controversy, State Senator Elbert Guillory returned to the Republican Party, the party to which he was once registered but later left to run for elected office.[10][11]

Tobacco taxation[edit]

Although generally a proponent of restrictions on state government spending instead of tax increases to close budgetary shortfalls, Peterson, an avowed non-smoker, supports higher taxes on tobacco and use of the consequent revenue to fund priorities of the Louisiana Healthier Families Act.[12] Her 2009 House Bill 889 (Louisiana Healthier Families Act), after heavy lobbying by both sides, failed in the Louisiana House of Representatives; she attributed the loss to "the national ambition of our governor", Bobby Jindal, whom she claime is interested in the Presidency and wants to seek that office without a tax increase on his record.[13]

Same-sex marriage[edit]

In a statement as follows Peterson endorsed U.S. President Barack Obama's support for same-sex marriage:

President Barack Obama demonstrated the courage and leadership in his statement on marriage equality today that those of us who support him have always admired. It was particularly moving to hear him discuss how his views had evolved on this subject over the years. The change was not the result of some intellectual exercise or political calculation; it was the result of seeing the lives of friends and acquaintances in same sex relationships that changed his thinking on the issue. We are fortunate to have as our leader a man who is so committed to the principles of fairness and equality ...[14]

Peterson has appointed to her leadership team Stephen Handwerk, the first openly gay man to serve as an officer of the Louisiana Democratic Party. Handwerk writes a weekly column for the Lafayette Daily Advertiser and is the Democratic commentator on FM radio station KPEL in Lafayette.


In 2013, Peterson proposed repeal of the Louisiana Science Education Act, a 2008 law which permits science teachers in public schools to use supplemental classroom materials to question evolution as presented in science textbooks. The Senate Education Committee voted 3-2 on May 1 against the repeal. Over seventy Nobel Prize-winning scientists supported Peterson's bill and have urged that the state law be removed. Supporters of the law maintain that it permits critical thinking in the classroom.[15]

Personal life[edit]

Peterson lives in New Orleans' Warehouse District. She is married to Dana Peterson, a political consultant.[16] The couple has no children. She appears in Spike Lee's documentary about Hurricane Katrina, When the Levees Broke.[17] Peterson's sense of humor was manifest during the closing days of the 2009 legislative regular session when a cabinet official in Governor Bobby Jindal's administration accidentally coughed on her after he had tested positive for swine flu virus; the following day, Peterson emerged in the House chamber wearing a hospital mask, prompting colleague state representative Jared Brossett to move that the House be "fully quarantined" until the plague subsided.[18]

In 2014, Peterson endorsed Senator Mary Landrieu for re-election.[19]


  1. ^ a b Anderson, Ed (2012-04-29). "Karen Carter Peterson ousts Buddy Leach as leader of Louisiana Democratic Party". Times-Picayune (Saint Tammany Edition). p. A1. Retrieved 2012-04-30.
  2. ^ "Democrats.org". Democrats.org. Retrieved 2018-09-11.
  3. ^ "Donna Brazile | Conferences". conferences.shrm.org. Retrieved 2018-09-11.
  4. ^ a b "Louisiana State Senate - Karen Carter Peterson's Biography". senate.la.gov. Retrieved 2019-01-16.
  5. ^ Anderson, Ed (2011-09-14). "Louisiana lawmakers win races when no rivals qualify". Times-Picayune (New Orleans Metro). p. A1. Retrieved 2012-12-21.
  6. ^ "Louisiana Senator Tells Dodie Horton of Haughton to ..." KEEL Radio. Retrieved June 9, 2017.
  7. ^ Fox News. "Louisiana Democratic Party chief says ObamaCare critics motivated by race". Retrieved June 15, 2013.
  8. ^ "La. Sen. Karen Carter Peterson Not Apologizing For Racial Comments About Obamacare In The La. Legislature (Video)". KPEL, May 30, 2013. Retrieved May 30, 2013.
  9. ^ "Jindal blasts Carter Peterson's race comments on Obamacare opposition". wwltv.com. Archived from the original on June 9, 2013. Retrieved June 1, 2013.
  10. ^ Lauren McGaughey State Sen. Elbert Guillory, now a Republican, says Democratic Party chair remarks helped spur his switch Times-Picayune, 15 June 2013.
  11. ^ Dave Weigel The Ultimate Black Republican Pseudohistory Conversion Speech Slate, 19 June 2013.
  12. ^ Karen Carter Peterson, "Fix budget with tax on tobacco" in Times-Picayune, 6 June 2009, p. B5; Stephanie Grace, "Tobacco tax bill won't quit" in Times-Picayune, 11 June 2009, Saint Tammany Edition, p. B7. See also the Associated Press article "New Orleans lawmaker wants tobacco tax hike" in Times-Picayune, 17 March 2009.
  13. ^ Robert Travis Scott, "Tobacco tax increase snuffed out"[permanent dead link] in Times-Picayune, 16 June 2009, Saint Tammany Edition, p. A2.[dead link]
  14. ^ Grace, Stephanie (2012-05-15). "Changing of the Guard". Times-Picayune (New Orleans Metro Edition). p. A1. Retrieved 2012-06-08.
  15. ^ "Senators reject repeal of Science Education Act". Alexandria Daily Town Talk, May 1, 2013. Archived from the original on April 10, 2014. Retrieved April 10, 2014.
  16. ^ Michelle Krupa, 2nd District Congressional Race: James Carter is working behind the scenes, Times-Picayune, August 18, 2008.
  17. ^ When the Levees Broke web site.
  18. ^ John Maginnis, "Legislature's wit, wisdom" in Daily Star (Hammond), 1 July 2009, p. 4A.
  19. ^ "Landrieu's GOP Endorsements Pale In Comparison To 2008 Election". thehayride.com. Retrieved September 12, 2014.

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
Buddy Leach
Chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party