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Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards is facing Republican Eddie Rispone in quest for second term
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
BATON ROUGE (CFP) — Voters in Louisiana will decide who will hold the state’s governorship for the next four years in a Saturday runoff, with Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards trying to win re-election over Republican Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone.
A win by Edwards in deep red Louisiana would give Democrats victories in two out of three Southern governor’s races this year, handing an embarrassing defeat to Republicans and President Donald Trump, who came to the Pelican State Thursday to campaign for Rispone for the third time.
“You’ve gotta give me a big win, please. OK?” Trump told a crowd in Bossier City, where he said Edwards “double-crossed you and you can never trust him. He will never vote for us.”
During the first round of voting in October, Edwards took 47 percent of the vote to 27 percent for Rispone. Since then, Rispone has been trying to close the gap by unifying the Republican vote, which he split with the third place finisher, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham.
Under Louisiana’s “jungle” primary system, candidates from all parties run together in the same contest, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the runoff if no one gets an outright majority.
Public polling in the governor’s race showed neither candidate with a statistically significant lead, pointing to a likely close result on Saturday.
One other statewide office will be on the ballot Saturday, the secretary of state’s race, where Republican incumbent Kyle Ardoin will face Democrat Gwen Collins-Greenup in a rematch of a 2018 special election won by Ardoin.
Edwards, 53, is one of just three Democratic governors in the South, along with North Carolina’s Roy Cooper and Virginia’s Ralph Northam. But unlike Northam and Cooper, Edwards has positioned himself as a conservative Democrat who opposes legal abortion and gun control, both of which have played well in Louisiana.
As a result, national Democrats, including the large crop of 2020 White House contenders, have conspicuously avoided campaigning on his behalf, although former President Barack Obama did make a robocall for the governor in the first round of the primary.
Edwards signature achievements in office have been expanding Medicaid, over Republican objections, and dealing with a budget shortfall he inherited from Jindal.
However, the tax increases imposed to deal with the budget have become fodder for his Republican opponents, who say the new taxes have driven business out of the state.
Rispone, 70, owns an industrial contracting company that has made him one of Louisiana’s richest men. While he has long been a major GOP donor, this is his first race for political office, and he poured in more than $10 million of his own money to surge past Abraham into second place in the first round of voting.
Republicans have pulled out all the stops for Rispone in the runoff, with the Republican National Committee committing more than $2 million to the race. Trump, who carried Louisiana by 20 points in 2016, has visited three times, and Vice President Mike Pence has also campaigned on Rispone’s behalf.
Louisiana’s governor’s race is the last contest on the 2019 election calendar and comes less than two weeks after Kentucky’s Republican governor, Matt Bevin, was defeated for re-election by Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, despite Trump campaigning on Bevin’s behalf.
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Trump making election-eve visit to Lake Charles to rally Republicans and force Edwards into a runoff
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
BATON ROUGE (CFP) — Unless pre-election polls are seriously off the mark, Louisiana’s Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards will come out on top when the votes are counted in Saturday’s primary election.
So the two questions to be answered Saturday are whether Edwards can knock out both of his Republican challengers by clearing 50 percent of the vote and, if he doesn’t, which of the two leading Republicans he will face in a November runoff.
In Louisiana’s “jungle” primary, candidates from all parties run together in the same contest, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the runoff if no one gets an outright majority. Polls have put Edwards within striking distance of that mark, which would be a significant embarrassment for the GOP in the very conservative Pelican State.
In the clearest sign of Republicans’ concern about the outcome, President Donald Trump is holding a rally in Lake Charles on Friday night, even though he has not taken sides in the battle for second place between U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham from Alto and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone.
Both Abraham and Rispone, who have sparred with each other and with Edwards during the campaign, have welcomed the president’s visit for what Trump termed “a big Republican rally” designed to leverage his popularity into forcing Edwards into a runoff against a single GOP challenger.
Edwards is one of just three Democratic governors in the South, along with North Carolina’s Roy Cooper and Virginia’s Ralph Northam. But unlike Northam and Cooper, Edwards has positioned himself as a conservative Democrat who opposes legal abortion and gun control, both of which have played well in Louisiana.
