The head of Louisiana’s largest business group says his members will do whatever it takes to help elect Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter as Louisiana’s next governor.
“We’re here to help him with whatever it is the campaign needs,” said Louisiana Association of Business and Industry President Stephen Waguespack.
LABI formally announced that it had decided to endorse Vitter on Wednesday — less than two weeks before he faces Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards in the Nov. 21 runoff.
Vitter touted the endorsement, as well as endorsements from Louisiana Home Builders Association, ABC Merit PAC, and ABC Pelican PAC during an event at the Associated Builders & Contractors Pelican chapter’s headquarters in Baton Rouge. Several students of ABC’s workforce classes came to watch the announcement.
Right now, Waguespack said it’s unclear whether LABI’s endorsement will translate to TV ads, direct-mail pieces or other campaign efforts in the bitter gubernatorial battle, but he said LABI is prepared to help “complete the job” of cinching the governor’s office for Vitter.
“Voters are confused,” Waguespack said. “If you want a conservative government, you elect a conservative.”
Edwards’ campaign downplayed the endorsement, noting that Waguespack is a former chief of staff to Gov. Bobby Jindal.
“He’s desperate for a Jindal third term. Louisiana can’t afford another four years of Bobby Jindal’s policies, and that’s exactly what we’d get with David Vitter as our next governor,” Edwards spokeswoman Mary-Patricia Wray said in a statement.
Earlier in the day, Edwards’ campaign announced that he had been endorsed by a “prominent small business group”: Independent Rx, the associated political action committee of the Louisiana Independent Pharmacies Association.
But LABI is a powerful lobbying force at the Capitol, taking positions on key issues during legislative sessions. The organization represents about 2,000 employers in the state, with more than 90,000 employees.
Each year, LABI grades legislators on how they handled LABI’s legislative priorities, and Edwards has consistently been rated among the bottom.
Their priorities range from education, including support for charter schools and vouchers, to efforts that would make it harder to sue businesses.
Edwards, who has been in the state House for eight years, has a LABI lifetime voting record of 29 percent. He scored 25 percent in his most recent term — the second-lowest in the House.
Meanwhile, Vitter regularly sided with LABI’s positions in the state Legislature, Congress and the U.S. Senate.
“The differences are enormous,” Vitter said at the announcement event. “You can’t be for job creation if you are consistently hostile to job creators.”
The somewhat rare endorsement from LABI came with a high threshold. Each of the four political action committees that support LABI’s efforts in separate regions of the state had to overwhelmingly agree to back him.
Vitter has used his position as chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship to frequently promote and praise small businesses throughout the state.
John Overton, owner of Baton Rouge-based Turnkey Solutions computer consulting firm and head of LABI’s small business council, said he sees Vitter as an advocate for small business issues.
“Sen. Vitter is someone who has fought for the people of Louisiana, the way small business owners fight for their employees,” he said.