SADOW: Abraham Gets It Over Rispone, Barely

If you’re fed up with Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, a candidate forum last week gave you an answer to replace him as Louisiana’s top executive: Republican Rep. Ralph Abraham.

It’s not that Republican businessman Eddie Rispone would be a bad choice at all; he certainly tops Edwards convincingly on a wide range of policy issues. It’s just that Abraham does a bit better on the whole on issues where he and Rispone diverge.

The forum, hosted by Baton Rouge area women’s Republican clubs, provided the first public opportunity after qualifying for the Oct. 12 election for the GOP candidates to make a distinction between themselves in person. With a runoff almost certain and the advancing Republican at least an even-money bet to win, the choice between the two selects the most likely person to become governor next year.

Rispone in particular strove to differentiate himself on candidate characteristics, maintaining that his personal war chest made him better able to defeat Edwards, and styling himself as a political outsider and astute businessman like GOP Pres. Donald Trump who could ride those same dynamics to victory. However, Abraham effectively countered that he had worked well with Trump on various issues, and it’s no secret that whichever of the two makes the runoff will collect a torrent of unleashed donations, so neither will want for funds to put the nails in Edwards’ electoral coffin.

That aside, some differences arose on issues:

Criminal justice changes – the jury remains out on several laws that shortened sentences and reduced penalties with a goal of incarcerating fewer for less time to save money. We do know that didn’t work, as the reduced revenues from fewer days stayed in local jails prompted an increase in the state’s daily reimbursement rate that wiped out retained dollars from reduced costs of imprisonment in state facilities. The open questions now are whether crime rates didn’t rise as a result of the more relaxed standards and if the recidivism rate of those let out early under the new laws didn’t go higher than those set free unaffected by the changes; a couple more years of data ought to answer these. In the meantime, Abraham sounded more critical of those laws than did Rispone.

Statutory/Constitutional changes – both agree that at least some major revisions should come particularly in the areas of finance and education. Abraham appeared to back a more limited version of a constitutional convention to do so.

Capital punishment – perhaps the starkest difference appeared on this issue. Rispone, exhibiting the confusion many Catholics experience with the unprecedented reversal of doctrine enunciated by Pope Francis last year on the issue, said he opposed it because of his religion. Abraham supported it, which reflects social science research demonstrating that the death penalty when consistently administered saves lives.

Education – Abraham appears weakest on this issue where he opposes the Common Core for State Standards now operating in all but a handful states and includes Louisiana. In fact, observers have lauded the state for its implementation that since has produced better student progress on the National Assessment of Education Progress test than in just about any other state. The driving force behind this, Superintendent John White, Edwards has called for replacing. Would Abraham do the same over a question long ago settled?

Still, even with this wart, Abraham gets the measure of Rispone. But conservatives can’t go wrong in choosing either over the leftist Edwards.

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