A native New Orleanian, Karen Carter Peterson has spent the past 20 years in service to the people of New Orleans and Louisiana both as a legislator and civic leader.
Karen Carter Peterson grew up in the Central City neighborhood with her mother Gigi Carter, her father Ken Carter, and two sisters Eileen and Tara. Married for over 50 years, Karen’s parents worked hard to teach their children the values of hard work, respect, humility, and the importance of public service. Her late father, Kenneth M. Carter, was a trailblazer – becoming one of the first African-Americans to integrate Loyola University’s undergraduate program in 1962. After graduating law school and becoming a successful trial attorney, he became the first African-American president of the Louisiana Trial Lawyers Association; Mr. Carter had a long successful career in law, business, and politics. He was the first African-American elected assessor in the state of Louisiana, founder of the Black Organization of Leadership Development, and a lead attorney in the landmark legal trial against the tobacco industry. Karen’s mother, Gwendolyn Carter, was also active in local politics and successful business owner.
Karen’s parents believed that education was critical in preparing their children to achieve their goals. Karen attended Mercy Academy and after graduation moved to Washington, DC to attend Howard University. Karen graduated with a degree in International Business and Marketing from Howard University School of Business in 1991. She later earned a law degree from Tulane University School of Law. During law school Karen was afforded the unique opportunity to attend both Boston College Law School and the University of Virginia’s Law School as a visiting student.
Karen was introduced to politics and learned the importance of public service at an early age. In 1978 – as an eight-year old – she knocked on doors with her father and family friends to help elect New Orleans’ first African-American mayor, Ernest “Dutch” Morial. Emulating her parents’ involvement in local politics, Karen and her friends created NOKPG – New Orleans Kids Political Group. NOKPG worked to register voters and inform neighbors about the growing interest among African-Americans in the need to improve local communities and advance civil rights through political action.
At 18 – after 10 years in local politics – Karen joined her mother as elected delegates to the Democratic National Convention in 1988. This would prove to be an important omen in Karen’s career in national politics. Karen went on to serve as a delegate to every Democratic National Convention since 1988, and currently serves as the Vice Chair of Civic Engagement and Voter Participation on the Democratic National Committee.
Public service would become her calling. Although only 49 years old, Karen has worked for more than 40 years to expand voter participation in local communities and served more than twenty years advancing civil rights as a member of the Louisiana Legislature.
First elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1999, Karen immediately established herself as a powerful force in the legislature. Over the course her 11 years in the state House, she served in many important roles, including: House Appropriations Committee, Joint Legislative Budget Committee, House Governmental Affairs Committee, and ultimately rising up the ranks to become House Speaker Pro Tempore from 2008-2010. After hurricanes Katrina and Isaac, Karen became the first woman to chair the House Insurance Committee, and chaired the joint legislative Hurricane Recovery Committee.
In 2010, Karen won a special election to the Louisiana Senate – representing the 5th district in New Orleans, which encompasses a stretch along the Mississippi River from Canal Street to Jefferson Avenue and includes the Central Business District, Warehouse District, Garden District, Central City, and parts of Uptown, Mid City and Carrollton neighborhoods. In both 2011 and 2015, Peterson was re-elected to full four-year terms. As a state Senator, Karen has served as a member of the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection and International Affairs Committees, and both the Senate Finance and Senate Health and Welfare committees. She currently serves as the Chair of the Senate & Governmental Affairs Committee, and is a member of the Senate Judiciary B, Local & Municipal Affairs, and Revenue & Fiscal Affairs committees. Karen is also a member of the Select Committees on Women and Children, Disaster Recovery.
Karen has spent her entire career as a tenacious advocate and earned a well-deserved reputation as a fearless, battle-tested leader who does not back-down from a fight. Karen has helped to create a smarter, safer, and more prosperous New Orleans. For years, she battled powerful special interests in Baton Rouge on behalf of our hard-working families to: expand Medicaid; promote equal pay for women; raise the minimum wage to a living wage; save our coastal wetlands; and institute paid family leave. Karen fought and won the battle to bring our schools back under local control. Karen authored Louisiana’s first legislation to ensure automatic voter registration; she’s fought to expand voting hours to make sure working people have a voice in the process; and, in 2012 won an election to become the first African-American woman to serve as Louisiana’s Democratic Party Chair.
Awards and Recognitions for Service
In her 20 years of public service, KCP has been recognized by many organizations and publications for her work:
2000: Presented with the Central City Housing Development Corporation “Howling for Housing Special Award” in recognition of commitment to Community Development and Accomplishments as a First Year State Legislator
2000, 2004 and 2012: Alliance for Good Government Legislator of the Year
2002: Presented with the Ellis P. Smith Award of Excellence for her dedicated service to the community.
2004: selected as one of two inaugural recipients of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government’s New Frontier Award.
2005: Selected to participate in the inaugural class of the Aspen Institute’s -Rodel Fellowship in Public Service and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network.
2007: Presented with the United Way “Success By 6” Award in appreciation for her leadership
2007: Recognized by the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials in appreciation for Outstanding Contributions to the National League of Cities Congress of Cities.
2007: Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families Legislator of the Year
2011: Presented with the Louisiana Association of Justice Public Service Award.
2011: Recognized as an emerging pro-growth progressive leader by the NewDEAL, a leadership group founded by Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and Alaska U.S. Senator Mark Begich
2012: Awarded the International Association of Human Rights Agencies President’s award for outstanding service in the advancement of human and civil rights.
2012: Recipient of the 2012 Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana’s Justice for Youth Award.
2012: Selected to serve as a commissioner on the Louisiana Bicentennial Commission during Louisiana’s 200th anniversary of statehood.
2013: New Orleanians voted Peterson the “Best New Orleans Legislator” in the Gambit’s annual “Best Of New Orleans” Awards.
2013: Named Legislator of the Year by the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents
2013: Honored by the Children’s Defense Fund for her leadership on protecting Louisiana’s children
2013: Honored by The Links Incorporated for her work and commitment to enriching, sustaining and ensuring the culture and economic survival of African Americans and other persons of African ancestry.
2015: Named "Legislative Champion” by the Southeast Louisiana United Way
2015: Named “Outstanding Legislator” by the Louisiana Association of Educators
2015: Recognized by Alpha Gamma Zeta Chapter Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. in appreciation for serving as “Finer Womanhood Celebration” Guest Speaker
2016: Recognized by the New Orleans Regional Black Chamber of Commerce in appreciation for being the Annual Meeting Luncheon Keynote Speaker
2016: Presented with the Inspire Charter Schools Inspiration Award for her leadership and dedication to the New Orleans community
2016: Recognized and honored by Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. for her vast commitment to public service and dedication to the state of Louisiana
2017: Recognized and honored by the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus for the Remarkable accomplishment of having been elected to the position of Vice Chairperson for Civil Engagement and Voter Protection for the Democratic National Committee
2018: Presented with the Award of Honor by Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. for her commitment to public service and dedication to the state of Louisiana
2018: Recognized and honored by the National Congress of Black Women for her excellent service on behalf of the citizens of the state of Louisiana during the 2018 Louisiana Legislative Session
She and her husband Dana are members of St. Peter Claver Catholic Church and live in the Freret neighborhood of New Orleans.
New Orleans needs a leader ready to fight like hell to take on our toughest problems: stagnant poverty, persistent violence, and a sustained lack of opportunity for our young people.