Campaigns like this one, in which we’re invested in a particular result but have no particular influence or conduit to drive that result and are simply spectators to the action, are often difficult to cover for a site like this one. We don’t pretend to be objective – rather, our goal is to be honest in presenting political news from a conservative perspective. So when you have a bright-line difference between a John Bel Edwards and an Eddie Rispone, it should be no surprise to anyone that we’re going to cheerlead for a Rispone within these pages.
Truth be told, we would be cheerleading for anyone making a runoff with Edwards. John Bel Edwards represents everything about Louisiana politics we detest. He is a shameless, soulless liar, a man so devoid of character that he’s willing to abjectly terrify his own supporters with patent untruths in order to motivate them to re-elect him. His willingness to do that, which to us is the worst of the intolerable political sins a candidate could commit, makes it thoroughly unremarkable that he’s also willing to lie about who he is. John Bel Edwards is a socialist of the Huey Long stripe, who believes that wealth flows from the state rather than the man who created it, and as such his campaign’s messaging has centered around the idea that because he “resolved” a “$2 billion deficit” he’s somehow righted Louisiana’s economic ship.
Everything about that message is a damnable lie. First of all, Louisiana doesn’t have deficits. They are constitutionally impossible, as the state must balance its budget every year. Thus Louisiana can only spend what money its citizens send it in taxes and fees. What Edwards called a $2 billion “deficit” was actually a wish-list of government spending, and he demanded increased taxation in order to satisfy that wish-list. And to add heft to those demands he threatened all manner of catastrophes, including canceling college football.
Furthermore, Edwards didn’t “inherit” anything from Bobby Jindal, as he claims. He chaired the House Democrat delegation in the Louisiana legislature and thus helped craft the state budget. He voted for six of Jindal’s eight budgets while in the legislature. He knew everything there was to know about Louisiana’s budgetary situation, and when he ran in 2015 he did so on a flat-out lie to the effect that tax increases would not be necessary to fund state government as he saw proper. No sooner was he inaugurated than that promise went out the window, and a Bataan Death March of legislative sessions was to follow, in which Edwards sought to wear down the state’s elected legislators in order to pass what ended up being $7 billion in tax increases so that he could pump up Louisiana’s budget to nearly $35 billion per year.
And Louisiana’s private-sector economy has groaned under the strain of Edwards’ tax hikes ever since. While all of our neighbors are cutting taxes and embracing the Trump economic boom, John Bel Edwards’ Louisiana actually shrunk its GDP in 2016 and 2017, grew at an anemic 1.1 percent in 2018 and has grown at zero percent and 1.7 percent in the first two quarters of 2019, respectively. More than 75,000 more people have left Louisiana than have moved in since he took office. Louisiana has one of the highest unemployment rates in America and the highest in the South. None of the state’s metropolitan areas are among the 90 fastest-growing markets in the country – Lake Charles was, but that’s now over. We’ve lost some 11,000 jobs in the construction industry in the past year, and some 12,000 oil and gas jobs since Edwards took office.
It’s a catastrophically bleak economic picture amid a national economy which is booming as loudly as ever. And Edwards has lied about that, cherry-picking a few numbers to burnish his message by alleging we’re doing better than we did in 2015. Well, of course we are; in 2015 the price of oil plunged to modern-day lows and drove the state into a recession the moribund Obama economy only made worse. The apt comparison is not now-to-then, it’s how we compete with our neighbors. And all of them are consistently outperforming us.
Add to that the manifest corruption of Edwards’ administration, in which status quo special interests with connections to Edwards through sleazy contract lobbyists at the state capitol rack up lucrative state contracts and rig the game against market competitors and business innovation, when we’re not seeing outright graft and corruption, and Louisiana in 2019 is more thoroughly backward and devoid of positive leadership than at any time in our memory.
Yes, it literally is that bad.
