Rispone mentor steps over line

LANE GRIGSBY — Republican gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone has a millionaire pal of his mentoring his first effort at politics. Rispone spent millions to make the Nov. 16 runoff with Louisiana's Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, but Grigsby made a dumb move last week.

Eddie Rispone and Lane Grigsby, two of the wealthiest Republican pals in Louisiana, are waging a gubernatorial campaign with millions of dollars that they hope will give them total control of state government. Unfortunately, Grigsby pulled a dumb stunt last week that exposed the devious methods he uses to gain a political advantage.

Meanwhile, Rispone, owner of ISC Contractors, has used $11 million of his own money to make it to the Nov. 16 runoff in his effort to defeat Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. Grigsby, the owner of Cajun Industries, has spent millions on political campaigns over the years.

A profile on Rispone said he and Grigsby talked to prospective gubernatorial candidates for two years and they couldn’t find anyone they considered a worthy challenger to Edwards, so Rispone decided to run himself.

Grigsby is pulling out all the stops in his effort to give his buddy Rispone the edge. Grigsby gave $100,000 to a political organization that ran radio ads in support of Oscar “Omar” Dantzler, an African-American candidate for governor in the primary. Grigsby wanted to siphon off African-American support from Edwards.

“I am a kingmaker. I talk from the throne,” is one of Grigsby’s favorite sayings.

Lamar White Jr., founder and publisher of Bayou Brief, in “The Great Grigsby” said, “Republican gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone owes his meteoric rise to a mega-wealthy, loud-mouthed construction magnate who openly brags about his scheme to buy Louisiana’s government, one politician at a time. For years, he has operated behind the scenes, but today, he wants you to know who is really in charge. Meet Lane Grigsby.”

Republicans clinched a supermajority in the state Senate last week, but Grigsby wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to defeat Democrat Beverly Thompson, who was the frontrunner in a contest for Senate District 16 in Baton Rouge. It appeared Republican Reps. Steve Carter and Franklin Foil were both going to make the runoff and a GOP split vote would likely make Thompson a winner.

News reports said Grigsby knew Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, who is term-limited and holds that District 16 seat, was supporting Foil. So Grigsby called Claitor and said he would support Foil in a judgeship campaign if he agreed to drop out of the Senate runoff.

Claitor said he was too disturbed by Grigsby’s offer to make Foil aware it had happened. Claitor said he was concerned Grigsby’s offer was potentially illegal and he wanted to keep Foil as far removed from it as possible. And Foil never heard about the offer. Claitor also said he wasn’t “Mr. Grigsby’s errand boy.”

“I’m not offering (Foil) a judgeship,” Grigsby said, according to a report in The Advocate. “I can’t. I don’t exactly have the authority to do that. What I’m saying is, ‘If you make a sacrifice for the state of Louisiana, I’ll make sure the sacrifice is recognized.’”

Stephanie Grace of The Advocate quoted from a section of the relevant law that seems to fit what happened here.

She said, “No person shall knowingly, willfully, or intentionally … give or offer to give, directly or indirectly, any money or any thing of apparent present or prospective value to a candidate for public office for the purpose of securing the candidate’s withdrawal from an election.”

Grace said prosecutions under that provision are rare and challenging, and big donors will likely keep doing what they have always done.

“After this week’s brouhaha, they’ll probably just go back to not talking about it,” she said.

A recount eventually gave Foil the second runoff spot, so all of Grigsby’s scheming efforts to help the Republican cause were unnecessary. The questionable actions of Grigsby also led Rob Maness, a lifelong Republican and former political candidate who does a weekly show on a conservative website, to leave the party and become an independent.

Maness admitted he and Grigsby had some differences in the past, but said it wasn’t “a case of sour grapes.” Maness’ resignation from the St. Tammany Parish Republican Executive Committee explained why he made his decision, and The Advocate published the letter.

“Mr. Rispone represents to me everything that is wrong with politics in our state…, Maness wrote. “Mr. Rispone is closely aligned with businessman Lane Grigsby, so much so that he calls him a mentor and the closest of friends…

“Grigsby openly bragged in the media today about trying to illegally influence an election in Baton Rouge with his power and money… I have been a Republican Party member my whole life, but it is my duty to oppose illegal activities and corruption, regardless of the consequences or what political party they come from….”

Edwards didn’t miss his opportunity to comment on last week’s developments.

“The idea that (Grigsby) would do it openly — because it is illegal — but it shows you the mentality that he has, what he believes his place in Louisiana to be, and most dangerous for the people of Louisiana, he is the puppet master calling the shots with Eddie Rispone,” Edwards said. “If that’s the guy that Eddie Rispone is hooked up to the hip with, it speaks volumes about how dangerous Eddie Rispone is for the state of Louisiana.”

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