This year marks the 75th anniversary of Huey Long's election as governor of Louisiana. While that milestone has been overshadowed by the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase and, to a lesser extent, the just-completed governor's race, the sad truth is that every governor since Huey has started -- and ended -- in his shadow.
We haven't come very far since the 1930s.
So, as we start a new millennium with a new governor, can we finally lay Huey to rest once and for all?
That's not a rhetorical question. Consider, for example, most of the issues that confronted candidates for governor this year -- fixing our Charity Hospital system, cleaning up our image as a corrupt state, rewriting an anti-business tax code, lifting us out of the nation's economic backwater, improving a public education system that's mired in a 1930s mind-set, improving the state highway and transportation network, to name just a few. Every one of those issues had its genesis with Huey Long, the architect of Louisiana-style populism.
More than anything else, Long gave Louisiana the granddaddy of all entitlements: the immutable precept that the state can and should provide for all needs, at little or no cost to individual taxpayers. Instead of taxing citizens, government should tax businesses. And if, in the process, a little graft goes along with the hayride, who cares? Somebody else is paying for it.
That's Huey's most lasting legacy: something for nothing. His son, the late U.S. Sen. Russell Long, architect of the nation's tax code in the 1970s and '80s, summed it up best: "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that fellow behind that tree."
It sounds nice, but after 75 years of something for nothing, what have we got to show for it?
A crappy economy, underperforming public schools, underpaid teachers, too many universities, too many of our best college graduates leaving for better jobs elsewhere, and (worst of all) a culture of low expectations.
Looks as though we've paid a heavy toll after all.
I take my hat off to our new governor, but I can't help worrying about our future.
All the same, our new governor has a unique opportunity. Neither Bobby Jindal nor Kathleen Blanco relied upon the tired old populist shell game. Our new governor thus has a mandate for change.
And while the vast majority of legislative incumbents won reelection, a good many of them will be forced to retire in four years because of term limits. That means they don't have to worry about reelection.
Maybe, just maybe, our new governor and our term-limited lawmakers can bring a new mind-set to state government and take us out of the Long shadow that still hangs over Louisiana. Maybe they can leave a different legacy for the next 75 years.
Let's hope so.
But let's also be realistic; they won't give us anything we don't demand. Can we aim higher? Dare we?
Forum on Open Government
The Louisiana Coalition for Open Government (LaCOG), the state Attorney General's office and several other organizations will sponsor a half-day forum on Louisiana's public records and open meetings laws in the wake of 9/11. The forum will be from 10 a.m. until noon on Dec. 1 in Room 308 of Loyola Law School, 7212 St. Charles Avenue. Registration opens at 9:30 a.m.
Admission is free, and attorneys can earn two hours of CLE credit.
A panel of experts will discuss the state's "sunshine laws" and answer audience questions. The presentations will cover the sunshine laws in general, plus special applications to the legislative and judicial branches. Local and state officials as well as public employees who handle official records are encouraged to attend. Citizens should know their rights -- and public officials should know their responsibilities.
- Louisiana Secretary of State
- We haven't come very far since the 1930s. So, as we start a new millennium with a new governor, can we finally lay Huey Long to rest once and for all?