Six women praise Gov. John Bel Edwards and his record on women in a new TV ad that seeks to counter two commercials launched Thursday that attack him for having employed a senior aide accused of sexually harassing a subordinate.
In Edwards’ ad, the women take turns saying the governor demanded the resignation of the aide, Johnny Anderson, within hours of learning of the woman’s accusation and “then revised the state’s policies to provide a safer working environment for women.”
In an interview Sunday, before news broke that President Donald Trump will come to Louisiana on Friday night, Edwards said that he enacted anti-sexual harassment policies across state government in the wake of the accusations in 2017 by Anderson’s underling, Juanita Washington. He said he also pressed for the passage of legislation that outlaws sexual harassment settlements involving the state that contain non-disclosure provisions.
The settlement between Washington and Anderson included an agreement that they not disparage each other, but the language did not prevent Washington from speaking publicly about her case.
In fact, the attack ad by Truth in Politics, a 501(c)(4) run by longtime GOP donor and Baton Rouge businessman Lane Grigsby, features Washington saying that Anderson “harassed, groped and assaulted” her.
She says of the governor, “When I was hurt, he didn’t care.” She suggests that she lost her job over her complaint. Washington resigned several weeks before filing the complaint against Anderson.
Edwards said he doesn’t defend Anderson’s conduct but said, “She wants people to believe, apparently, by the way they did the ad, that she lost her job because she made the complaint. That is really false and misleading. She resigned in a letter that didn’t put us on notice of anything other than the fact that she was very thankful and appreciative of having the job.”
The Republican Governors Association ad features a female narrator noting that Edwards hired Anderson even though he had faced six allegations of sexual harassment when he chaired the board of Southern University.
“Speak for the victims,” the ad concludes. “Vote against John Bel Edwards.”
Edwards’ new ad not only seeks to combat the two commercials directly but in it the women say the governor expanded pre-natal care, supports equal pay for women who perform the same work as men and has fought against human trafficking.
“We know Governor Edwards, and we know all he’s done for women in Louisiana,” they say.
On Friday, the Edwards campaign released an endorsement from Washington’s Baton Rouge-based attorney, Jill Craft, who specializes in workplace discrimination cases.
The Edwards campaign released the ad on Sunday, only six days before the Oct. 12 primary that pits the Democrat against two Republicans, U.S. House Rep. Ralph Abraham of northeast Louisiana and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone.
Private polling shows that Edwards stands a shot at topping 50%; above the mark, he would win re-election without a runoff. If the two men and the outside groups hold Edwards below 50%, the polling shows the two Republicans are neck-and-neck to face him in the runoff.
Since Rispone launched an attack ad against Abraham three weeks ago, the two men have been trading blows, even while Abraham says they should keep their focus on defeating Edwards. Rispone has refused Abraham’s request that each side pull its attack ads and is continuing his negative commercials against the congressman.
On Sunday, the Trump re-election campaign announced that Trump will be in Lake Charles on Friday night to make a last-minute appeal for conservatives to back either Abraham or Rispone. Both men will attend the event – as they did on Saturday when Vice President Mike Pence rallied GOP activists in Kenner.
Donald Trump Jr. will speak at the Cajundome on Monday.