Governor John Bel Edwards Faces Jindal-like candidate in Runoff Election

On Election Day, John Bel Edwards attained nearly 47 percent of the vote, falling short of the 50 percent threshold he needed to win the election outright. The result wasn’t unexpected though. Pre-election polling showed Edwards with between 45-48 percent of the vote with Rispone and Abraham trailing. The actual election results showed Rispone with 27 percent of the vote and Abraham with 24 percent of the vote. Notably, the combined support of those who voted for a Republican candidate totaled 51 percent. Edwards will now be heading into a runoff with Eddie Rispone, a multi-millionaire businessman who has based his campaign on his support for Trump and anti-immigrant language. 

Despite the concerning combined 51 percent vote total for Abraham and Rispone, Edwards still has a good shot at securing a victory in the runoff. For example, Rispone would need to secure almost 100 percent of Abraham’s support in order to defeat John Bel Edwards, and considering his hard right ideological positions in a state that has historically supported pragmatic centrist candidates rather than hyper-partisan ideologues, many pundits see an opportunity for Edwards to garner enough support to secure a second term.  Additionally, what’s important to consider, in his first primary election in 2015, then candidate John Bel Edwards garnered only 40 percent of the vote, while his Republican opponents attained a combined 57 percent. Many pundits dismissed Edwards chances at the time since they were almost certain that in a deep red state, Republicans would rally behind their former Republican Senator Vitter. While looking back, many may think that Vitter’s prostitution scandal afforded Governor Edwards an advantage in that race, it’s important to note that Senator Vitter was actually re-elected to the Senate in 2010, years after the Senator’s misdeeds were investigated. 

Rispone’s policies on education, health care and a host of other issues mirror former Governor Bobby Jindal’s policies. Considering Jindal left office with a historical $2 billion dollar deficit with deep cuts to higher education and health care, many of Abraham’s supporters who are seeking practical solutions to advance our state’s socioeconomic standing, will undoubtedly view Rispone’s hard right, uncompromising positions as regressive and reminiscent of the Jindal years. 

Economists agree that Rispone’s economic policies cannot work with Louisiana’s tax base. Tax cuts to wealthy billionaires will inevitably result in a revenue shortfall rather than spur economic growth and yield a return on investment. In 2012 under Bobby Jindal, business tax subsidies peaked when a staggering 88 percent of the state’s corporate income taxes were exempted. Ironically, in 2016 as a Presidential hopeful, Jindal decried the same corporate welfare system he helped foster. The result of Jindal’s record corporate subsidies was a significant shortfall in revenue for the state, which brought about steep cuts in higher education and health care. By the end of Jindal’s term, the state was in crisis. State workers were out of jobs, fewer people were able to afford to go to college due to cuts to TOPS and increasing tuition, and health care costs soared as Jindal refused to accept free federal funding to expand Medicaid, costing the state billions. 

That would beg the question, “why would anyone want to elect someone who would enact the same policies as Jindal enacted after having a Governor who worked tirelessly across the aisle with both Democrats and Republicans to turn a record deficit into a surplus, expand Medicaid, lifting tens of thousands out of poverty, reinvest funds into pre-k through college education, and attract and retain more permanent jobs?”

Businesses consistently cite our small pool of college educated workers as the top reason they either leave the state or do not seek to relocate here. Under Edwards, money has been reinvested into higher education and our economy has expanded, which is a fact that the Trump White House also acknowledged. 

And as far as taxes being higher under Governor Edwards? That’s also a myth. According to Ernst and Young, under Governor Edwards, businesses have paid 48.5 percent of state and local taxes, compared to 53.6 percent in Florida and 61.7 percent in Texas. 

In addition to Rispone’s policies mirroring the failed policies of the Jindal years, it’s also apparent that Eddie Rispone has benefited largely from Jindal-era tax subsidies. For instance, in July 2019, the Bayou Brief reported that Rispone’s company, ISC Constructors was a subcontractor on industrial projects that received more than $750 million dollars in ten-year property tax exemptions under the Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP). 

Finally, Eddie Rispone has shown no desire to discuss policies in a bipartisan way to appeal to all Louisiana voters. Instead, his campaign has tried to nationalize this race, aligning himself with Donald Trump on hot-button topics like immigration. In July 2019, Rispone took out a full page ad in the Advocate in which he railed against immigrants, Antifa and New Orleans status as a sanctuary city. As the Bayou Brief pointed out at the time, ironically, just five years prior, Rispone dedicated his book to immigrants and refugees who came to America seeking freedom of faith and prosperity. 

On November 16, 2019, Louisiana voters have a choice to reject the air of hyper-partisanship threatening to impede the progress made by re-electing John Bel Edwards, or voters can decide to prioritize party loyalty and identity politics and turn back the clock on Louisiana’s progress. Voters can choose to go back to the Jindal years where records deficits resulted in layoffs and economic hardship or we can continue to reap the benefits of a healthier fiscal state, which continues to provide us the opportunity to make much-needed investments in infrastructure, education, and health care. 

Scott Ploof is Publisher and Founder of Big Easy Magazine. 

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