As a result, national Democrats, including the large crop of 2020 White House contenders, have conspicuously avoided campaigning on his behalf.
Edwards signature achievements in office have been expanding Medicaid, over Republican objections, and dealing with a budget shortfall he inherited from Jindal. However, the tax increases imposed to deal with the budget have become fodder for his Republican opponents, who say the new taxes have driven business out of the state.
A Morning Consult poll in June put Edwards’s job approval rating at 47 percent, compared to 33 percent who disapproved.
Abraham, 65, who is both a veterinarian and medical doctor, is in his third term in Congress representing the 5th District, which covers the northeastern corner of the state.
Rispone, 70, owns a building company that has made him one of Louisiana’s richest men. While he has long been a major GOP donor, this is his first race for political office, and he has poured in more than $10 million of his own money.
Other elected Republicans, including both U.S. senators and most of the House delegation, have stayed on the sidelines in the race between Abraham and Rispone. Both Vice President Mike Pence and Donald Trump Jr. have held rallies in Louisiana that both candidates attended.
In addition to Louisiana, two other Southern states will hold governor’s races this year, Kentucky and Mississippi.
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Fairfax also accuses Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney of involvement in a scheme to make charges public
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
RICHMOND (CFP) — After seven months of publicly fighting politically damaging allegations of sexual assault, Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax has struck back with a $400 million defamation suit against CBS, accusing the network of abandoning “sound, standard journalistic practices” when it aired interviews with Fairfax’s two accusers in April.
In a complaint filed in federal court in Alexandria, Fairfax’s lawyers also accuse CBS of bias in pursing the story because of its “own significant problems with #MeToo scandals” involving three prominent figures forced out at the network over allegations of improper conduct.
The complaint also accuses Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney — a fellow African-American Democrat and political rival of Fairfax — of being involved in the effort to make the women’s charges public, an allegation a spokesman for the mayor dismissed as “offensive.”
For good measure, Fairfax also dragged former Democrat Governor Terry McAuliffe into the fray, accusing him in the lawsuit of having an interest in derailing Fairfax’s political career and noting he was the was the first major official in Virginia to call on Fairfax to resign after the allegations surfaced.
The complaint said Fairfax is suing “to restore his reputation and clear his name, ensure the truth prevails, [and] stop the weaponization of false allegations of sexual assault against him.”
Because Fairfax is a public figure, winning a defamation lawsuit against CBS will be extraordinarily difficult. He will need to prove not only that the allegations are false but also that CBS knew or didn’t care that they were false — a legal bar that’s almost impossible to clear.
In response to the lawsuit, a CBS spokesperson issued a brief statement saying, “”We stand by our reporting, and we will vigorously defend this lawsuit.”
A lawyer representing Vanessa Tyson, one of Fairfax’s accusers, accused the lieutenant governor of “victim-blaming” and called again for the legislature to hold public hearings on the allegations, which Fairfax and legislative Democrats have resisted.
The sexual assault controversy began in February when Tyson, now a college professor in California, went public with her allegation that he sexually assaulted her in a Boston hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention, where both were working.
The story first broke on a conservative website Big League Politics, based on information from a private Facebook post made by Tyson.
At the time, Governor Ralph Northam was under pressure to resign after racist photos surfaced on his medical school yearbook page, which would have a made Fairfax Virginia’s governor.
Days later, a second woman, Meredith Watson, came forward to say Fairfax had raped her in 2000, when both were students at Duke University.
CBS anchor Gayle King interviewed both women for segments on network’s morning show, which were heavily promoted and drew significant media attention when their aired in April.
Fairfax has admitted having sex with both women but has insisted the encounters were consensual. His lawsuit alleges that the assault charges were a “politically motivated” tactic to keep Fairfax out of the governor’s chair.
The lawsuit alleges that Tyson allowed her friend Adria Scharf to make the Facebook post public, which got the ball rolling on the assault allegations. Scharf’s husband, Thad Williamson, a former key aide to McAuliffe, is an adviser and close friend of Stoney, as well as a friend and former classmate of Tyson, according to the lawsuit.
