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The Louisiana State Capitol seen across the Mississippi River from the Old Ferry Landing in Port Allen, Wednesday, March 20, 2019.

At the annual meeting of the Public Affairs Research Council Thursday, a Republican challenger to Gov. John Bel Edwards was primed during a forum right after the luncheon to say that Louisiana has been bad for business in the last four years.

Unfortunately, the chief executive of a big Louisiana employer, Union Pacific railroad, was the luncheon speaker just before the forum, and Lance Fritz rather stepped on the lines of U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-Alto.

“Louisiana is an awesome state to do business in, and you do extremely well in industrial transportation and industrial development,” Fritz said. “You should keep doing that.”

Fritz heads a major corporation and advises President Donald Trump and others, so he's accustomed to navigating political waters. On Thursday, he was having lunch next to the governor whose state he was visiting, so Fritz would of course praise his hosts.

But Fritz's comments were unusually effusive, and he repeated the same message privately, saying Edwards’ administration has been helpful to Union Pacific in building jobs in the state.

In response to questions at the luncheon, he said Oregon might be a good place to look for ways to better plan transportation projects, and West Coast ports like Long Beach in California might give Louisiana ideas about how to improve.

But his speech went beyond politeness in its praise of today’s business climate in the state, and he added that “your governor is spot on” when talking about education and job training.

It was a striking contrast to the message of Edwards’ challenger, Abraham.

Email Lanny Keller at lkeller@theadvocate.com.