Eddie Rispone 070919

Baton Rouge businessman and Republican candidate for governor, Eddie Rispone speaks to the Republican Party of East Baton Rouge Parish on Tuesday, July 9, 2019.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone on Tuesday blamed the Democratic incumbent for what he says is Louisiana’s lagging behind other Southern states.

The message, which fits in with a Republican Governor’s Association commercial that debuted Tuesday, was met with much applause by his audience of about 50 at a Republican Party of East Baton Rouge luncheon.

Louisiana ranked last in many polls, Rispone said, and that’s because Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards opted to fix the state’s budget problems by raising taxes and hiring cronies to run state agencies.

Rispone said he is like President Donald Trump, an outsider who has run a successful business and could apply those skills to running Louisiana. In his first bid for elective office, Trump won election to the presidency in 2016 with overwhelming support from Louisiana voters.

“I’m not a politician. I am going to support Trump, not only when it’s politically correct, not only when it’s popular, but all the time,” Rispone said. “A politician doesn’t know what he’s doing. He puts a task force together and kicks the problem down the road … I know how to create jobs.”

Rispone, who co-founded an industrial construction firm that he says employs 3,600 and has revenues of $364 million, is largely self-funding his challenge to incumbent Gov. Edwards, the only Democratic chief executive in the Deep South and the only Democrat elected statewide in an overwhelmingly Republican state. U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, of Alto, is also running for governor as a Republican.

Candidates will have to fill out the forms and pay the fees between August 6-8 to qualify for the Oct. 12 ballot. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary, then the top two vote getters will meet in a Nov. 16 general election.

Though Rispone says he’s not a politician and willing to think outside the box. Many of his positions lacked specifics, like those of other politicians.

For instance, he’d work to ensure that Medicaid, the state and federal government health insurance, only goes to the low-income people who qualify. But he doesn’t know how that would be accomplished just yet.

“First thing we’re going to do is put someone over that that is not a part-time doctor,” Rispone said, taking a swing at Louisiana Department of Health Secretary Rebekah Gee, a physician who is unpopular among many conservatives. He would hire people “with the right motivations” to research and analyze how the Medicaid program worked.

“I’m going to tell you the solutions after we go in there and figure it out.” Rispone said.

He focused a lot of his platform on national issues – building a wall along the Mexican border and liberal rights for gun owners, for instance – that have little impact on Louisiana but are popular among many of the state’s voters.

He’s against Common Core, the controversial minimum education standards, and for vouchers, in which taxpayers cover tuition at private schools. He’d invalidate Edwards’ orders giving local governments veto power over Industrial Tax Exemption Program breaks for manufacturers. He’d like to call a Constitutional Convention to stabilize budgets address tax exemptions and revenue raising.

“We’ve got to look at it all. We have to make Louisiana competitive,” Rispone said.

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.