Gov. John Bel Edwards fell just short of 50% in the Oct. 12 election, forcing a runoff between him and second-place finisher Eddie Rispone. Rispone is the former head of Associated Builders & Contractors, an anti-union trade organization dedicated to reducing IBEW market share across the United States. The runoff election will be held Nov. 16.
John Bel Edwards is the only union-friendly governor in the Deep South, and he is on the ballot in
Louisiana Oct. 12.
Everything that we have gotten to his desk for working people and working families, he has signed,” said Baton Rouge Local 995 Business Manager Jason Dedon. “There is every chance he could win a majority in the first round of the election and avoid a run-off, and labor will be doing everything we can to make that happen.”
|Gov. John Bel Edwards presents Baton Rouge, La., Local 995 Business Manager Jason Dedon with an official statement congratulating the local on it’s 100th anniversary. Edwards has been a friend to the IBEW and the state’s working families throughout his career, and especially since his election as governor in 2015.
Edwards was the first Democrat to win statewide office in Louisiana in a decade after winning a run-off election against former U.S. Sen. David Vitter four years ago. His 13-point win was a powerful statement about how to build working class coalitions in a state that voted for Donald Trump by 20 percent a year later.
Edwards’ closest political ally during the years he spent in the minority of the Republican-dominated state House was state Sen. Ben Nevers – a 50-year IBEW member and past business manager of Bogalusa Local 1077. On Edwards’ first day in office, he appointed Nevers his chief of staff. Nevers promised to serve a full year and did just that, retiring in 2017.
“It was invaluable to have Ben there. Today, when issues arise, the administration reaches out to ask us questions, which is great change from the past,” Dedon said. “But when Ben was there, they didn’t even have to ask. Ben was always there, giving them the answer and letting us know later what happened.”
Edwards is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and he served in the U.S Army as an airborne Ranger, culminating with command of a rifle company in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He is pro-life, a hunter and has an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association. He was previously the minority leader of the Louisiana House of Representatives for two terms, leaving the state Legislature in 2015 after being elected governor.
When he ran for governor, Edwards had a record not just of supporting working families when votes came up, but of sponsoring legislation and leading fights to protect what was already law. For example, when Republicans in the state House proposed a bill to stop automatic dues payments for public workers, Edwards led the opposition. Edwards was also out front when Republicans and some Democrats tried to delicense the state’s plumbers.
He is running against a handful of Republicans in the state’s unique primary system. At the head of the pack is Eddie Rispone, a self-funded candidate who runs one of the nation’s largest nonunion contractors. He is the former national chairman of Associated Builders & Contractors, an anti-union trade association frequently at odds with the IBEW and its National Electrical Contractors Association partners. Former Gov. Bobby Jindal appointed him chairman of the Louisiana Workforce Investment Council.
Rispone actually got his start in the electrical industry as a helper at Local 995. He took the better money, quit the union, started out as a nonunion contractor, and kept on taking the money, Dedon said.
“This is a guy who, every step of the way since he left us, has been fighting to weaken working families,” Dedon said. “Now he’s out there claiming he is just an everyman, a pretty hard claim to back up when you take $11 million out of your own pocket to fund your campaign.”
As governor, Edwards has been hamstrung by the opposition Legislature, but he has done more than simply stop bad laws, although Dedon is thankful for that.
|Members of the Louisiana labor community were hosted by Gov. Edwards at a labor luncheon at the Governor’s Mansion.
There’s the ceremonial: Gov. Edwards held a breakfast and a dinner at the Governor’s Mansion just for members of the IBEW. And there is the substantive: Edwards signed a teachers pay increase, the first in a decade. Not only did it raise wages of teachers, it raised wages of support staff like bus drivers, and cafeteria workers.
In 2016, Edwards enacted Medicaid expansion. By the next year, the number of Louisianans without health insurance was cut in half (11.4%, down from 22.7%). And, according to an LSU College of Business study, the expansion enhanced state revenues by an estimated $103.2 million and has created and supported personal earnings of $1.1 billion across the state.
In 2018, Louisiana reached its lowest unemployment rate in a decade. And the number of people working in Louisiana is near record-high levels.
And there are IBEW members and union representatives in every branch the Department of Labor. Former Gov. Jindal renamed it the Workforce Investment Commission, Dedon said, to get the word “labor” out of it.
Dedon says Saturday’s primary is all about turnout. Rural conservative parts of the state, he said, will do what they do, and the cities will do what they do. The fight will be in the working-class suburbs where republicans can’t “out-gun, out-God or out-patriot” Edwards, he said.
The most recent polls have Edwards just under 50 percent, but far ahead of any one Republican. And anything could happen if the race is forced to a one-on-one run-off.
“We were on board with Gov. Edwards from before he announced because he has always been a friend to the IBEW and working people,” said Fifth District International Vice President Brian Thompson. “Getting him elected was an extremely big step because he did nothing less than change the conversation about unions in Louisiana and possibly the South.
“Now we need to send him back for four more years to finish the job he started.”