BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Two new political ads have been released detailing alleged sexual harassment by a former high-ranking official in the administration of Governor John Bel Edwards.
One of the ads features the female who made the allegations against Johnny Anderson, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff, who resigned shortly after the allegations surfaced in 2017. The female employee told the Times-Picayune newspaper in 2018 that Anderson required she perform oral sex on him in order for him to hire her, the newspaper reported. The woman says she complied. Anderson, who could not be reached for comment Thursday, Oct. 3, has previously denied any wrongdoing.
The ad, paid for by the Republican Governors political action committee (PAC), talks about the allegations and the settlement the state paid to the female employee.
“Meet Johnny Anderson, Governor Edward’s former deputy for women’s issues and sexual harassment complaints,” the announcer says as the ad starts. “But Anderson had already been investigated for sexually harassing six women. Edwards hired him anyway. It happened again. Anderson was accused of forcing a woman into sex acts to keep her job. Edwards’ response? He spent $100,000 of taxpayer dollars to keep it quiet."
The second ad, paid for by Truth in Politics features the female accuser on camera.
“I was his next victim – harassed, groped, assaulted," she says in the ad.
Without admitting fault, the state did use $108,000 in taxpayer money to settle the woman’s claim, state records show. Fifty-one thousand dollars went to the female accuser, $34,000 to her attorney, and $23,000 to the private attorney the state hired to handle the matter. However, the Edwards camp takes issue with the first ad claiming Edwards tried to “keep it quiet”. They point out the settlement does not prevent the female accuser from speaking publicly about the situation. In fact, she did so in a radio interview on the Jim Engster Show in December of 2018 and in at least one television interview in New Orleans Thursday.
"The fact of the matter is, he [Anderson] was gone within a few hours of that being brought to our attention,” Governor Edwards said Thursday. “I think the ad is very misleading because there was no non-disclosure agreement in that settlement at all.”
Edwards’ staff sent out a more detailed response to the ads Thursday evening:
“Within hours of [the woman]’s allegations being brought to Gov. Edwards’ attention, Johnny Anderson’s employment was ended. Gov. Edwards believes [the woman]’s allegations, and he has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment. Gov. Edwards implemented state government’s first uniform sexual harassment policy, championed legislation to support and empower victims of sexual harassment and assault, and has led the fights against human trafficking and domestic violence. [The woman] was not fired or asked to leave as a result of making her allegations. She submitted her letter of resignation weeks before her allegations were made. The governor’s administration has treated her with dignity and respect throughout this process.”
The woman says she only resigned because she alleges Anderson forced her to do so.
Political analyst, Jim Engster, says the opposition has likely had these ads in its back pocket for weeks now and hoped to wait to use them during a potential runoff between Edwards, a Democrat, and either of the two Republicans running against him.
“I don’t think this would have been done until the runoff unless the Republican Governors Association thought John Bel Edwards was in position to perhaps win without a runoff,” Engster said.
Recent statewide polls show Edwards could likely win the election outright on Oct. 12 by getting more than 50% of the vote. That fact, Engster says, has the opposition nervous.
Gray Television has paid for its Louisiana stations to have a statewide poll on the governor’s race. It’s being conducted now and our results will be released Monday, Oct. 7.