Legislators. They say the darnedest things.
Quite a few of them, chiefly those on the cusp of retirement, did so with a touch of finality last week. As each day blew by, another retiring lawmaker or two went to the mic on a point of "personal privilege" to deliver parting words.
Once upon a time, the timing of farewell speeches was less predictable. Term limits changed all that.
For his star turn, Rep. Ernest Wooton, No Party-Belle Chasse, thought it might be fun to rattle cages over at the FBI. From behind the dais on the House floor, he pointed to his seat at the back of the chamber. "When all the attention is up here, the envelopes come under the rail," Wooton said to thunderous laughter. "Without lobbyists, I couldn't afford to be here. I don't have a real job. The governor vetoed my pay raise. I had built that into my budget for years."
Comparing former House Speaker Joe Salter and current Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Algiers, Wooton said: "I told [Salter] he was too nice for the job. The things he had to do wasn't in his nature — the kind of things Jim Tucker does just in stride. [Tucker] seems to kind of relish in them."
Wooton, a former Plaquemines Parish sheriff and current Criminal Justice Committee chair, slipped on a pair of novelty eyeglasses with an oversized nose and mustache to continue: "Some things just need to be done." He then read a poem sprinkled with barbs aimed at Gov. Bobby Jindal and his staff. As the former sheriff put it, "Up his butt they go." Wooton ended his remarks by standing tall at the dais as a recording of Johnny Cash belted out "Ragged Old Flag."'
Sen. Mike Michot, R-Lafayette, recalled his first orientation as a lawmaker, at which he learned about all of the ways he no longer could earn a living because of conflicts of interest. He said he heard a voice behind him mutter, "All this and you get to go bankrupt." After all these years, Michot finally attributed the comment to Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie.
Speaking of Martiny, Wooton joked that the Kenner lawmaker built his law practice around the claim of "keeping me out of the federal courthouse."
Legislators. They certainly are a wily bunch sometimes.
Sen. Joe McPherson, D-Woodworth, explained as much when he justified taking a reference book during his first years in office — even though it was clearly marked "Do Not Take." It's one of those things you won't find in a civics textbook. "Senators do not steal," McPherson said. "They acquire."
Back in the House, Rep. Noble Ellington, R-Winnsboro, said he was giving his third and final — really — parting speech.
Several retiring lawmakers used PowerPoint presentations — some to good effect, like early campaign photographs; others not so good, like using the U.S. Capitol as a backdrop. Some lawmakers quoted their fathers, others Dr. Seuss.
Few were as bold as Sen. Butch Gautreaux, D-Morgan City. He delivered a nearly 10-minute tirade, accusing Jindal and his administration of abusing public resources, rigging high-dollar contracts, hatching a plan to fire certain state workers and generally failing the voters of Louisiana.
Though his prepared speech was filled with inflammatory rhetoric, Gautreaux delivered it in an even tone, without crescendo. "Gov. Jindal, our most traveled governor in Louisiana history, has logged well over a thousand hours in state police helicopters, spending Sundays campaigning in churches mostly in north Louisiana," Gautreaux said.
He also said Jindal has "logged hundreds of hours in Army National Guard helicopters traveling to the coast after hurricanes Gustav and Ike and the BP oil spill in an effort to point out that President (Barack) Obama was not here and that the federal government was doing nothing."
Who can blame Gautreaux and other Jindal critics for having loose lips on the last days?
Tucker, an independent-minded speaker, knows what it feels like to be on Jindal's bad side — and why it's easier to say such things on the way out rather than when you first land. "I feel like I've survived more coup attempts from the fourth floor than a South American dictator," he said.
Sometimes you just can't keep professional politicians down. Even when they're out.
Jeremy Alford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.