The regular session convened Monday, April 8, and the filing deadline for quarterly fundraising reports was just a day later, on Tuesday. For the politicos who had connections to both happenings, such as the governor, members of the Legislature and those who are seeking to steal their seats, it was a heavy 48 hours.
In terms of the minds behind Louisiana’s three leading gubernatorial campaigns, they were all chasing the same thing on that Monday and Tuesday: bodies and Benjamins.
While it may seem like a late date for staffing up and getting on top of fundraising, this year’s race for governor has been a slow-to-start event. Public forums have been difficult to come by, on-the-record interviews have been guarded and platforms have been flimsy at best.
The good news — I think and I hope — is that’s all about to change. The candidates should finally be positioned to reveal glimpses of their media assaults, policy agendas and, in a couple cases, their personalities.
This transitional moment arrives courtesy of the regular session and the state Ethics Administration, because nothing gets campaigns moving like a couple of well-placed deadlines. So get ready for what could be an early mile-marker in Louisiana’s premier political battle of 2019 battle, as it may mark the beginning of whatever’s to come.
The pressure is being felt most intensely by the team surrounding Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who is prohibited from fundraising during the regular session that was gaveled into action Monday. His GOP challengers, on the other hand, can raise cash each and every day Edwards’ money arm is frozen.
Congressman Ralph Abraham of Alto and businessman Eddie Rispone of Baton Rouge, in fact, both attended the opening day of the regular session in the House of Representatives, where Edwards delivered remarks. “He’s here for some on-the-job training,” said Senate President John Alario, a Westwego Republican, upon seeing Abraham.
JBE boosters see the fundraising ban as a regrettable, as Edwards has drawn the likes of author John Grisham and, just last week, LSU Coach Ed Orgeron at his money events. That just means the political action committees and surrogate operations backing Edwards will be expected to pick up the slack.
As for staffing, the Edwards campaign has brought in Kia Bickham as their new political director. Bickam previously worked for former Governor Kathleen Blanco, former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and former Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden.
Rispone, for his part, held fundraisers last week in Baton Rouge, Gonzales and Lacombe, the latter generating more than $100,000 for his campaign kitty. “I will not let John Bel Edwards out fundraise us,” Rispone said at the event. (Rumors persist that Rispone’s forthcoming fundraising report will be stand-up-and-notice, and that his war chest may be approaching the weight of the one controlled by the incumbent.)
The Rispone campaign also hired three new field directors last week and opened field offices in Lafayette, New Orleans and Ruston. Spokesman Anthony Ramirez told LaPolitics that the campaign planned to hire more field staff in the coming weeks.
Abraham was on the fundraising circuit last week, too, before returning to Washington to attend to business on Capitol Hill. His campaign brought on David Weinman as their new communications director. He previously worked for former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the Republican Governors Association.
Here’s a look at where the campaign accounts of the three contenders stood following the last filing period in February:
Edwards had nearly $8.4 million in the bank, raised more than $3.8 million in 2018, had spent roughly $405,000 and had $6,417,850 in investments
Rispone had more than $5.5 million in the bank, raised nearly $560,000, loaned his campaign $5,050,000, and spent roughly $96,000
Abraham had raised over $350,000 in the final weeks of 2018 and spent just over $6,000 on his gubernatorial campaign
But for now, only one of them can be governor, and that’s Edwards, who drew a few chuckles Monday when he told lawmakers, “You won’t hear me talk about a fiscal cliff.”
After three years of pushing for tax increases and permanent revenue solutions, and settling for temporary fixes approved by the Legislature, Edwards also predicted that this could be the first year of the current term to host a regular session without an accompanying special session. Again, he got a few laughs and cheers.
It was a clear sign that neither the administration nor the Legislature are eager to repeat the down-to-the-wire, high-tension sessions that have marked the past three years. “This is going to be a very different speech than you are used to me delivering the opening day of session because the budget crisis that for years held Louisiana hostage is over,” Edwards said.
We’ll have to wait and see whether fiscal uncertainty actually loosens its grip on Louisiana as the election season seeks to do the same. At the very least, the candidates will have something to talk about.