January 28, 2006


Louisiana Tires of Its Rogues: Now that Katrina has spawned its first graft case, angry residents see the state's reputation for corruption corroding its ability to get federal aid. (Miguel Bustillo, January 27, 2006, LA Times)

In Louisiana, which has a history of political shenanigans so rich and colorful that it has become a part of American folklore, people long have laughed off misbehaving politicians as a fact of life, every bit as inevitable as death and taxes.

But as the state lobbies Washington for more money to rebuild ravaged towns and cities, citizens are realizing that Louisiana's well-earned penchant for dirty politics has exacted a steep price: It has badly damaged the credibility of the recovery effort.

"Frankly, the reputation in Washington is, if we send money down there, it will just get stolen," said political handicapper Charles E. Cook, a Louisiana native who has worked in the nation's capital for more than three decades. "It is a caricature of Louisiana politics that is not entirely undeserved but is grossly exaggerated. No one cared about it much before Katrina. But right now, it's hurting the state enormously."

A major turning point in public attitude came in 2001 when Edwin Edwards, the former four-term Democratic governor, received a 10-year sentence for taking bribes for riverboat gambling licenses. In the last governor's race, both candidates — Democrat Kathleen Babineaux Blanco beat Republican Bobby Jindal — were considered squeaky clean, and promised government reforms. The distaste for dirty government has really picked up momentum since last summer.

"What was tolerated before Katrina is not necessarily tolerated now," said pollster Silas Lee III, a professor at Xavier University here. "Nerves are raw. People have lost their sense of security and direction. They are living a day-to-day existence, and they have little patience for any politician who is perceived as being corrupt."

In addition to Edwards, in the last decade Louisiana has seen an attorney general, a congressman, a state Senate president, a federal judge and countless local officials convicted of corruption. Louisiana's last three state insurance commissioners wound up in prison for offenses that include lying to the FBI, accepting $2 million in illegal campaign contributions and taking bribes — prompting jokes that future candidates should make sure they look good in stripes.

Jim Letten, the U.S. attorney for eastern Louisiana and the lead prosecutor in the Edwards case, sees the convictions as a sign of progress. Wherever he goes, he said, he is greeted by people — black, white, Latino, Asian — who tell him Louisiana needs to clean up its act.

You mean they don't expect the rest of us to clean that up for them too?

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 28, 2006 9:38 AM

Huey Long and his successors were endearing rougues as long as Louisiana could look around and see neighboring southern states were no better off than they were, or even in worse shape because of Lousiaian's oil, gas and petrochemical industries. But like some oil-funded states elsewhere on the globe that undergoes a sudden shock to the system, the people are finding out their government isn't good for much of anything and some of those neighboring states they used to look down on are passing them by.

Posted by: John at January 28, 2006 10:13 AM

That place is a sink-hole in more ways than one.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 28, 2006 10:15 AM

In South Louisiana especially, there are far too many yellow dog Democrats who would vote for Hitler if he came back to life and ran as a Democrat. Until that mindset is broken, nothing much can be done about the "Mexico of the U.S."

Posted by: Marco Gilliam at January 28, 2006 5:20 PM

Speaking of Mexico, maybe Mexicans will fill up the spaces vacated by the chocolate brigade and start voting Republican.

Posted by: erp at January 28, 2006 6:34 PM


Would that make NO a caramel city"?

Posted by: obc at January 28, 2006 7:57 PM

You'll have to ask the mayor. He's in charge of the color chart.

Posted by: erp at January 28, 2006 8:31 PM

If only Nagin had said "the balck licorice city". Then he'd really be stuck.

Posted by: ratbert at January 28, 2006 10:15 PM

somewhere there is a circus with an opening for lead klown...

Posted by: toe at January 28, 2006 10:32 PM

Or perhaps just a village looking for its idiot.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 28, 2006 11:02 PM

ONly took 300 years to wash the city away from the froggie way of doing biz.

Posted by: Sandy P at January 29, 2006 1:41 AM

I'm wondering, gentlemen, if the elderly men in Cameron parish that I saw drag dead cows off the front porches of 100 year old Acadian homes standing hip deep in putrid, chemical-laced water would agree with you about our mini-Mexico. Or perhaps more easily persuaded to accept implicit guilt would be the residents of Lafayette parish, a hotbed of Republican activity and a community rich in tradition and culture who took upwards of 30,000 fellow Louisianians into their homes (yellow as you say they were, after all), businesses and churches with not a red FEMA penny in sight. Their wicked politicians not only suspended city policy and took on debt (not to mention infrastructure wear and tear) to accomodate the aftermath of the hurricane, they did it - gasp! - without the guiding light of the dear, sacred east coasters. And they weren't the only parish to do so.

I'm not denying the history we've tendered (though I'd deny that south Louisiana has anything remotely in common with either north Louisiana, Mississippi or the rest of the south) but enduring the smug comments of non-residents (the vast majority of whom have very little to claim in the way of political innocence but simply lacked the communal charm to pull it off blatantly) is almost unbearable.

You weren't here. You didn't see the heroism we did. You just watch CNN.

Pardon me. I've a sink hole to return to.

Posted by: Celeste at February 2, 2006 11:44 PM

I should add that only residents of a very certain persuasion have abused the charity of gov't coffers. Those of west of Lake Pontchartrain have done what we always do; we picked up, dusted off and started over. (It helps that we have the good sense not to live in floodplains.)

Posted by: Celeste at February 2, 2006 11:48 PM