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Gubernatorial candidates debate education, employment, ideologies

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Gov. John Bel Edwards, Congressman Ralph Abraham and Baton Rouge Businessman Eddie Rispone discussed their plans to improve Louisiana’s education system and economy at the second gubernatorial debate at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette on Wednesday, Sept. 26 at 7 p.m.

All three candidates said they were in favor of improving Louisiana’s early childhood education.

Rispone said Louisiana could improve its early childhood education without raising taxes.

“We can fix this without costing raising taxes,” Rispone said. “We just need to prioritize. We need someone that's an outsider conservative, a business person that knows how to run something. We got a $30 billion budget.”

Abraham accused Edwards and his administration of only putting money into education in hopes of getting Edwards re-elected.

“But this administration hasn't put any new money to it until this year, it's an election year,” Abraham said.

However, Edwards said he didn’t choose to start putting more money into early childhood education at the time he did for the purpose of being re-elected.

“There's $20 million more being invested in early childhood education this year than last year, and you cannot invest what you do not have until we fixed our budget deficit and got the growth that we needed out of our economy and stabilized the budget,” Edwards said. “Quite simply, you couldn’t do that.”

Although the candidates said they had big improvements in mind for Louisiana, they were unable to give specific details on what they would cut to pay for them.

Rispone said he would be able to pay for more government programs without raising taxes by using his business experience to make better use of the money Louisiana already has.

“We're going to be able to manage it, have a budget, decide we want to do it and prioritize where we spend our dollars,” he said. “It's a simple process, but you're going to need a CEO.”

Edwards said Rispone’s plan was unrealistic and compared Rispone’s plan of action to former Governor Bobby Jindal’s.

“That's what (Jindal) always said; if you can always do more with less one day you can do everything for nothing. And the world doesn't work that way,” he said.

Abraham didn’t offer a solution either. Instead, he argued that he, like Rispone, is a businessman, and claimed Louisiana was losing jobs under Edwards’ leadership.

“I've done pretty good in business too,” Abraham said. “As you know, we are the only state in the union that lost jobs in the last 12 months.”

Edwards said this was false. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in Louisiana has been decreasing consistently since December 2016.

“You know you're entitled to your opinion, but not to your own facts,” Edwards said.

USA Today Journalist Greg Hilburn, the one who asked about what the candidates would cut, said the candidates' responses were political and not specific.

“You all very much sounded like politicians, because all of you still said that you can grow some government programs which is laudable programs, and none of you have said where you would cut, and some have said you would reduce revenue. It just doesn't seem to make sense,” Hilburn said.

Several other topics were discussed at the debate.

Edwards said Louisiana should re-elect him because the state has seen many improvements since he’s been in office.

“Because the state of Louisiana is doing much better than it was four years ago on just about every relevant measure,” he said.

Rispone said he plans to force all cities in Louisiana to align with President Trump’s immigration policies if he’s elected.

“But now, what I'm going to tell you is that I'm going to support our president, when it comes to building a wall, doing away with sanctuary cities and going after these gangs,” he said.

He plans to accomplish this by denying state funding to cities that offer sanctuary to illegal immigrants.

“Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas all have a law that if a city does not follow the immigration laws and doesn't support those that are here to protect us, they don't get state funding,” Rispone said.

Abraham, who has experience as a physician, said he closely monitors patients who he’s prescribed opioids.

“We monitor the patient, and we monitor those that come into our clinic,” Abraham said. “You are the gatekeeper for that patient, and it is an important role, and look, as a physician, I take that very seriously.”

Abraham said this the same day the Advocate published a story detailing how, in 2013, Abraham was in the top 0.2% of opioid prescribers in terms of the number of Medicare Part D patients he’d written prescriptions for when compared to other family doctors in the United States.

After the debate, Abraham said he wrote so many prescriptions for opioids because he saw more patients than most other family doctors and wrote more prescriptions as a whole.

“It’s a matter of volume. We just saw more patients,” he said.

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