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Those business leaders who met with John Bel Edwards? Not his supporters.

By Julia O'Donoghue julia_odonoghue@nola.com,

NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
 
When Gov. John Bel Edwards met with Louisiana business leaders at the state Capitol Tuesday (Aug. 8), it wasn't necessarily a group that has always been friendly to him.
 
Of the 21 individuals representing the business community at the meeting, just four have ever given money to Edwards, a Democrat. Five of them backed his opponent, former Republican Sen. David Vitter, over Edwards in the 2015 governor's race.
 
The governor met with the business leaders in an effort to reach a consensus on what to do about Louisiana's looming budget crisis. The state is projected to have a $1.3 billion budget gap on July 1, 2018 that could make it difficult to keep higher education institutions and hospitals open.
 
"Their input is critically important as these business leaders are on the front lines creating jobs and working to build a strong economy. It's their ideas, combined with the input from legislators and other community leaders, that will, hopefully, guide us as we look for consensus to avoid the fiscal cliff," Edwards said in a written statement.
 
Despite that sentiment, the governor has had a somewhat rocky relationship with the state's corporate community.
The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry -- the state's most influential business group -- endorsed Vitter over Edwards, even though the organization typically stays neutral during such elections. LABI consistently ranked Edwards as one of the least friendly lawmakers in the statehouse to business during the governor's two terms as a state representative.

 

 

Only one of the 21 business leaders Edwards met with Tuesday actually contributed to him before Edwards was governor. Wayne Brown, of Brown Builders in Bossier City, gave $19,500 to Edwards in 2015. He also donated an additional $5,000 in January of 2016, right after Edwards was sworn in to office, according to state campaign finance records.

The three others who donated to Edwards only did so after he had been governor for a few months. The donations were rather small too, around $1,000. They included one from Phillip Rozemann, of Cardiovascular Consultants, in 2016. Rozemann also contributed $9,500 to Vitter -- and gave no money to Edwards -- in the months leading up to the gubernatorial election.

In total, the individuals representing Louisiana's business community at a meeting with Edwards on Tuesday raised more money for Vitter than the governor. From 2014 to 2016, they gave Vitter a total of $56,000. During that time period, Edwards received just $28,000 from the group, according to campaign finance records. The vast majority of those Edwards' donations also came from just one person at the Tuesday meeting: Brown.

While most of the people in the meeting hadn't given to Edwards or Vitter, several had donated to regional LABI's political action committees. Those are the same PACs that decided overwhelmingly to endorse Vitter over Edwards in the governor's race.

Despite a chilly relationship, several business people attending the meeting released cautiously optimistic statements about the governor's attempts to reach out to some of the state's largest employers. The governor and business leaders met in private, though, so it's difficult to say what the tone of the meeting was like.

And one of Louisiana's most prominent businessmen, Lane Grigsby, appears to have declared war on the governor. Grigsby and Dan Juneau, who was president of LABI for over 20 years, have started Truth In Politics, a group that runs a website, social media campaign and television advertisements attacking Edwards on everything from taxes to flood response.

Grigsby, the founder of Cajun Industries, has been heavily involved in politics for years and has financially backed many of LABI's initiatives in the past. He takes a particular interest in expanding charter schools and publicly-funded private school vouchers in Louisiana, both of which Edwards has opposed. He gave $150,000 to the Fund for Louisiana's Future, a PAC that worked to get Vitter elected governor in 2015.

Grigsby did not attend Tuesday's meeting with the governor and other business leaders. But here's a list of people who did:

Robert Boh
Boh Brothers Construction Company, LLC
New Orleans, LA

Ayres Bradford
Lincoln Builders, Inc.
Ruston, LA

Wayne Brown
Brown Builders
Bossier City, LA

Karl Connor
BP America
New Orleans, LA

Calvin Fabre
Envoc
Baton Rouge, LA

Art Favre
Performance Contractors
Baton Rouge, LA

Lester Hart
Nucor Steel Louisiana, LLC
Convent, LA

Chris Haskew
Capital One Bank
New Orleans, LA

Tom Hawkins
Atmos Energy
Baton Rouge, LA

John Jones
CenturyLink
Monroe, LA

Christopher Kinsey
Kinsey Interests
Shreveport, LA

James "Jay" Lapeyre, Jr.
Laitram, LLC
Harahan, LA

Jude Melville
Business First Bank
Baton Rouge, LA

Mickey Parenton
L'Auberge Casino Baton Rouge
Baton Rouge, LA

Sonia Perez
AT&T Louisiana
Baton Rouge, LA

Tim Poche
Bernhard Capital Partners
Baton Rouge, LA

Phillip Rozeman
Cardiovascular Consultants
Shreveport, LA

Margaret Shehee
Kilpatrick Life Insurance
Shreveport, LA

Hans Sternberg
Highflyer Human Resources, LLC
Baton Rouge, LA

Terry Baugh
D&J Construction Company, Inc.
West Monroe, LA

Linda Biernacki
Fire Tech Systems, Inc.
Shreveport, LA

Julia O'Donoghue is a state politics reporter based in Baton Rouge. She can be reached at jodonoghue@nola.com or on Twitter at @jsodonoghue. Please consider following us on Facebook at NOLA.com and NOLA.com-Baton Rouge.

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