Stephen Waguespack

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) is Louisiana’s state chamber of commerce and manufacturing association. Since 1975, we have proudly represented employers of all sizes, industries and locations and taken bold stances time and time again to defend and promote free enterprise. That mission continues to this day.

We take strong positions on policies and politics. We do our research, lay out our rationale, listen to our statewide membership and speak with a clear and strong voice. Some folks traditionally admire this about us; some resent it. Some appreciate this contribution to public policy debates; some do everything they can to attack and demean it. While some may disagree, we strongly feel that freedom of expression and the substantive exchange of policy ideas will lead to better results for the people of Louisiana. Regardless, the facts are what have always driven the actions of this storied organization, and I can assure you that is the way it always will be.

Our staff and business members donate their time, insight and resources to preaching the gospel of smart government and economic growth. We put ideas on the table and reputations on the line each and every day in the unwavering hope that it will lead to better schools, quality jobs and enhanced opportunities for Louisiana families. We are a one-member, one-vote organization - our 2,300 business members each have an equal voice in developing this agenda and shared responsibility to help make it become a reality.

The members of four political action committees (PACs) affiliated with LABI have spent the past several months interviewing candidates across the state for a variety of offices, asking tough questions about the future of Louisiana and debating the policy positions and merits of each candidate. For the first time in history, these members met with each of the major candidates for statewide elected office, as well, and the discussion was enlightening. All major candidates accepted the invitation, except for Governor Edwards who chose not to participate.

As a result of these interviews and debates, the four LABI regional PACs announced endorsements for each statewide elected office, the Supreme Court seat, and most races for the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). Additionally, more than 60 legislative candidates have received LABI’s support with roughly another 20 endorsements still to come.

The LABI PACs’ decision to co-endorse Ralph Abraham and Eddie Rispone in the governor’s race has generated the most interest. Supporting two candidates in the same race is rare, especially for LABI. In this instance, the decision represents a clear perspective from the members of the four distinct PAC boards that they are united in their belief Louisiana needs a new leader.

The issues drove their decision.

The Governor’s position on job creation and business taxes obviously played a part. His attempts to create a Commercial Activity Tax (CAT) in Louisiana would have devastated our economy. He has signed major tax increases in manufacturing and inventory that is throwing sand in the gears of industry, while significant changes to the Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) have chilled investments in major facilities and contributes to the current loss of construction jobs.

The Governor’s position on public education policy has also played a part. While performance scores continue to show that Louisiana is headed in the right direction and our students are more prepared for college and careers than ever before, the Governor has attempted each year in office to repeal the innovative laws that are driving this improvement. Furthermore, nationally recognized reforms to the Louisiana Workforce Commission to revolutionize how Louisiana trains and employs our people have been downplayed and replaced with the same old-school approach that has yielded little results for decades. Funding public education at higher levels means little if there are no jobs for our graduates.

The Governor’s position on legal reform and its impact on energy jobs and auto insurance rates probably played the largest part of the LABI PAC decision to endorse new leadership. A well-known fact in the Capitol, from day one in office, is Governor Edwards has consistently tried to increase the amount and cost of lawsuits in Louisiana. He sent letters to the coastal parishes early in his term telling them to sue oil companies or else he would do it on their behalf. That letter alone sent shock waves throughout the industry and put a scarlet letter on Louisiana’s chest. Then, the Senate Judiciary A committee was intentionally filled with plaintiff attorneys instructed to stop any legal reform efforts from getting to his desk. The most glaring example is the committee death this year of the bill by Representative Kirk Talbot which sought comprehensive legal reforms to align Louisiana with other states and direct the Insurance Commissioner to lower insurance rates accordingly. Insurance Commissioner Donelon supported the legislation, alongside desperate drivers, truckers, farmers, loggers, small businesses and other constituents.

Regardless, the Committee once again did its job for the Governor and killed this bill. Tragically, we continue to pay the second-highest insurance rates in the nation and will continue to do so until a Governor is elected who will sign reform into law.

These are the top policy issues driving LABI’s positions and endorsements in all of the races this fall. It’s not personal, though the attacks on us may be. You see, the coalition that hopes to keep things how they’ve always been in Louisiana have proven they don’t want to talk substance; they just want to throw mud.

They will not explain why higher business taxes are good, why student choice and charter schools are bad or why more lawsuits are the best thing since sliced bread. Instead, they will likely shoot the messenger and hope you believe the hype.

Don’t believe the spin and don’t let the mud get in your eyes. This election is about the issues, and the need for a change is clear. Louisiana needs more good-paying jobs, better schools, lower insurance rates and fewer lawsuits. These are the facts, and they alone are driving our acts. Hopefully, on October 12, they drive yours too.

Stephen Waguespack is the president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.

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