Stoney “views Fairfax as a political rival who has been positioned to delay Stoney’s desired run for Governor” in 2021, according to the lawsuit.
The complaint also alleges that Fairfax had been warned in 2018 that if he ran for governor in 2021, “Stoney, Williamson, and Scharf intended to promote a supposedly damaging, uncorroborated accusation against Fairfax involving Tyson in an attempt to harm Fairfax personally and professionally and to derail his political future.”
A spokesman for Stoney told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the allegations in the lawsuit were “100 percent untrue and frankly, it’s offensive.”
If the lawsuit ever gets to trial, one of CBS’s own lawyers, who was a classmate of Fairfaix and Watson at Duke, may be a key witness in the case.
According to the complaint, after Watson went public with her allegations, the lawyer had text message conversations with Fairfax expressing the view that her charges were false, based on information from someone else whom Fairfax says was an eyewitness to their consensual encounter.
However, the lawyer, who is not named in the suit, did not actually witness the encounter, according to the lawsuit.
The suit also alleges that CBS ignored exculpatory evidence provided by Fairfax’s legal team before the interviews aired and “sought to visibly align itself on the side of perceived victims to improve its public image” in the wake of its own #MeToo scandals.
Three high-ranking CBS figures — Les Moonves, the network’s CEO; Jeff Fager, the executive producer of “60 Minutes;” and morning anchor Charlie Rose — all resigned amid allegations of misconduct.
Northam resisted calls to resign and remains governor. However, under state law, he can’t see re-election in 2021, opening up the seat for competitive primaries in both parties.
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Northam needs GOP support to pass gun control measures in the wake of Virginia Beach mass murder
By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
RICHMOND (CFP) — Just four days after a mass shooting in Virginia Beach left 12 people dead, Democratic Governor Ralph Northam has launched a renewed push for gun control.
But he needs Republican support to get anything through the legislature — and GOP leaders are giving a frosty reception to a sure-to-be contentious initiative from the commonwealth’s politically wounded chief executive.
Saying “no one should go to work, to school or to church wondering if they will come home,” Northam announced at a June 4 news conference that he will call state lawmakers in a special session to consider gun control measures, including universal background checks and limits on ammunition magazines.
“We must do more than give our thoughts and prayers. We must give Virginians the action they deserve,” Northam said. “I will be asking for votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers.”
However, Republicans control both houses of the legislature, and GOP leaders quickly pushed back.
House Speaker Kirk Cox called the special session “hasty and suspect when considered against the backdrop of the last few months” — a not-so-subtle reference to Northam’s ongoing political troubles since a photo surfaced in January of a man in blackface on his medical school yearbook page.
Northam has since resisted calls for him to resign, including from a number of fellow Democrats.
The Republican Party of Virginia denounced Northam’s “gun-grab session” as “craven” and accused him in a statement of trying to “take advantage of this tragedy to try and boost his own disgraced image.”
Cox also noted that while the governor can summon lawmakers into special session, “he cannot specify what the General Assembly chooses to consider or how we do our work.”
“We intend to use that time to take productive steps to address gun violence by holding criminals accountable with tougher sentences — including mandatory minimums,” he said in a statement.
Northam has previously vetoed bills establishing mandatory minimum sentences for criminal offenders, which he says disproportionately affect people of color.
Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the House of Delegates and a 21-19 majority in the Senate, which means Northam’s gun control proposals would need at least two Republican votes in each chamber to pass.
The governor said he would propose bans on magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition, bump stocks and silencers; universal background checks; new “extreme risk” protective orders to keep guns out of the hands of people who might be violent; and a limit on purchases of handguns to no more than one a month.
Those proposals failed to pass in the last regular session of the legislature, but Northam said he would try to pass them again because “it is wrong, it is outrageous, it is unforgivable to turn our municipal centers, our schools, our churches and synagogues and mosques into battlefields.”
