First-time candidate for office Eddie Rispone’s campaign to unseat Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has focused more on his personal attributes, his business acumen and his alignment with President Donald Trump than on specific issues.
But one issue where Rispone has staked out a clear position is on the need for a state constitutional convention, and Edwards has been just as clear in his opposition to holding one.
“We have to make Louisiana competitive with the rest of the country, and that’s where we start,” Rispone said during a televised debate.
Rispone, the co-founder of a large industrial contracting business, did not list specific changes he wanted to make. But he mentioned three areas he believed are in need of attention: taxation, spending and local government.
“We really don’t allow our elected officials to set priorities,” Rispone said. “Only 11 percent of the budget is available to them.”
The “11 percent” statement, along with Rispone’s argument that the constitution is more of a collection of statutes than a foundational document, echo the views of the fiscally conservative Pelican Institute for Public Policy, which supports a convention.
“We don’t really have a state constitution anymore,” Daniel Erspamer, the think tank’s CEO, told The Center Square in August. “We have a set of laws that are given constitutional authority.”
Unlocking constitutional spending dedications would allow lawmakers to set new priorities rather than relying on decisions made decades ago, Erspamer says. He also advocates giving local governments more independence from the state and making them less reliant on state revenue.
Many legislators are wary of a constitutional convention because they are worried about touching certain priorities, such as K-12 education spending, supplemental spending for law enforcement, and the state’s generous homestead exemption.
Holding a constitutional convention has been discussed and rejected by lawmakers several times in recent years. A resolution that would have set up a commission to study the issue advanced out of the state House of Representatives this year but died in the Senate without a vote.
Once a constitutional convention is launched, skeptics worry, there is no way to know what the delegates will do. Critics also fear deep-pocketed special interests would have too much influence.
Edwards, an attorney and former Army Ranger, has stressed his desire to protect constitutional protections for education funding, law enforcement and pensions, along with the requirement that any proposed limits to the right to bear arms face the highest level of legal scrutiny.
The constitution can be amended with the support of two-thirds of the legislators in each chamber and a public vote, which he describes as an adequate mechanism to tweak its provisions if necessary.
“I believe the constitution is a good document right now,” Edwards said in a one-on-one debate with Rispone. “It can be amended from time to time, and we can address those challenges, but now is not the time to be dangerous and to gamble with all of these things that are adequately and properly protected in the constitution today.”
Holding a state constitutional convention in Louisiana requires the consent of two-thirds of the legislators in each body, and any changes must be ratified by voters.
Louisiana’s state election will be held Saturday. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.