A perfect example of the abject failure of this man is the New Orleans airport’s opening on November 6. It’s been a week, and what’s obvious is the failure to build flyover ramps from I-10 to the airport, so that people entering and leaving the facility don’t have to fight through three traffic lights on the way in and out, threatens the viability of the city’s tourist economy, the last major industry of any note left in New Orleans. When an Uber ride into the city from the airport can be $70, $80 or even $100 because Uber drivers can’t get into the airport to pick passengers up or get out of the airport in a timely fashion to bring them to their destination, and when it’s an hour and a half wait for a taxi because of the traffic issues, that’s a problem. The big travel agencies and consultants who book large conventions, which is a major driver of that tourist economy, get wind of the traffic problems at the airport, they’re going to put those conventions in San Diego and Atlanta and San Antonio and Miami and not New Orleans.
Those ramps won’t be done until late 2022 at the earliest. John Bel Edwards knew the new airport was beginning construction in 2016, the year he took office, and he did nothing to move the most urgent infrastructure project the state of Louisiana had on the drawing board to fruition. For three years he sat on his thumbs until finally letting a contract for the flyover ramps earlier this year. A more bright-line example of governmental malpractice cannot be offered.
Louisiana can’t endure four more years of this governor and his manifest failure and lies.
For that reason, and that reason only, we are invested in Eddie Rispone’s victory.
It helps that we like Eddie personally. We like his family, which is a collection of people representing the best Louisiana has to offer. His life story is one which should serve to inspire everyone in this state. And his record of success in business and philanthropy makes him one of the best people ever to run for governor in our history. The difference between the two men running in this election couldn’t be more stark.
Which is why we’ve been so disappointed in Rispone’s messaging, something we think has prevented him from running away with this race as he should have.
Yesterday Rispone’s campaign put this statement out on Facebook…
It was probably the most on-point messaging the campaign has sent out since the runoff election began, but it was a week late and not strong enough.
Rispone’s campaign allowed Edwards to seize the advantage in the messaging wars by failing to counter the governor’s campaign of rumors and lies about what a constitutional convention would do to various interest groups. Every one of Edwards’ statements was laughable – he even had his Department of Wildlife & Fisheries secretary Jack Montoucet circulate a rumor that Rispone was going to eliminate Louisianans’ ability to hunt with dogs, or some such nonsense – and yet Rispone’s campaign went days without a forceful denial.
The way to beat back the stupidity of those accusations – that Rispone would end TOPS, that he would kill supplemental pay for cops and firemen, that he would rob teachers and state workers of their pensions, and so forth – is to offer a clear message that John Bel Edwards is a liar, and has been a liar from the beginning of his career in statewide politics, and that everything Edwards has said and will say is a lie.
Rispone needed to disqualify John Bel Edwards in total, so that everything Edwards says automatically carries the taint of his loss of credibility. There has been a weak attempt at this, but not at the level that was needed. And so Rispone is playing a game of whack-a-mole, badly, with each new lie Edwards slings at him.
Rispone’s inability to publicly lock down Ralph Abraham’s support has been disappointing. We don’t make much of the report yesterday that Abraham’s son-in-law donated $5,000 to Edwards’ campaign; by itself it doesn’t mean a lot. But last week when President Trump came to Monroe at Abraham’s request in an effort to fuse Rispone and Abraham together, an all-important photo opportunity was missed. Rispone and Abraham both spoke on the stage, but they weren’t there at the same time. It should have been a top priority for Rispone’s campaign to have the photo opportunity with both men publicly embracing on that stage to thunderous applause by the crowd, and doing what was necessary to have (1) a TV ad running all over North Louisiana with that image and (2) a still photo of it on the front page of every newspaper in that part of the state. Abraham isn’t appearing in any TV or radio ads for Rispone, and he isn’t stumping for him.
That’s a mistake, and it’s a mistake which compounds the problem of Rispone having attacked Abraham.
Look, polls show Rispone is pulling 85 percent of Abraham’s voters. He might not need any more than that to win. But we’re of the belief that you don’t stop until you chase down every potentially friendly vote you can get, and the 15 percent of Abraham’s voters you don’t yet have are low-hanging fruit which must be picked. So doing what it takes to nail down that 15 percent should have been a major priority, and other than getting an endorsement from Abraham during his concession speech and a pro forma “Vote for Eddie” message at the Trump rally in Monroe out of the congressman, Rispone has not closed that barn door.
