Rispone's comments backfire

EDWARDS, RISPONE — Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone, right, the Republican candidate for governor who is trying to defeat Louisiana's Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, angered many veterans when he linked West Point to the bitter gubernatorial campaign.

Republican Eddie Rispone hit below the belt Friday when he said Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards hurt the reputation of West Point by becoming one of the trial lawyers that have become favorite targets in the Louisiana gubernatorial campaign. Edwards and Rispone are in the Nov. 16 runoff that has become an extremely bitter contest.

Rispone was asked during a radio interview about Edwards’ experience at West Point and said, “Yeah, you know I’m disappointed in that, if I have to be candid. I think he’s hurt the reputation of West Point. I don’t think West Point wants to turn out a bunch of trial lawyers that will say or do anything to stay in power.”

After graduation, Edwards served eight years on active duty with the U.S. Army as an Airborne Ranger in the 82nd Airborne Division. It was during peacetime, but he did training missions overseas, including in Korea.

The Advocate reported that Edwards “unleashed a blistering attack” on Rispone’s comments. The newspaper followed with an editorial saying the 2019 campaign, “so often nasty and dispiriting, has reached a new low with candidate Eddie Rispone’s snipe at the revered military academy at West Point and incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards’ years of service as a soldier serving his country.”

Edwards said, “I would just point out that Mr. Rispone went to college to not go in the Army. I went to Army in order to go to college. There is a big difference.”

Later the governor said, “Am I offended? Yes, I am offended about what Eddie Rispone said about me and about West Point and my service. If Eddie had served his country in the military, he might be able to understand why so many veterans are rightfully upset with his comments. His comments speak volumes about him and say absolutely nothing about me.”

The Advocate said Rispone turned 18 in 1967, when the military draft tripled in size to provide servicemen to the Vietnam War. Rispone, who is now 70, registered for the military draft, which was required by law, and then enrolled at LSU, which allowed him to delay induction into the military. He graduated and was eligible for service but wasn’t drafted.

With only two weeks to go before the election, the newspaper said Rispone gave the Edwards campaign a chance to tout the governor’s military record and contrast it with Rispone’s. It is also an opportunity to remind voters his military record was one of the factors that helped him win a big victory in 2015.

We have heard a lot about trial lawyers during this campaign, and many people are wondering who those lawyers really are. Business and industry officials don’t like trial lawyers because their organizations are often targets of their lawsuits. They also insist that trial lawyers create a bad legal climate in Louisiana that causes high auto insurance rates.

Smoop, a digital publishing company that makes study guides, book summaries and other academic resources for students, said, “Sometimes, being a trail lawyer can suck. You’re subjecting yourself to long hours and a lot of bad jokes. But then there are the upshots: fighting for justice, prosecuting bad guys, and protecting the innocent. As a trial attorney, you get to help people who are in the middle of some sort of crisis. And though they may be angry at having to pay your bills, they frequently look at you as a beacon of light in what would be an otherwise very dark night.”

I asked a local trial lawyer last week why they are always under attack. Without hesitation, he said, “They just don’t want the little guy to have any legal representation.”

Edwards has received support from trial lawyers, but denies he is one. The Advocate said Edwards worked on wills and successions, testaments and represented individuals and small firms on both the defendants’ and plaintiffs’ side.

The governor told reporters, “I would defy you to find any bill that has passed the Legislature that I have signed into law that actually benefits trial lawyers since I have been governor. It hasn’t happened.”

Rispone really reached out to link Edwards’ West Point experience to the legal profession because there is no real connection. Monday, Nov. 11, is Veterans Day, so Rispone couldn’t have picked a worst time to be downgrading military service by tying it to the bitter gubernatorial campaign.

The GOP candidate tried to recover from his comments when he said, “I love our veterans, their service and West Point and we can’t thank them enough.”

The Advocate ended its editorial saying, “But diminishing someone’s willingness to defend America in uniform is a disservice to voters who deserve a campaign based on issues, not insults of the armed forces.

“Rispone owes all veterans who served with honor an apology. Regardless of our deeply partisan times — or perhaps because of them — we should find common ground in the idea that military service is a good thing. If we can’t agree on even that simple point, then America is in even more trouble than we thought.”

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