BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards swiped Monday at his Republican opponent Eddie Rispone for missing another candidate forum ahead of the runoff election, accusing the businessman of dodging public events to limit scrutiny of an undefined agenda.
The Deep South’s only Democratic governor, battling to reach a second term and targeted by the national GOP for ouster, started and ended his appearance before the Press Club of Baton Rouge by asking: “Where is Eddie?”
“What are the specific things that he wants to do?” Edwards asked.
He suggested Rispone didn’t attend many public events “partly because he really doesn’t have a comprehensive plan or knowledge about how state government works for that matter. And then the other part of it is the plans he has are really, really bad for our state.”
Rispone, founder of a Baton Rouge-based industrial contracting company, has made few public appearances since reaching the Nov. 16 head-to-head matchup against Edwards, skipping forums intended to let the two contenders define their differences. Rispone agreed to only one runoff debate, to be held Wednesday.
Rather than appear in matchups with Edwards or events where he could be questioned publicly, Rispone has focused on closed-door meetings with donors and supporters. He had a Monday evening fundraiser scheduled with Vice President Mike Pence in Baton Rouge.
Rispone’s campaign didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment about Edwards’ criticism of the missed forums.
Early voting in the election begins Saturday.
Rispone, who has largely self-financed his bid for office, has sought to nationalize the race, defining himself mainly through his support of President Donald Trump, who won Louisiana by 20 percentage points and remains popular in the state. Trump is backing Rispone.
Edwards dismisses Trump’s involvement in the race as a purely partisan decision that doesn’t reflect the “good working relationship” he’s had with the White House.
Though he’s long been involved in politics as a high-dollar donor, Rispone describes himself as an outsider who can make government more effective because of his experience running a large business. He’s largely offered generalities when describing his agenda.
Edwards panned the ideas Rispone has detailed.
He said Rispone’s proposal to “freeze” enrollment in the Medicaid expansion program would effectively end the government-financed health insurance that helped shrink Louisiana’s uninsured rate to below the national average.
Rispone has said he wants to stop adding new people to the Medicaid expansion rolls until he can eliminate millions in wasteful spending he says exists in the program. Edwards noted that expansion recipients often rotate in and out of eligibility because of income fluctuations among seasonal and shift workers. If enrollment is frozen, they would be unable to regain coverage after they’ve lost it, even if their income drops back to the eligibility level.
The Democratic incumbent also slammed Rispone’s proposed constitutional convention.
The GOP contender has said he wants to target areas involving the budget, taxes, state employee pensions, education and local government, saying that would make Louisiana more competitive with other states, without offering specifics. Edwards said opening the state constitution would threaten the property tax exemption Louisiana residents get on their homes, called the homestead exemption, and endanger the pay supplement the state gives to local police and firefighters.
As he seeks to cobble together support from Republicans and independents he’d need to win reelection, Edwards is targeting voters who backed GOP candidate Ralph Abraham, the congressman who finished third in the primary. Edwards is reminding them of Rispone’s attacks on Abraham, hoping Abraham supporters are still bristling at Rispone.
Edwards’ campaign also is reaching out to voters who didn’t cast ballots in the primary, now that the competition has been whittled from six candidates to two.
“The biggest thing we have going for us is the stark choice before the voters,” he said.