Republicans are hoping to bring down the only Democratic governor in the Deep South with claims that incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards ignored a victim of sexual harassment at the hands of a powerful aide whose history included similar allegations more than a decade ago that tarnished Louisiana's last Democratic governor.
Saying he didn’t want to be a distraction, Johnny Anderson, Edwards' deputy chief of staff, quit in November 2017 within a few hours of Executive Counsel Matthew Block hearing of Juanita Washington’s allegations from a third party.
Washington said Anderson forced her to have oral sex with him and that he fondled her. She said the harassment went on for nearly a year because she feared for her job. When it became inconvenient for him, Anderson forced her to resign, Washington said. Anderson denies the allegations, but the state paid $108,000 to settle a possible lawsuit.
Edwards has been hammered for nearly a week with radio and television ads, tweets, blog posts, and mass emails for hiring Anderson, who had been under a cloud of sexual harassment allegations a decade earlier when he was a top aide to Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco. Washington appeared in a striking TV ad produced by Truth in Politics and released last week that criticizes Edwards for hiring of Anderson, despite allegations of sexual harassment made a decade prior at Southern University.
“They got very nervous earlier in the week because several polls showed me in the mid-50s. They got nervous and desperate,” Edwards told The Advocate over the weekend. “She wants people to believe, apparently, by the way they did the ad, that she lost her job because she made the complaint. That is really false and misleading.”
Edwards faces two well-funded Republicans, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, of Alto, and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone, and three others in Saturday’s primary. If Edwards fails to win outright Saturday he will face either Rispone or Abraham in a Nov. 16 runoff.
On Tuesday, Truth in Politics, whose co-founder, Lane Grigsby is a close ally of Rispone, held a press conference with Washington in front of the courthouse in Baton Rouge to personally accuse Edwards of ignoring victims of sexual harassment and to publicize the filing of a lawsuit seeking the release of thousands of documents from the Governor’s Office. She called on Edwards to apologize to her and accused his campaign of working to "distort" what happened to her.
"I will not be silenced anymore," said Washington, who first detailed her allegations last year. "Governor: stop the lies. Tell your people to stop the cover up and stop attacking me."