Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards and Republican businessman Eddie Rispone faced off in their last televised debate before the Nov. 16 gubernatorial election.
The debate was coordinated by Louisiana Public Broadcasting and the Council for a Better Louisiana and covered several topics discussed in previous debates, such as relations with President Trump, experience in political offices and Louisiana's economy.
Questions were posed by a panel of reporters, and the candidates also questioned each other on issues.
When asked what national issues most affected Louisiana, Edwards said Medicaid expansion is a top priority.
“We have saved lives, which is the most important thing,” Edwards said. “Not a single hospital has closed in Louisiana."
Rispone reaffirmed his commitment to improving Louisiana’s economy, which he claimed is the worst economy in the nation.
The next question concerned the candidates’ differing amounts of experience in political office, asking if Rispone was truly a political outsider. Rispone said he had relevant business skills.
“We need somebody with serious business skills,” Rispone said. “Time to do something if we expect different results. If LSU was last, we would fire everybody. Thank god they are first place. We need a CEO, we need somebody who will do for Louisiana what Trump did for the national economy.”
Edwards repeatedly called on his opponent to give more specific answers.
When asked by Edwards to clarify on how 130 million dollars will pay for a 14 billion dollar backlog, Rispone claimed that there are dollars being wasted everywhere.
“You never give specific answers to policy questions,” Edwards said. “I know you didn’t have an answer to the question, you didn’t even try.”
Rispone was critical of the governor’s pardoning of criminals, saying Edwards had released sixteen murderers and two child molesters.
“The sheriffs have endorsed me for re-election, not you, because they know public safety is important to me,” Edwards said. “Our state is safer. Our crime is declining. You better stop lying and fear mongering.”
Rispone questioned why Edwards had not made changes to the tax code in his time as governor.
“You are a walking special interest. We have tackled the biggest challenges that have faced the state since I became governor. It was a 74 million budget deficit by Bobby,” Edwards said. “I will work with anybody that will roll up their sleeves and get it done. I do not quit on the people of Louisiana.”
Rispone repeatedly pointed to the success of Trump as evidence that a political outsider can bring success.
“We are not riding the Trump wave when it comes to the economy. We have great oil and gas potential but are losing those jobs because of liberal lawyers that [Edwards] is close with,” Rispone said. “Look what Trump has done. They said nobody could lower taxes. He lowered taxes. We need a business person.”
Before the runoff debate, Rispone had been absent from most forums and was accused by Edwards of avoiding the public during the runoff.
“Rispone has been hidden this entire runoff,” Edward said. “How can the Louisiana people trust you will show up for them when you won't show up for them vote?”
Rispone defended his absence, saying that he was talking to the people of Louisiana and also had to meet with Vice President Mike Pence, who arrived in Baton Rouge on Sept. 16 to advise the Republican candidate.
“I’m busy talking to the people of the state. I have been available, and I've been to these debates,” Rispone said. “I missed a press conference because I had to meet with the Vice President of the United States.”
The runoff will come to a head on Saturday, Nov. 16. Governor Edwards is looking to become the sixth-ever Louisiana state governor to win a second term while Rispone, who has been publicly endorsed by Trump and other high ranking Republicans, will try to secure the state that voted as a majority for Trump in the 2016 presidential election.