One Louisiana editor recently asked a group of elected officials, pundits, bloggers and other political types to write something about or rank five governors from the past 110 years using any method imaginable. This is my submission.
1. William Heard (1900-1904) — Politicians love taking credit for things they had nothing to do with, so it's only appropriate to dub Heard as the Patron Saint of Oilmen. It was during his term that the discovery of oil was heralded and a new economic engine was born. Even as the state struggles with sluggish revenues today, many are thankful that Heard made sure Louisiana got a piece of the energy action early on. Heard also designed, or rather called for, Louisiana's iconic seal that depicts a pelican tearing at its breast to feed its young, underscored by three words: Union, Justice and Confidence.
2. Harry Fuqua (1924-1926) — Fuqua was the first of several state CEOs to die in office within a 10-year stretch — Oscar K. Allen died at the end of his four-year term in 1936. More notably, Fuqua was the last man to hand succeeding governor Huey P. Long (1928-1932) a legitimate election loss. Fuqua bested Long to make a successful runoff bid in 1924, but he only made it halfway through his term before he died. If Fuqua had lived, one can only wonder if Long would have been able to launch his lengthy and storied reign when he did — or if at all.
3. Richard Leche (1936-1939) — In 1940, ex-Gov. Leche was convicted and sentenced for scheming to sell trucks to the state Highway Department, among other allegations. If it sounds familiar, there's good reason. In 2001, ex-Gov. Edwin Edwards (1972-1980, 1984-1988, 1992-1996) was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for scheming to sell riverboat licenses to a group of cronies and big shots. Leche, however, was able to score one thing that remains elusive for Edwards, despite the rumors during the final days of George W. Bush's presidency. In 1953, Leche was pardoned by outgoing President Harry Truman. Actually, Leche's pardon came after his release from jail, so Edwards still has a fighting chance — if history is any indicator.
4. Sam H. Jones (1940-1944) — Jones was among the first men to chip away at the populist foundation built by Huey Long. He went on to co-found what is now the Public Affairs Research Council. When Jones was in office, governors could only serve one term. He was succeeded by another anti-Long candidate, Jimmie Davis (1944-1948, 1960-1964). Spite for the Long Machine, though, wasn't the only thing Jones and Davis shared. They also had the same middle name, albeit more suited to Texas than Louisiana: Houston.
5. Buddy Roemer (1988-1992) — The title for this section should be Buddy Roemer the Democrat (1988-1991), Buddy Roemer the Republican (1991-1992). That's because he's the only Louisiana governor to switch parties while in office, at least since 1900. If you want to reach back farther, you could point to former Gov. Pierre Derbigny (1828-1829). He switched from the National Republican Party to the Anti-Jackson Party during his first year in office, although the former was swallowed up by the latter, so it was a change in name only.
Now for some Honorable Mentions:
Most Athletic — Gov. Ruffin Golson Pleasant (1916-1920) played in the very first LSU-Tulane football game in 1893 as captain of the Fighting Tigers.
Best Facial Hair — The undisputed winner has to be Gov. Mike Foster (1996-2004). His mustache and salt-and-pepper beard, usually sported during duck season, represented the first intentional growth of facial hair on any governor since Newton C. Blanchard's (1904-1908) dainty milk-catcher. For the record, William Wright Heard (1900-1904) had the most amusing mustache of the period — the kind that twirls devilishly at its tips — and Foster's grandfather, Gov. Murphy James Foster (1892-1900), had a mustache, too, which may have served as inspiration for his grandson.
Saints Shout-out — Gov. John J. McKeithen (1964-1972) made it a personal mission to convince voters to approve a constitutional amendment to construct what has become a symbol recognized 'round the world, especially on Sundays — the New Orleans Superdome.
Heeeeeere's Bobby! — During the spring of his first year in office, Gov. Bobby Jindal (2008-present) became the first Louisiana governor to appear as a guest on NBC's Tonight Show, then hosted by Jay Leno. Roughly a year later, Leno was given his own prime-time show, which went on to cause a cataclysmic shift in late-night television. No direct connections have been made.
Jeremy Alford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.