SHREVEPORT, La. (WVUE) - The top candidates for governor returned to the campaign trail on Thursday (Oct.10), after participating in their final debate hours earlier in Shreveport.
According to their campaigns, Congressman Ralph Abraham had events in Alexandria, West Monroe, Sorrento and Bogalusa. Governor John Bel Edwards’ schedule included Natchitoches and Alexandria and Eddie Rispone had scheduled stops in Alexandria, Lafayette, Lake Charles and Baton Rouge.
Edwards, a Democrat, and his two Republican challengers took part in Gray Television’s Wednesday night debate which aired on TV stations throughout the state.
A panel of journalists asked a wide array of questions, including on education, abortion, the budget, sales taxes, the economy and jobs.
Edwards defended the job he has done, saying the state is moving in the right direction on many fronts, after he inherited a $2 billion dollar deficit from his Republican predecessor.
"Unemployment is 4.3 percent, the lowest in 11 years and 11 months, two full percentage points lower than when I became governor,” said Edwards.
Rispone said as a successful business owner he is best suited for increasing jobs in Louisiana.
"First of all, we're going to let them know we're open for business again. We want job creators here, we want to fill them with Louisiana citizens,” Rispone said.
Abraham also said he would do a better job of improving and diversifying the economy.
"We are going to embrace oil and gas, we are going to elevate technology,” said Abraham.
The candidates were asked about Medicaid expansion costs. Late last year, the legislative auditor said the state may have spent between $61 and $85 million on people who were not eligible for the government-funded health coverage.
Rispone talked about his plan for the program.
“Well, first we're going to freeze the eligibility. We're going in and getting rid of the abuse and the waste,” he said.
Abraham said there would be more efficiency if he were governor.
"Look, we got to get the rolls right, it is chaotic now,” stated Abraham.
Edwards said he is committed to accuracy and defended his decision to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. He said his administration has already improved the systems used to determine eligibility.
"We have invested heavily in a new eligibility check system to replace a decades-old system that didn't work very well, and we now can check more databases, federal and state, in real time,” Edwards stated.
And there were several feisty exchanges between the candidates, especially when they were allowed to question each other.
Rispone accused Abraham of going back on a pledge to donate his congressional salary to charity.
Abraham says, “absolutely” he lived up to his promise, but Rispone pushed back.
“Why do you have a press release saying, I couldn't do that, I needed the money and then you turned around and buy an airplane...I got you,” said Rispone.
Abraham shot back, “No, you haven't got me…You have not got me, you just lied."
Edwards criticized Abraham for skipping days in Congress to be in the state for the campaign.
"And you missed several votes to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance, so if like Bobby Jindal you’re more focused on the job you want rather than the one you have, how can the people of Louisiana trust you to ever be their governor?” Edwards asked of Abraham.
Abraham said Edwards was not totally accurate.
“Governor, you get those facts a little bit wrong. You know that, look, we voted on the NFIP numerous times, there was a reauthorization the other day, yes, we missed a vote, but I know how important it is to unseat you from that seat,” said Abraham.
Rispone, who is a strong President Trump supporter, criticized Edwards for supporting a Democrat during the last presidential election.
“Governor, why did you support Hillary Clinton over Pres. Trump when he was running in 2016?”
Edwards said Rispone is too occupied with Washington-style politics.
“Look, you're always focused on Washington D.C., I'm focused on the state of Louisiana and as you well know, that was not even a contested [nominating] convention, so there was no vote for anyone. But the fact of the matter is, I am focused on Louisiana, Louisiana first,” Edwards said.
Each of the candidates said they felt good about how they handled the debate.