Jim Bernhard, who engineered the sale of The Shaw Group for $3 billion, recently has told several people involved in Democratic politics that he intends to run for governor in 2015. According to three of those sources, Bernhard told them he will be a candidate, while another said Bernhard told him he is "strongly considering" the race.
Bernhard, who previously served as chairman of the Louisiana Democratic Party, would not comment when LaPolitics asked about his political future.
The Baton Rouge native and LSU graduate last raised the hopes of Democrats when he was said to be considering a challenge to U.S. Sen. David Vitter in 2010. Nothing came of that, for at that time he was CEO of the state's only Fortune 500 company, an industrial construction and engineering firm that he founded with two others with a $50,000 investment in 1987.
Political speculation about him recurred last year when The Shaw Group was sold to Chicago Bridge and Iron. Under the change-of-control provisions in his contract, Bernhard received $20.4 million in cash and $15.7 million in stock. Later, he sold most of his stock holdings in the company for $46 million and still owns $7 million worth. On his departure, he also received $18.7 million in a retirement package and the use of a private plane for 10 years.
After leaving Shaw, he and other members of his executive management team formed Bernhard Capital Partners, a private equity firm in Baton Rouge.
The only political position Bernhard has held was a brief stint as Dem chairman in 2004 and 2005. One of his most interesting philanthropic gestures was to intercede after the Grambling football team refused to travel to an away game last year in protest of their dilapidated facilities. He met with players and helped to raise money to upgrade the weight room, resulting in the team continuing its season.
Not only his deep pockets, but his entrepreneurial and management record would hearten Democrats who are looking for a champion to resurrect the party's decline in elections over the past decade. Not all who have spoken with Bernhard, however, believe he will follow through on his talk.
Yet his apparent interest in running for governor could be one more reason why the Super PAC supporting Vitter has asked a court to overturn Louisiana's $100,000 limit on contributions to political action committees. There is no limitation on the check a candidate can write to himself.