Key conservative funder Lane Grigsby sounds like he’d rather drink weed killer than support a run by U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy for Louisiana governor.
That can’t be good news for Kennedy. The junior senator said Tuesday that he would announce his intentions Dec. 1, which set off dozens of “Will he?” headlines and “Yeah, probably” copy.
Kennedy hasn’t passed any legislation yet, a snippet that no doubt will be the theme of a good many commercials in the coming months should he decide to challenge the reelection of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, Grigsby told The Advocate Thursday. Grigsby supports his friend and fellow Baton Rouge contractor Eddie Rispone, who is the only officially announced Republican candidate.
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“Louisiana needs leadership, not another politician looking for another lily pad,” Grigsby said. “He hasn’t done much yet but appear on Fox News.”
Arriving Wednesday night after a pipe bomb delivered to CNN forced employees onto the streets of New York, Kennedy talked with Chris Cuomo about the harsh politics that divide the nation. On Thursday night, Kennedy waxed with Fox’s Tucker Carlson on whether the FBI should investigate lawyer Michael Avenatti, who represents Julie Swetnick, an accuser of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Publicly Kennedy has said how much he likes his Senate job. “But, it’s hard to stomach what is happening to Louisiana right now,” Kennedy said in prepared statement. “Private sector job growth is among the lowest in the country. Too many of our kids can’t read their diplomas.”
Armed with an internal poll showing that he could beat Edwards, Kennedy is making the rounds of funders to say he agrees with them that Edwards’ policies are bad for Louisiana’s economic future, then adding that Rispone is largely unknown and can’t beat the Democrat.
Kennedy sat in Grigsby’s office recently as the contractor told him that Louisiana would be better served if the junior senator stayed in Washington and accumulated power. In the meantime, as long as the formidable Kennedy was considering a run for governor, he was freezing the field for other potential GOP candidates. “He said he wouldn’t take his name off the table,” Grigsby recalled.
A longtime supporter of conservative causes, Grigsby and his family have given more than $3 million to mostly Republican candidates at every level from state Treasurer John Schroder to Shreveport Rep. Alan Seabaugh to Ascension Parish Assessor Mert Smiley, according to disclosures filed with the Louisiana Board of Ethics. He has given Kennedy close to $20,000 over the years and $10,000 to Attorney General Jeff Landry, who is waiting while Kennedy makes up his mind.
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Grigsby gave another $371,904 to GOP congressional candidates during the past year and more than $150,000 to the various funds that U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, uses to support the reelection of Republican congressmen around the country, according to the Federal Elections Commission.
But more than his personal largesse, Grigsby is a member of the construction contracting fraternity that, along with the Lafourche Parish shipbuilders, gave Bobby Jindal and David Vitter the money they needed to get their campaigns going in what then was a Democratic state. Rispone’s another member of that krewe.
Political professionals have questioned whether a rich businessman embarking on his first elective office can be successful on the campaign trail.
“You mean is he going to be smooth talking? He’s not a polished politician,” Grigsby said of Rispone. “The real question is does he have the savvy to become governor and to govern effectively?”
Louisiana voters are looking for a nonpolitician with the skills to successfully tackle the state’s systemic problems, Grigsby said.
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Rispone has built three businesses from scratch, then used his position and riches to quietly help the underprivileged, he said. Rispone studies issues then acts, Grigsby said, noting that he recently brainstormed with sheriffs to figure out how best to provide education and training so that when nonviolent offenders are let out of prison early, they have the tools to join society.
Rispone has hired a professional team, led by nationally known Blake Harris, that helped other business leaders in Iowa, Kentucky, Arizona and Tennessee make the jump from private enterprise to the top echelons of elective government.
Louisiana voters historically haven’t embraced businessmen who head for the top office first, but Grigsby points out that Mike Foster only pit-stopped in the state Senate before, as a relatively unknown businessman, catapulting into the Governor’s Mansion.
If Grigsby is any indication, then Kennedy’s bid for governor may not be the cakewalk many have predicted.
Email Mark Ballard at email@example.com.