Rispone a no show at press club debate

John Dupont
Gov. John Bel Edwards

A scheduled debate Monday between Gov. John Bel Edwards and runoff opponent Eddie Rispone turned out to be a one-person affair.

Edwards appeared at the debate Monday, hosted by the Press Club of Baton Rouge, but Rispone declined to attend the forum, set for two days before they were scheduled to face off in a final debate, hosted by Louisiana Public Broadcasting.

"Where's Eddie?" Edwards asked several times during his short speech and question-and-answer speech.

Edwards criticized his opponent for his unwillingness to debate and accused Rispone of dodging him.

He also lashed out at Republican donor Lane Grigsby, a Baton Rouge contractor who has been instrumental in the Rispone campaign.

"My opponent has no comprehensive plan or idea of how government works," Edwards said. "I don't take my cues from a puppet master."

Edwards lashed out at Rispone's plans to repeal the Medicaid expansion the governor put into place on an executive order three days after he took office in 2016.

He said the move would be disastrous both for residents statewide, as well as rural communities across Louisiana.

The move could lead to the shutdown of community hospitals and have a domino effect on the state's economy in the small communities.

"In rural communities, the hospital is often among the largest employers and has the biggest payroll," he said. "Aside from that, I can't imagine many companies wanting to build in an area without a hospital and people don't move to communities without a hospital."

He also touted the teacher pay hikes lawmakers approved in the last session, along with the increase in the Minimum Foundation Program, additional revenue for state universities and TOPS, and the investment in early education.

Edwards warned that Rispone's policies on education and healthcare could bring the state back "to the disastrous days of the Bobby Jindal administration."

"I am committed to moving Louisiana forward," he said. "I'm proud of where we are now, as opposed to four years ago."

He touted the state's budget surplus four years after he took office with a $2 billion deficit, the largest in the state's history.

"That's what I walked into, despite the fact that my predecessor came into office with a half-billion surplus," he said. "That's because we came together in a bipartisan way."

Edwards said he expects the bipartisan approach to continue in his next term, despite the barbs from President Trump and other prominent Republicans who support Rispone.

He does not expect the large gains from the Republicans on House and Senate seats to have an adverse effect on his second administration, if he is reelected.

"Look at what we've done during my first time," he said. "That was done through legislation approved in a majority-Republican House and a large number of Republicans in the Senate."

He said he plans to incorporate a mix of Republicans and Democrats, as well as diversity in ethnicity, as he did in his first term.

"I want something that truly represents Louisiana," Edwards said.