Louisiana Republican governor forum

Congressman Ralph Abraham, center, and businessman Eddie Rispone, right, speak at a forum for Louisiana Republican candidates for governor in Baton Rouge on Sept. 5, 2019. Daniel Erspamer, CEO of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, moderates.

The two leading Republican candidates for governor on Thursday night sought to draw distinctions between each other and position themselves to be the main challenger to Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Third-term Congressman Ralph Abraham touted his NRA endorsements, opposition to Common Core education standards, and staunch support of the death penalty, which Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone has said he opposes.

“I am the only candidate who has worked alongside our great president to cut your taxes and my taxes, rebuild our military, and help our farmers out,” Abraham said.

Rispone, as he has throughout his campaign, compared himself directly to President Donald Trump as a fellow businessman and political outsider. He also referenced his personal wealth, suggesting that it gives him the ability to compete with Edwards’ fundraising.

“We have to do something different,” Rispone said. “It starts by electing a different kind of governor.”

Abraham said on “day one” of his administration he would call for a special session to address tax policy, budgeting and infrastructure. Rispone went one step further and declared his support for a state constitutional convention to tackle issues including taxes and revenue, the relationship between the state and local governments, and education.

Abraham said he did not necessarily oppose a constitutional convention if it had conservative delegates and was limited to specific issues. It is not clear whether a limited constitutional convention is permitted under state law.

Both said they would cut spending, though neither offered specific examples of what they would cut. Abraham said he would do so by cutting “waste, fraud and abuse,” while Rispone said he would use “zero-based” budgeting.

For a portion of the debate, questions were literally picked out of a hat and only one candidate was allowed to answer, making it difficult to compare and contrast their positions.

“He’s been getting all the good ones,” Rispone jokingly complained at one point.

Republican women’s groups from the greater Baton Rouge area hosted the forum. The audience cheered a bit louder for Rispone, an area native who co-founded an industrial electrical instrumentation company, than for Abraham, a doctor from northeast Louisiana.

The first round of Louisiana’s statewide elections will be held Oct. 12. All candidates run on the same ballot regardless of party.

If no candidate gets more than half of the vote, a runoff election between the top two contenders is held in November.

Staff Writer

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.