Congressman-elect Luke Letlow died Tuesday evening from complications with COVID-19, shaking the Louisiana political world weeks after his election to represent Louisiana’s 5th District in Congress as the state’s youngest U.S. representative.
Letlow, 41, died at Ochsner-LSU Health Shreveport from “complications from COVID-19,” his spokesman, Andrew Bautsch, said in a statement.
Letlow was admitted to a Monroe hospital with COVID-19 symptoms on Dec. 19th before being transferred to the Shreveport hospital and moving to the intensive care unit on Dec. 23rd. Letlow is survived by his wife, Julie Barnhill Letlow, and two young children, Bautsch said.
He was in critical condition but had recently shown signs of improvement when he “apparently suffered a cardiac event this evening that was refractory to all resuscitation efforts,” said Dr. G.E. Ghali, of LSU Health Shreveport.
Luke Letlow was set to become Louisiana’s youngest U.S. representative. He died Tuesday night from complications with COVID-19.
Ghali previously said Letlow was being treated with the antiviral drug Remdesivir and steroids. Asked if Letlow had any underlying conditions that would have made his death more likely, Ghali said in a text message, “none. All COVID related.”
“The family appreciates the numerous prayers and support over the past days but asks for privacy during this difficult and unexpected time,” Bautsch said. “A statement from the family along with funeral arrangements will be announced at a later time.”
Letlow won election to Congress earlier this month to replace outgoing Republican U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, for whom he served as chief of staff. He was set to be Louisiana’s youngest congressman.
“We’re all in disbelief,” said Louis Gurvich, the Republican party chair. “The world was his oyster.”
Letlow, of Start, a small rural community east of Monroe, beat out Alexandria state Rep. Lance Harris, also a Republican, in a runoff election to succeed Abraham on Dec. 5th.
He was well-known among Louisiana political and government officials, having previously worked for Bobby Jindal when Jindal was in Congress and later in the governor’s office. He arrived in Abraham’s office in 2014 after a stint working for a Denver energy company in governmental relations.
“Luke has been a good friend for so many years, and we are saddened he was taken from us at such a young age,” Jindal said in a post on Twitter. “We had talked in recent days about his excitement about the opportunity to serve the people of the 5th Congressional district, and his love and devotion for Julia and their kids.”
Jindal said he first met Letlow when Letlow was a college student and spent “countless hours with him in his truck driving the back roads of Louisiana. His passion for service has been a constant throughout his life.”
Letlow touted his government experience in his bid for Congress, saying he would use his political background to work with Republicans, Democrats and government staffers to bring federal aid to the largely rural district, which is the second-poorest congressional district in the country. He said his priorities were creating jobs and extending fast internet service throughout the district.
His district, which he would have represented upon inauguration next month, encompasses 24 parishes and includes Monroe, Alexandria, Opelousas, St. Francisville, Amite and Bogalusa.
When he tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month, Letlow was one of many elected officials who had contracted the virus, including U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, Attorney General Jeff Landry, Treasurer John Schroder and Congressman Mike Johnson. Early in the pandemic, state Rep. Reggie Bagala died from COVID-19, but no major elected officials had since succumbed to the virus that has killed more than 7,000 in Louisiana.
His death prompted an outpouring of support from elected officials and political operatives across the political spectrum. U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, called Letlow’s death a “huge loss to Louisiana and America.”
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy said his death “brings home COVID can kill. To most folks it doesn’t but it truly can.”
Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a statement that Letlow “felt a calling from a young age to serve the people of his home state.”
“COVID-19 has taken Congressman-elect Letlow from us far too soon. I am heartbroken that he will not be able to serve our people as a U.S. Representative, but I am even more devastated for his loving family,” Edwards said. “Louisiana has lost more than 7,300 people to COVID-19 since March, and each one of them leaves a tremendous hole in our state.”
The governor ordered flags to be flown at half staff on the day of Letlow’s funeral.
Mark Ballard, Tyler Bridges and Emma Discher contributed to this story.