As the race for governor heats up closer to the October election, the three major candidates for the position are in campaign mode, making their pitches throughout the state.
That includes Ralph Abraham, an Alto native who grew up on his family farm and went on to become a veterinarian, doctor and eventually a Congressman.
The gubernatorial candidate, a staunch Republican, is attempting to best incumbent Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards in the Oct. 12 election. He also is facing Eddie Rispone, a Baton Rouge businessman and fellow Republican in the primary.
Abraham was in the Teche Area Wednesday checking out Metal Shark Boats, a local company that surprised Abraham with its international scope and success.
With some dusty shoes from a day out in the field, Abraham sat in the conference room of The Daily Iberian’s new office on East Main Street, going over several topics ranging from his roots as a native of rural Louisiana to his problems with the Medicaid rollout and his recent comment that there were only two genders, which made national headlines.
Why do you want to leave Congress to become governor?
I ran for Congress simply because at that point, (the way) President Obama was leading the nation, I didn’t agree with it, and I certainly don’t agree with the way Governor Edwards is leading the state, we’re 50th out of 50 for three consecutive years. We need to take a different direction.
There’s a pessimism across Louisiana regarding politicians on all levels. Do you have a plan to build trust with the voters?
Just tell the truth, do what’s right. The reason politicians are held in such low esteem is that we tell the people one thing in how we’re going to spend their money and then you get elected and it’s not that way at all, it’s wasted. It’s not rocket science, it’s not neurosurgery, spend the taxpayers money wisely and let them see the results. Let them see what they’re getting for their money and actually do the projects you’re telling them you’re going to do.
What are your thoughts about the lack of jobs in Acadiana and elsewhere in the state?
Down in New Iberia, Lafayette, anywhere in Acadiana or the coast, we don’t have any jobs. We have lost in the last three years 68,000 Louisiana residents because they had to get a job to feed their family. I want them back. We on an average week have over 30,000 go to Texas and pick up a paycheck. That’s crazy. I want those people back in Louisiana and they want to come back to Louisiana, I talk to them all the time. You could fill a football stadium up with graduates of LSU who are working in Houston just in the oil and gas industry, but they want to come home too. We want to give them something to come home for.
I understand that continuity of family, that continuity of community, that’s what we all want. Just to come home at night and lay our head on our own pillows and maybe at the month have an extra income where you can take the family for a movie and dinner. That’s not happening now, people are having to leave and they don’t want to. It’s very sad.
As the only doctor in the race, what are your thoughts on the Medicaid rollout in Louisiana?
I am the country doctor that you imagine, I still make house calls. We want those people who need Medicaid to have it. That’s the poor, the pregnant, the disabled. There’s so much waste and abuse right now of that system, that’s got to stop, that will stop, day one, as your governor. At the same time we want to allow and help those people get off the expansion rolls and get that better insurance that a job provides. I’m that doctor that takes that Medicaid patient. It’s very difficult to get them specialty care, I can’t give them the particular prescription I want because of a very narrow formula. I’ve always said Medicaid is a second rate class of insurance for a first rate class of people. These are people that work hard and want to do good for their families. I also understand that there will be those among us that need that safety net and that’s where we need to focus our dollars. Have that expansion and traditional Medicaid available for those people, but when you have 2,000 people making $100,000 on the rolls, that’s a problem. We’re going to clean that up and redirect it to the people that actually need it, and then we’re also going to work to give those people that expansion roll so they can get a job to come off the rolls.
There’s been worry about another fiscal cliff soon as Louisiana becomes more responsible for funding Medicaid.
Nobody’s talking about it, but next year in 2020 we go on the expansion from a 6 percent match to 10 percent, that doesn’t sound like a big jump but it’s over $200 million. What’s going to have to happen if Edwards remains your governor he’s going to have to raise your taxes again. I’m not going to do that. We’re going to clean it up. There’s money out there that’s misspent, wasted and in some cases fraudulently abused. Again, I’m going to fix it.
You’ve made a no-tax pledge to that effect?
That’s right. I’m going to cut taxes, we’re going to make everything affordable, accountable and those that spend our money we’re going to hold accountable, those that waste our money, I’m going to fire them and those that steal it I’m going to put them in jail. I’m very adamant about making sure people’s money get spent in the right way. That’s why people don’t have faith in government at any level, simply because they don’t think they’re getting enough for their taxpayer money, and they’re not.
What do you think separates you from the other Republican contender for governor?
Experience. We do have that experience in Congress and in business, and I do have that experience in the medical field. We bring to the table a plethora of work throughout my life that’s going to come in greatly and affect how we run state government.
Have you learned anything in Congress that you can bring to the table as governor?
What you learn is to build relationships and get things done. I keep going back to that tenet, our boss in politics is the taxpayer. If you look at it like that, as me being an employee of the taxpayers they should hold me accountable for spending their money and doing what affects their lives daily.
You’ve stepped into some controversy nationally by saying there are only two genders, why did you make that statement?
With my medical degree, I think I bring credibility to that discussion. There are only two genders, I can tell in about 2 seconds when I tell the parents if it’s a boy or a girl. Facts to me, they do matter more than feelings. I understand there’s a lot of discussion out there on this topic. If you look at this issue, and I’ve looked at it closely, the way these gender laws are written, they have what is called actionable legal verbiage. The last thing we need in Louisiana is more lawsuits. On a personal issue I’ve got granddaughters and honestly I don’t want a man in the bathroom with them. I’ve seen what it does in sports, as far as those post-pubescent males coming into adulthood. If they say I want to play a girl sport today, no. That’s to me just something we don’t need to nourish. We need to define the lines and do the common sense thing, it’s not hard.
Former governor and Iberia Parish native Kathleen Blanco recently died. Any thoughts on her life and legacy?
She left a great legacy, we can only speak very fondly of the deceased governor, she truly was a leader. She certainly endured some tough times during the Katrina days. Saying that, she was a Louisiana legend.