Most democrats were overjoyed last week when John Bel Edwards, Democrat, defeated Eddie Rispone for re-election to Louisiana’s governorship.
Edwards is very conservative, a steady governor, and a hard campaigner. Most folks know that Trump held rallies for Rispone, Edwards’ opponent. Rispone’s loss is Trump’s loss.
Rispone’s defeat was also a near mortal loss for another secretive kingmaker, who has undermined democracy in Louisiana for decades.
Meet Lane Grigsby, a Baton Rouge construction contractor who became wealthy beyond dreams of avarice from no-bid contracts for Katrina reconstruction.
Grigsby started in the Louisiana contracting business in the 1970s. After a meeting with a convicted labor racketeer, he received permission to operate his construction company without a union contract. This saved him vast sums because he could pay cut-rate wages with minimal, or no, health plans.
The refinery industry and others reserved work for Grigsby and other non union contractors so they could starve out his union competitors.
Grigsby became wealthy and plowed money into reactionary candidates
Grigsby exploited some noteworthy short cuts to gain political power. In one race, he funded a 3rd party candidate who peeled off 8% of the vote, dooming the Democratic congressional candidate.
He contributed $400,000 in attack ads for a state senate seat. The ads focused on gay marriage and the candidate’s divorce.
He switched sides and funded different candidates for mayor of Baton Rouge, depending on whether they hired Grigsby’s company for construction work.
But Grigsby’s company chiseled on public works contract, in one instance, he bid for work under two different company names, in Jefferson Parish.
He operated a PAC that went 90% to republicans. His half-true attack ads have destroyed the careers of countless Democrats. But few were aware of his dark influence until the recent governor’s race.
Grigsby had encouraged Rispone to set up his own contracting company, which soon created a fortune that Rispone use to finance his campaign for governor.
Has Rispone won, he’d have been Grigsby’s puppet, since he had no political experience. Grigsby has announced plans to tear up the Louisiana state constitution to take money from schools and health care.
But recently Grigsby encouraged a state Senate candidate to drop out of a 3-way runoff, by promising him a judgeship instead. Some say that’s illegal.
When questioned about it, Grigsby crowed, “ I’m the kingmaker. I talk from the throne.”
Democratic candidate Bel Edwards picked up the theme, calling Grigsby “the puppet master calling the shots with (Republican) Eddie Rispone.”
Meanwhile Grigsby’s PAC had run attack ads against Edwards over sexual harassment among low level employees.
Grigsby spent $100,000 on a fringe candidate to insure that Edwards did not win the primary election outright, and instead he was forced into a run-off with Rispone.
This time, Grigsby’s candidate lost.
Bel Edwards’ victory defeated the handpicked candidate of the reactionary Kingmaker. This is the type of malign influence we have to fight throughout the South.
Even so, we may be seeing some daylight in Louisiana.