GOP candidates 'called to task'

U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham of Alto and businessman Eddie Rispone, two Republicans challenging the re-election of Louisiana's Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards have been criticized by three conservative organizations for misrepresenting the state's criminal justice reforms.

The two leading Republican candidates for Louisiana governor haven’t let the facts get in their way in their efforts to try and defeat the re-election bid of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. However, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham of Alto and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone were finally called to account by leaders of three conservative organizations after they continually criticized criminal justice reforms enacted by the Legislature in 2017 that were supported by Edwards.

Rispone has an ad that shows mug shots of apparent criminals against a backdrop of flashing police lights while a female announcer says, “John Bel Edwards put them back on the street.”

Abraham said law enforcement people told him there are “countless cases” of violent offenders released to commit more crimes. He added that those convicted of violent crimes are “not going to get out early under my administration.” However, the reforms are directed at non-violent offenders.

Daniel Erspamer, chief executive officer of the Pelican Institute, said, “It’s disappointing to see elected officials and candidates for office using criminal justice reforms in disingenuous attacks and political ploys.” He said the business community, law enforcement, faith groups and policy and good government leaders supported the reforms.

Erspamer said the criminal justice reforms were based on proven policies from other conservative, southern states. He added that states like Texas and Georgia have seen “demonstrably improved” public safety, decreased rates of recidivism and saved taxpayer dollars, thanks to similar reforms.

Scott Peyton, Louisiana director for Right on Crime, said, “Recently, several candidates for office and other elected officials have made unfounded and inaccurate claims regarding recent criminal justice reform efforts in Louisiana.” The other elected officials he is talking about are U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-Zachary, and GOP state Treasurer Jeff Landry.

As a result of the reforms, Peyton said revocations from parole and probation are down, caseloads for probation and parole officers have dropped and the state has saved $12 million, most of it destined for improving rehabilitation efforts.

A statement from Smart on Crime Louisiana came from James M. “Jay” Lapeyre, M. Pres Kabacoff, Charles Geron “Gee Gee” Hargon and Michael Cowan, members of the state steering committee.

The four men said, “Louisianans should keep in mind that television advertisements airing during the peak of a political cycle often lack substance and misstate facts in hopes of tearing down opponents. We must all continue to speak loudly against false information, while remaining grounded in the facts and data.”

Overall crime rates are down, they said, and no individuals released early under the 2017 reforms have been convicted of murder.

Abraham and Rispone changed their criticism of criminal justice reform efforts and the state’s handling of Medicaid just a bit Monday at a Baton Rouge Press Club forum. Medicaid is the federal-state health care program. The Advocate reported the two Republicans “were careful not to blast some of the more popular policies he (Edwards) has implemented.”

“But when asked about both issues, the two made certain to criticize Edwards’ handling of those policies, not the policies themselves,” the newspaper said. It added that a 2019 survey by LSU researchers showed 76 percent of state residents support Medicaid expansion and 70 percent support the criminal justice reforms.

The fact the Louisiana Sheriffs Association and the International Union of Police Associations have endorsed Edwards’ re-election takes much of the air out of the criminal justice reform criticism coming from Abraham and Rispone.

Erspamer of the Pelican Institute said, “Safeguarding the future of Louisiana is too important to risk on political footballs and demagoguery (political leaders who seek support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices).”

Peyton, the state director of Right on Crime, said, “Louisiana is finally reversing course on decades of poor decisions regarding its criminal justice system. We must continue to make these strides.”

The four leaders of Smart on Crime Louisiana said, “The 2017 passage of the landmark package of legislation to reform the state’s criminal justice policies continues to have the support of policy groups, as well as business, faith and law enforcement leaders from across the ideological spectrum.”

The Advocate in an editorial said, “One of Louisiana’s real accomplishments is its effort to stop being one of the world’s leading jailers for a jurisdiction its size. This initiative, bipartisan and difficult to achieve legislatively, has earned admiration from the White House — even though Gov. John Bel Edwards is a Democrat and President Trump hails from the GOP.”

The newspaper said Abraham is misinformed if he thinks there hasn’t been local input and compromises taking place during the “yearslong debates” on the criminal justice reform package.

Despite criticism from some of the leaders of the state’s most conservative organizations, Abraham and Rispone are expected to continue saying whatever they think it takes to defeat Edwards. That’s demagoguery.

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