Which means you have some Abraham supporters still braying that they don’t want to vote for Rispone because he attacked Abraham and will therefore vote for Edwards. This is moronic in the extreme, of course, because Edwards was far more vicious in his attacks on Abraham than Rispone – he was the one who cooked up the idea of trashing Abraham for donating only $300,000 to St. Jude, and he was the one bashing Abraham for missing meaningless votes in Congress while campaigning for governor. Rispone picked up both of those attacks, which he should not have done, but what he didn’t pick up was Edwards’ smear of Abraham as a pill-pusher hooking people on opioids. That remains the single most low-down, disgusting attack of the entire campaign and Edwards’ camp has gotten a complete free ride for having pushed it.
We are amazed at how Rispone’s campaign has allowed him to be cast as the bad guy and not Edwards. Not enlisting Ralph Abraham to trash Edwards for the “pill-pusher” smear is a major failure.
And the other thing we can’t understand is the neglect of suburban New Orleans, where Edwards has overperformed. The governor won 53 percent of the vote in Jefferson Parish in the primary, which is 15-20 percent more than he should be able to get. It ought to be a massive priority to turn that vote around, and here you have a vehicle to do it with the opening of that airport and the traffic disaster it has brought with it.
Where is the Rispone sign-waving party on the corner of Veterans Highway and Loyola Drive? Where is the viral video of Rispone talking to a blocked-in driver, telling him or her “I’m in the construction business, and I can tell you those flyover ramps to access the airport ought to be done no later than next summer, not the end of 2022, and if you make me governor I’ll make sure they get finished next year,” with the driver responding “You damn sure have my vote!”? Where are the billboards on I-10 with that same message?
And why is Rispone allowing Newell Normand, the flamboyantly corrupt disgraced ex-sheriff of Jefferson Parish, to shill for Edwards for three hours every day on WWL without answering and discrediting him? Normand had to resign as sheriff in Jefferson amid a federal investigation into some corrupt side business practices, his machinations and inside dealing all but ruined East Jefferson General Hospital, and his wife has a shady legal services deal with the Louisiana Superdome and Exposition District that was doled out in 2016 by Edwards, paying her in excess of $300,000 per year. When Normand goes on the radio to tout what a great governor John Bel Edwards is, all he’s doing is singing for his supper. Normand knows his wife’s gravy train ends as soon as Edwards is no longer governor, and that is the reason his show is an infomercial for Edwards’ re-election campaign, and yet Rispone’s campaign has done nothing to blow the whistle on such an obvious conflict of interest?
These are the kinds of things good campaigns do. Good campaigns get a message out. They compete for news cycles. They build coalitions and conduct solid outreach to every possible pocket of voters. They don’t rely solely on the popularity of the president to win, particularly when Trump’s support with suburban white women is relatively soft – which is a big chunk of the reason Rispone isn’t pulling the numbers he should be pulling in Jefferson and St. Tammany. He needs more than Trump to reel in that vote, and his efforts to do that have been meager at best. He’s relying solely on third parties to make that sale, and while those third parties are trying, nothing is more effective than the candidate himself. Why the campaign hasn’t made more of an effort to have him speak to that constituency is a mystery.
Rispone’s camp has done some effective messaging, mostly with TV commercials. His ad with his daughter Dena adding a personal touch to the campaign was inspired, and it could very well be the silver bullet to kill Edwards with suburban white women. But it went off the air a couple of days ago, and we have no idea why.
If we had to bet, we would still say Rispone squeaks out a close win. This is still a red state, and Edwards has not run a winning campaign either. The issue is now in the hands of the voters with less than 48 hours to go until the polls open, and there are more than enough good people in this state who want better for its citizens, who aren’t “happy with crappy,” in the words of Sen. John Kennedy who would have won this race in an absolute landslide had he chosen to run, who can take this matter over and pull Rispone across the finish line.
But it shouldn’t be this close. And it’s a shame, because John Bel Edwards deserved an outright, humiliating rejection by the voters of Louisiana. Not a razor-thin margin of defeat.