Election 2019 Louisiana Governor

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks at his election night watch party in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)

The Louisiana governor’s race comes to a close Saturday, as residents head to the voting booths to support either Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards or Republican businessman Eddie Rispone.

Edwards and Rispone have squared off throughout the campaign, but the two candidates have one glaring connection: LSU.

Edwards

After graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1988 and serving in the U.S. Army for eight years, Edwards returned to Louisiana to pursue a law degree from the LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center.

Edwards graduated in 1999 as a member of the Order of the Coif, an honor society for U.S. law school graduates, and opened a civil law practice in his hometown of Amite, Louisiana.

Edwards became the fourth LSU Law graduate to serve as Louisiana’s governor in 2016, after Robert F. Kennon in 1925, John McKeithen in 1942 and Edwin Edwards in 1949, according to the LSU Law Center.

Edwards has been no stranger to the law school following his graduation. He delivered the 2016 LSU Law Commencement Address, just four months after being sworn in as governor.

In his address, Edwards credited the law school and its faculty members, his family and God for his success after graduation. He encouraged the 2016 graduates to use their degrees to make a “positive difference” in their communities.

“If you do ever doubt what your purpose is, just remind yourself of the motto for which Louisiana stands: ‘A state, under God, united in purpose and ideals, confident that justice shall prevail for all those abiding here,” Edwards said. “On your first day practicing law, unlike just about any other profession, you can start changing the world for the better.”

Edwards hosted several LSU Law graduates and faculty members, including LSU Law Dean Tom Galligan, at the Governor’s Mansion last February to celebrate the career of Judge James Brady, who died in 2017. Brady was a 1969 graduate of LSU Law, as well as an adjunct professor, member of the LSU Law Alumni Board of Trustees and a former member of the Chancellor’s Council.

Rispone

Rispone’s connections to the University run deep, too. In September 1969, the University formed its construction technology program, now known as construction management, according to Construction Management Department Chair Charles Berryman. It produced its first graduating class with just 27 students in 1972. Rispone was one of those students.

Rispone and his brother, Jerry, founded ISC Constructors in 1989, a multi-million dollar specialty contractor company that employs over 3,000 families, according to Rispone’s campaign website.

Like Edwards, Rispone maintained ties to his alma mater after graduation. He was inducted into the College of Engineering’s Hall of Distinction in April 2013 alongside his brother.

Former College of Engineering Dean Rick Koubek praised the Rispones for their personal accomplishments and contributions to the College of Engineering.

“The College of Engineering is honored to recognize these stellar engineers for our 32nd annual Hall of Distinction,” Koubek said. “Eddie and Jerry have enacted strong leadership through transformative roles in their professions and impressive contributions to LSU. These inductees represent the true significance of the LSU Engineer.”

Rispone has funded two Department of Construction Management professorships, one through ISC and the other through a personal gift, according to the College of Engineering.

One Rispone-funded professorship, the Eddie Rispone Professorship in Construction Management, is currently held by Chao Wang. Wang said he hasn’t yet met Rispone, but knows he’s “definitely a big donor.”

ISC also contributed the Jerry Rispone Professorship in Electrical and Computer Engineering, ISC Constructors, LLC professorships in construction management and electrical and computer engineering and several funds, including the Construction Department Development Fund, according to ISC’s website.

Rispone was involved in establishing the Construction Industry Advisory Council in Construction Management, which still includes ISC associates who hold membership positions.

ISC and the College of Engineering unveiled the ISC Conference Room in the Dean’s Suite of the newly completed Patrick F. Taylor Hall in August 2018, which the company provided a project fund for.

On LSU, Higher Education

The gubernatorial race put a spotlight on the University itself during the first gubernatorial debate, held at the LSU Student Union Theater on Sept. 19.

“LSU is an essential part of our state’s identity,” LSU President F. King Alexander said in a welcome address to the crowd. “There is no bigger asset to a state than an asset that brings in $5.1 billion.”

The debate, which also featured Republican U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, was the first televised debate before the Oct. 12 primary election.

Political communication juniors Sarah Procopio and Justin Franklin asked candidates questions via video. Procopio asked the candidates if they would support funding TOPS at its current level, which all were in favor of.

Edwards referred to his longstanding commitment to higher education, including fully funding the TOPS program in an effort to retain Louisiana’s best and brightest students. Edwards’ stance on higher education contrasts with the severe higher education cuts made by former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Administration, a fact Edwards has repeatedly referenced.

John Bel for Louisiana Spokesman Stephen Buys told The Reveille Louisiana voters are standing behind Edwards because they want him to continue to “move our state forward,” including in higher education funding.

“Gov. Edwards is running on his record of increased funding for education at every level, particularly higher education and TOPS,” Buys said. “Meanwhile Eddie Rispone is promising to take us back to the failed education policies of Bobby Jindal, which led to devastating cuts to higher education, threatened TOPS and raised fees for LSU students.”

Like Edwards, Rispone has promised to continue to fund TOPS as governor, but also aims to not make securing TOPS “a political football.”

The Reveille also contacted Eddie Rispone for Governor Communications Director Anthony Ramirez, but did not receive a response.

Rispone has also repeatedly mentioned the University when discussing how, under Edwards’ leadership, Louisiana’s economy is reportedly ranked last in the nation.

“We are last. We are 50th,” Rispone said during the Oct. 9 gubernatorial debate. “If LSU was 50th in the SEC, we would fire the president, the provost, even down to the poor water boy.”

After the LSU football team’s much celebrated 46-41 win over the University of Alabama on Saturday, Edwards’ campaign manager Richard Carbo referenced Rispone’s statement in a show of support to both the football team and Edwards.

“Under John Bel Edwards, we #BeatBama!!,” Carbo said in a tweet. “The provost, water boy and Governor all have job security.”

The LSU football team received a hero’s welcome at the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport on Saturday night. Among the fans was Edwards, clad in an LSU jacket and baseball cap, who personally congratulated the team and head coach Ed Orgeron on their win.

Edwards took 46.6% of the primary vote, just 3.4 percentage points away from securing the majority. Rispone and Abraham secured 27.42% and 23.6% of the vote respectively, according to the Louisiana Secretary of State.

Since the Louisiana governor’s race narrowed to two candidates, Rispone has been the subject of much attention from President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

Trump held a rally on Oct. 11 in Lake Charles to endorse both Republican candidates in the primary election, but has since been more vocal after Edwards failed to secure the majority of the vote.

Trump held a second rally on Nov. 6 in Monroe to endorse Rispone’s campaign. The White House confirmed last week that Trump will visit Bossier City on Nov. 14, just two days before the election, to muster more votes for Rispone according to the Associated Press.

Early voting was held from Nov. 2-9, and the state experienced a near record turnout. Almost 490,000 residents voted, meaning over 100,000 more ballots were cast for this election than in the Oct. 12 primary election, according to the Monroe News Star.

African American voters accounted for 31% of the early voting turnout, compared to 25% of all voters for the Oct. 12 election.

The Louisiana general election is on Nov. 16, and polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Julia-Claire Evans and Gunnar Viator contributed to this report.

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