By Jeremy Alford & Mitch Rabalais
Known best by Baton Rouge’s Capitol class as a soft-spoken, influential donor and philanthropist, Eddie Rispone may soon add gubernatorial candidate to his portfolio.
Rispone, a Republican, told LaPolitics in an interview that he has formed an exploratory committee for the 2019 showdown that will feature the re-election bid of Gov. John Bel Edwards.
“I’m thinking about running and didn’t want any rumors out there,” said Rispone when asked about the creation of his committee. “I want to see what kind of support there is out there before I make up my mind. I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while.”
Rispone, the founder of ISC Constructors, said he would be willing to put his personal resources behind a campaign.
“That’s the big difference between me and others who could do this,” he added.
Rispone’s policy interests tend to focus solely on or eventually point back to education, and it’s the same issue drawing him into the governor’s race.
“I’ve been really frustrated over the past two years, especially after a track record of moving the needle prior to that,” said Rispone, who serves as chairman of the Louisiana Federation for Children.
As for when he’ll make a final decision and who has been tapped for his exploratory committee, Rispone said more details would be forthcoming.
So far, no one has announced for the contest aside from the governor.
The potential candidates include U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, Attorney General Jeff Landry, Congressman Ralph Abraham, state Sen. Sharon Hewitt and Stephen Waguespack, the president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. All are Republicans.
Another session unlikely, legislative leaders say
It has been about three months since this year’s legislative finale at the Capitol, which was plenty enough time for the Legislature’s leadership to recover and assess the resulting policy output from four sessions.
LaPolitics interviewed House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, and Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, and asked them identical questions about the potentials paths forward for the Legislature.
LaPolitics: Could anything prompt another session this calendar year?
— Alario: “If a hurricane comes along as devastating as we had with Katrina, we had to come in several sessions after that happened. You’ve got all kinds of reasons the Legislature has to meet. But barring that, I don’t see any need for one at this point. There’s always the possibility of some federal legislation would come along that we might have to adjust to. I don’t want to say ‘never,’ but it looks like the coast is clear for now.”
— Barras: “I don’t anticipate seeing any reason that a special session would be needed at this point. I think general economics have been pretty much what we had expected. Maybe some slight improvement. So that does help. It’s not like the economy is deteriorating any longer. Depending on what the administration comes with as far as the executive budget is concerned at the beginning of ‘19, I’m assuming they’re going to work within the parameters of the revenue that we have at this point.”
LaPolitics: What will be some of the issues to watch for the 2019 regular session? Are any issues already surfacing?
— Alario: “That’s certainly an opportunity for anybody who has any ideas of any fiscal reform. But I would imagine it’ll be more of a quiet session because of the fact that it’s an election year… I don’t see anything of any burning desire at this point.”
— Barras: “Other than possibly some of the more general reform ideas, both on the budget reform side as well as possibly on the revenue side, I don’t see the revenue measures getting much traction after what we’ve been through for the last three years.”
Political History: A Cajun celebrity’s political path
With his cooking shows on public broadcasting and his various books and albums enjoying retail success, the late Justin Wilson rode a wave of celebrity throughout the 1970s and 1980s in Louisiana.
Yet the legend generated by his iconic red suspenders and over-embellished storytelling rarely revealed Wilson’s own background in the sometimes murky and often colorful world of Bayou State politics.
While he would later go on to become a skilled political operative with connections to Louisiana governors, Wilson’s introduction to campaigns and public service started at an early age at home in Tangipahoa Parish. His father was a two-term state representative and served 32 years as agriculture commissioner, which provided young Wilson with hands-on experience.
His father’s political affiliations also landed Wilson a job inspecting warehouses in the administration of late Gov. Huey Long during the 1930s. Over time, brother and fellow future governor Earl K. Long noticed Wilson’s humor and found use for the young man in his campaign operations.
When “Uncle Earl,” as he was called, ran for a second term in 1948, he put Wilson on the campaign trail to perform impressions of former Gov. Sam Jones, who would go on to lose that election. Wilson was ordered to dress like Jones as he traveled the state greeting voters as the former governor and promising to raise their taxes.
During the next election cycle in 1952, Wilson managed the gubernatorial campaign of former Lt. Gov. Bill Dodd, but he was unsuccessful. Wilson was successful, however, in creating an original brand of humor, honed over the years while introducing politicians to crowds – and while delivering his own form of political performance art.
Wilson’s body of oratory yielded numerous catchphrases, some of which worked and some of which did not. By the time the 1960s came into focus, Wilson had found the one that performed best – “I garontee!” – and he was discovering audiences that wanted more.
They Said It
“It makes me realize how much I don’t like my Army cot in D.C.”
—Congressman Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, on being home for the August recess, on Talk 107.3 FM