I have a sad announcement to make. Politics is just no fun anymore in Louisiana.
Reams of books have been written about the colorful characters that ran the Bayou state throughout its history. And the average citizen got involved, attended rallies and actively supported their candidate of choice. Few states could match the intensity and enthusiasm that was a part of Louisiana campaigning. The state’s two favorite pastimes were LSU football and Politics.
The two Longs who served as governor wanted to stay involved right up to the time of their deaths. Huey Long was shot and died September 10, 1935, eleven days after his 42nd birthday. His last words were, “God, don’t let me die. I have so much to do.” Younger brother Earl Long was famously quoted as saying: “Oh Lord, when I die, let me be buried in Louisiana, so I can stay active in politics.”
Retail politics used to be a basic part of any campaign. No statewide candidate would fail to attend the Rice Festival in Crowley, the Watermelon Festival in Farmerville or the Strawberry Festival in Hammond. There were thousands of hands to shake and voters galore who loved to be part of the campaign season. I experienced the buzz and thrill of campaigning during my 28 years in public life. Politics was just a lot of fun.
Most of my colleagues who served during my tenure going back to the 1970s ran for public office to serve and try to improve the quality of life for the voters they represented. There was little thought of financial gain. When I was first elected to the Louisiana State Senate back in the 1970s, I was paid $600 a month, with no office, staff or any other financial help. I represented a large part of Northeast Louisiana. My phone bill in my district averaged $900 a month. A campaign contribution of $100 was a big deal.
Today a political campaign is all about who can raise the most money. TV drives the debate. Political rallies are few, and you would be hard pressed to see a candidate for statewide office throwing candy and riding in a local parade. If a candidate is leading in the polls, he or she often chooses not to even show up for debates. So the public loses interest, voter participation is down, and voter distrust is on the rise.
Political parties in Louisiana are becoming more and more obsolete. It has become obvious that any allegiance to a particular party is over. Democrats make up 43% of registered voters, but a significant number rarely vote their party affiliation. The fastest growing numbers of registered voters are independents that list themselves with no party affiliation.
An interesting side note is that the last time a president was elected in the country who was neither a Republican or a Democrat was Louisiana native Zachary Taylor, who won on the wig ticket back in 1848.
One of the problems in Louisiana and across the country is that extremists in both parties are dominating the political agenda. Or as veteran Republican consultant Mac Stipanovich puts it, “Somehow you’ve got to destroy the myth that you don’t win if you’re not crazy enough.”
And working across the aisles with a legislator from the opposing party is a thing of the past in a number of states including Louisiana. A few years back, legislators would fight hard for their political beliefs during the day, but then spend time socializing and working towards some type of compromise when the working day was done. No longer. Today, if a lawmaker from the opposing party disagrees or has a contrary opinion, then he or she is dead wrong and often is considered a political enemy.
There’s a Governor’s race in Louisiana this fall that, so far, few seem to care about. The campaigns are just, well dull. Don’t you miss the rhetoric and musings of Huey, Earl, Jimmy Davis, and even ole’ EWE? Sad to say, the thrill is gone. Let’s hope we can at least cheer on a winning Fighting Tigers team this fall.
Jim Brown is a former Commissioner of Insurance, Secretary of State and state senator from Ferriday. His past columns can be read at www.jimbrownusa.com. Brown’s nationally syndicated radio show airs each Sunday morning from 9 a.m.-11 a.m. on the Genesis Radio Network, witha live stream at www.jimbrownusa.com.