Two Republican congressmen running for the U.S. Senate told a gathering of oil and gas industry officials Tuesday that they would strive to protect the beleaguered industry from intrusive regulation.

A third GOP Senate candidate, state Treasurer John N. Kennedy, also praised the energy industry, then launched into an attack on John Bel Edwards just as the governor walked into the tent.

“As I appreciate it, Gov. Edwards’ plan is for Louisiana families and Louisiana businesses to cut their budgets so the state doesn’t have to cut its budget,” Kennedy told the several hundred energy officials eating jambalaya in a park next door to the State Capitol, where they were preparing to go to lobby state legislators.

“Tell them that Louisiana is No. 1 in the South in state and local spending per capita. Tell them to get off your backs,” Kennedy said.

“Well, either our timing is perfect or incredibly awkward,” said moderator Marc Ehrhardt as he prepared to introduce Edwards.

Ehrhardt is the executive director of Grow Louisiana Coalition, which sponsored the event.

The governor started out by saying how important the energy industry is to the state and noted that the current economic climate caused by low prices has led to layoffs and a downturn in profitability. That was why during the recent special session, in which he sought tax increases and spending cuts to overcome a $2 billion deficit, Edwards said he did not ask the oil and gas companies to pay higher taxes.

“While I did call for a shared sacrifice and continue to believe in that concept, I know that now is not the time to try to extract more revenue from this particular industry,” Edwards said.

Edwards then took after Kennedy. He listed the cuts he made to the state’s spending plan but said increased revenue also was needed to stabilize the state’s financial situation.

Edwards took umbrage at Kennedy’s claims that state taxpayers are being bilked out of about $830 million by Medicaid fraud. Medicaid is the state-federal program that covers the health care costs for low-income residents — nearly a fourth of the state’s population.

Louisiana delivers its Medicaid services through private administrators called managed care companies. The companies operate like a traditional insurance companies in that the state and federal government pay the firms a premium per patient and the companies pay the costs for services provided by physicians, hospitals and clinics.

Payment for any fraudulent services comes out the private companies’ profits. The state is not on the hook for any of it, Edwards said.

“When people get up here and try to deliver these bromides and say things that just sound good in order to capture your attention, you ought to insist that they be accurate,” Edwards added.

The congressmen running to replace U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who isn’t seeking re-election, stuck to attacking President Barack Obama.

U.S. Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, found fault in what he called a series of policies and regulations that promotes wind and solar energy at the expense of the oil and gas industry.

“We need to have a fair playing field out there for all forms of energy. We don’t need to be subsidizing others just under the guise of clean air and clean water,” Fleming said.

U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, said the energy industry had provided the well-paying jobs that allowed many Louisiana residents to send their children to college.

“Whoever wants to snuff out this industry is my enemy. I will continue to fight side by side with you, and we will see this industry come back strong,” Boustany said.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter @MarkBallardCNB.

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