Some of our readers are New Orleans-lovers and others are displaced citizens who yearn for home, while a few just find the doings of this banana republic fascinating. This one is for you.
Today, Sunday, the Times-Picayune ran a feature on Dr. Ed Renwick who is retiring from Loyola University’s Institute of Politics after four decades of commenting on the local political scene. In 1967, Ed came to New Orleans to work on his doctorate–on the “Long” dynasty, which covers Huey, Earl, and Russell–and ended up staying.
For a political junkie, he says, Louisiana is Heaven. “We’re so divided in Louisiana–by ethnicity, by race, by religion, by language, by geography. You have the French and the non-French, the Catholics and the Protestants, North and South, black and white, liberal and conservative. Having all these different forces makes the politics lively. It’s never boring here.”
Most state governments, Renwick points out, are rather weak. But not us. “We come out of the French and Spanish traditions of absolute monarchy, and on top of that, we’re Catholic.”
The state collects royalties from the oil and gas produced in the state and that adds up to a neat sum. Renwick says it’s like a fountain of money pouring in.
“We have a very strong governor. The whole system is kind of monarchical. We elect kings.”
Staff writer Elizabeth Mullener played a little game with Dr. Renwick, tossing names of various state political leaders to him for his take. The result was memorable. In fact, my hunch is only the fact that he is retiring liberated him to go on record with some of these blunt comments.
Congressman Bill Jefferson: “Here’s a person who had a great career going for him, and, if these things are true that are alleged, he just threw it all away. I don’t know how he possibly could have thought he’d get away with it forever. It just astounds me.”
Robert Cerasoli, New Orleans’ Inspector General: “A good guy, a competent person. I think he’s had a tougher time than he thought. He finally got his telephone turned on, I see. But I don’t think he’s got his computers yet. This is just grade-school-type harassment. Just horrible. Some things never change in New Orleans.” (See my comments on Cerasoli from the June 28, 2008, article “Firing Our Leaders–When and If.”)
Ed Blakely, the city’s recovery director: “Blakely is an impressive fellow–much more impressive one-on-one than he is on TV. He certainly has a big ego, which I think at times is a problem. But overall, I think he’s a good guy, very knowledgeable, very smart. Like everyone else, though, he had never run into anything like Katrina. Nobody could solve a problem of that magnitude in a short period of time. It’s simply impossible. I think we expect greater things from him than it’s realistic to expect.”
Ray Nagin, the mayor: “He’s a hands-off type mayor and this is not the right time for a hands-off mayor. If you’re going to be hands-off, you’d better have an extremely large and competent staff, because if you’re not doing the nitty-gritty, somebody else has to. It seems to me he doesn’t have enough competent people working for him.”
Bobby Jindal, our governor: “So far, he’s been kind of disengaged, which surprises me. That’s not the way Louisiana governors usually are. They usually take a very active part. A governor really has to lead in this state. It’s very oriented toward the governor being the leader and being out front–wheeling and dealing behind the scenes, then presenting a policy. So far, he doesn’t seem to be doing it that way. But he’s hardly ever been an elected public official before–just a couple of years in Congress. The positions he’s held were mostly in the bureaucracy, and a bureaucrat is supposed to do the work and keep his mouth closed.”
Mary Landrieu, our Democratic senator: “She’s up for re-election, and I think she’ll probably win. She’s done a good job, particularly since Katrina–and there haven’t been that many people who have done a good job since Katrina. The closet would be very small.”
David Vitter, our Republican senator: “I’ve never been able to comprehend how he could do something so stupid. It defies imagination. The chances of him getting caught were very good. I think he’s a pretty good politician. He thinks very politically. He makes the right political moves–with one great exception.” (He refers to Vitter’s admitted relationships with prostitutes in Washington and perhaps New Orleans.)
And lastly, his takes on the last three governors of Louisiana, most recent first….
Kathleen Blanco: “I think she’s a decent, honest person, which is a lot to say for a Louisiana politician. She was in an extremely difficult situation. She never should have gone on national television after Katrina. Everything was in chaos. I think it hurt her and framed her for the rest of her term. It was a major blunder. As time went on, she did better. But first impressions are extremely important.”
Edwin Edwards: “The most talented politician of my era here, although he used his talents in some strange ways. Knowing everything about state and local government, knowing all the players and what made them tick, being able to put compromises together–nobody was better than him. They say he never went to bed at night without having returned all his phone calls. Many politicians cannot say that. Many non-politicians cannot say that. It was one of the secrets of his success. It meant that he spent hours a day on the phone–every day. But he almost always got what he wanted out of the Legislature–and almost always out of the voters.” (Our only four-term governor, Edwards is serving a sentence at a federal prison for racketeering. When licenses for casinos were being handed out in Louisiana in the mid-1990s, his support was available for a price.)
Buddy Roemer: “The most disappointing politician in recent Louisiana history. His ego just got completely out of control. He didn’t return his phone calls. He got into fights with legislators. And politicians felt his staff didn’t treat them well. That’s not a wise move.”
Remember the old Willie Sutton line? Asked why he robbed banks, he said, “That’s where the money is.” Ed Renwick picks up on that and says, “Who’s rich in this state? The government. That’s why we always go to the state for everything.” And, that’s why “they’re robbing the state–because that’s where the money is.”
Stay with us, Dr. Renwick. We will be needing your insight for a long time to come. Thanks for four decades of excellent insight and professional analysis.