Louisiana governor’s debate focuses on policy differences

Associated Press
September 26, 2019 - 8:39 pm

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In a policy-focused second TV debate together, Gov. John Bel Edwards and his Republican challengers Thursday drew starkly different pictures of Louisiana’s economic and fiscal health, taking some new digs at each other while sticking to their main selling points in their final clash ahead of early voting.

The Deep South’s only Democratic governor described a Louisiana rebounding from an economic recession and a decade of budget crises, with fewer people uninsured and new state investments in education, though he avoided describing the taxes used to stabilize state finances.

“We did the hard, bipartisan work that was necessary to right the ship,” Edwards said.

His GOP competitors U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham and businessman Eddie Rispone depicted a state lagging the South and chasing away its residents with high taxes and anti-business policies. They said Louisiana needs a sea change in leadership to thrive.

“We should be the No. 1 state in the South when it comes to jobs and opportunities, and I’m going to do that for our future generations,” said Rispone, touting his background as CEO of a business he created.

Abraham, who ignored Rispone in the first debate, went after him this time. He struck at Rispone’s main campaign pitch, that he’s the only “job creator” in the race, the only “outsider” and his opponents are “career politicians.”

Abraham said he’s run multiple businesses, including a farm and rural clinic, and he said Rispone’s been “in politics a long time as a donor” to candidates and conservative causes.

“Let’s get that straight,” Abraham said.

Voters start casting their ballots for the Oct. 12 election in the weeklong early voting period that begins Saturday.

Polls show Edwards well ahead of his competitors. Abraham and Rispone are vying to keep the incumbent from outright victory in the primary. All contenders run on the same ballot regardless of party. If Edwards doesn’t top 50% of the vote, he’ll face the second-place finisher in a Nov. 16 runoff, a two-man competition that could change the race’s dynamics.

Thursday’s TV debate was broadcast from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus, in an auditorium filled with hundreds of the candidates’ supporters.

Abraham, a third-term congressman from northeast Louisiana, has led Rispone in most of the race’s polls, even though Rispone has spent five times as much on his campaign as Abraham.

Rispone, owner of an industrial contracting company from Baton Rouge, is largely self-financing his gubernatorial effort, his first bid for elected office after years as a longtime donor to conservative candidates and causes. Rispone has poured more than $11 million of his own money into his campaign account.

Thursday’s debate was hosted by Louisiana Public Broadcasting and the Council for A Better Louisiana, airing around the state on public television, on public radio stations and online.

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