According to police, the shooter who killed 12 people in a Virginia Beach municipal building had legally purchased his weapons and had no criminal convictions or mental health issues that would have resulted in a protective order.
He did, however, use a silencer, which may have contributed to the death toll by delaying the law enforcement response to the sound of gunfire.
The murders in Virginia Beach marked the second time the commonwealth has been rocked by mass violence.
In 2007, a mentally ill Virginia Tech student killed 32 people in two campus buildings, in what remains the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
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State Rep. Rocky Adkins breaks with much of his party by supporting bill banning most abortions after a heartbeat is detected
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
LOUISVILLE (CFP) — Rocky Adkins, the former Democratic leader of the Kentucky House, is among America’s rarest political species — a Democrat who opposes legal abortion. And that stance has become a clear fault line in the Democratic race for governor.
Adkins is running in the May 20 primary against two Democrats who support legal abortion — Attorney General Andy Beshear and former State Auditor Adam Edelen — and the issue has taken on prominence not usually found in Democratic intra-party skirmishes.
“I am pro-life,” said Adkins, who represents a rural House district in eastern Kentucky, said during a recent debate. “You express the views of your constituents that you represent in the legislature for your votes, and that’s what I’ve tried to do.”
Adkins is a member of the legislature’s Pro-Life Caucus. Earlier this year, he was one of 10 Democrats in the House who voted for Kentucky’s “heartbeat bill,” which would ban most abortions once the baby’s heartbeat can be detected.
That measure was signed into law by the man these Democrats all hope to replace, Republican Governor Matt Bevin, who has made his opposition to abortion a feature of his re-election campaign.
Edelen has denounced the new law as “an experiment by the radical right to eliminate this protection for women.” Beshear, who describes himself as “pro-choice,” has refused as attorney general to defend the new law against a legal challenge.
When the issue came up in a recent debate, Beshear observed that “the only person who is excited we’re having this conversation is Matt Bevin. This is all he’s going to talk about in the general election.”
A Pew Research Center study found that 57 percent of Kentuckians thought abortion should be illegal in most cases, while only 36 percent supported legal abortion. Only four states — Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and West Virginia — are more pro-life.
Pew also found less support for abortion among people living in rural areas than in cities or suburbs. Edelen is from Lexington and Beshear is from Louisiville; Adkins is from Sandy Hook, population 600.
However, the issue of abortion cuts across Democratic politics in Kentucky in a way not seen in much of the rest of the country. When the heartbeat bill came up in the House earlier this year, only a minority of the Democratic caucus actively opposed the measure. Nineteen Democrats voted no, 10 voted yes — and 10 absented themselves rather than cast a vote.
The abortion crosscurrents are also visible in the Democratic race for governor. Beshear’s running mate, Jacqueline Coleman, described herself as a “pro-life Democrat” when she ran for the legislature in 2014 from a rural seat, though she now says she supports a woman’s right to choose an abortion. By contrast, Adkins’s running mate, Stephanie Horne, who is from Louisville, supports legal abortion.
Edelen and his running mate, Gill Holland, both support legal abortion, which Edelen has been using in the campaign to draw a contrast with Beshear and Adkins.
While the general election politics in Kentucky would clearly favor a candidate who doesn’t support legal abortion, Democratic primary politics are perhaps another matter. Adkins has not emphasized the issue during the campaign, has said he would “follow the Constitution” and has tied his opposition to abortion to his support for pre-K funding and bills to strengthen adoption and foster care.
“I’ve also said that we need to put warm food on the table and a roof over these babies’ heads when they’re born,” Adkins said.
Should Adkins triumph in the primary and then win the general election, he would join Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards, who is running for re-election this fall, as the only Southern governors who oppose legal abortion.
Mississippi Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood, who is also running for governor in 2019, is also an abortion opponent.
Cooper recently vetoed a bill that would have made it a crime for abortion doctors to kill babies born alive during an abortion procedure, saying a new law was not necessary.
Northam last year supported a bill that would have made it easier for women to obtain abortions in the third trimester, which failed to gain approval in the legislature.