With the passing of Edwin Edwards this week, Louisiana has lost four former governors in the span of less than two years. Collectively Edwards, Buddy Roemer, Mike Foster and Kathleen Blanco governed Louisiana for more than 30 years. Their leadership bridged two centuries and to a large degree marked the end of a type of politics that made Louisiana different from so many others.
They had different personalities and faced different issues, but each made history. Roemer was the firebrand reformer. Blanco had to cope with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Foster administration was notable for its accomplishments. But it was Edwin Edwards, with the larger-than-life personality, that dominated an era.
During their lives, the four governors occasionally stayed in touch, but were rarely seen together. Yet, in 2012 they gathered in Baton Rouge to help celebrate CABL’s 50th anniversary and it was a meeting for the history books – a generation of the state’s political leadership on the same stage talking about Louisiana.
Edwards started things off as only he could. They were asked to describe the biggest crisis they faced as governor and how they dealt with it. Edwards’ response: “My crisis came after I was governor!”
They had friendly exchanges. When asked what they liked best about being governor, Roemer said, “The chance to help the state in ways no one else can.” Blanco enjoyed the big wins in economic development. As for Foster, “I can be real brief. What I miss most is the helicopter!”
But they all were in agreement about one aspect of politics that seems particularly relevant today – hyper partisanship.
Blanco: “There was an effort during my term to create that partisan divide. It never took hard root, but it might be close to that now.”
Edwards: “We liked each other. We got along and we worked together – Republicans and Democrats. Oh, that that philosophy existed in Washington.”
Roemer: “You need debate, and you need transparency and you need the branches of government to be independent of each other. A one-party state is not free, does not have debate. It’s called tyranny.”
Foster: “Louisiana has never been organized along party lines. That’s one of the better things about Louisiana politics I hope we can keep.”
Of course, as Governor Blanco pointed out, what Louisiana lacked in party partisanship it made up for with factionalism within the Legislature. But even that was healthy, she said, because people didn’t simply retreat to their party. They jumped from one faction to another based on the issue and that kept people on better personal terms than you sometimes see today.
It can seem cliched to talk about the “end of an era.” But the loss of all of four of these governors in such a short time span is a reminder that, for good or bad, the style of “Louisiana politics” we always laughed about is changing. Politics itself isn’t going away. It is, after all, a political process. But what matters is how we go about it.
“The important thing to me,” Edwards observed, “is the attitude and the spirit of those who serve this state.” Politics notwithstanding, let’s hope that attitude and spirit are driven by what they should be – the right intentions and the desire to make Louisiana a better place for all its citizens.