Kennedy and the Bayou State!
November 21st, 2013
JFK AND HIS SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP WITH
The 34th President of
the United States was assassinated 50 years ago this week under controversial
circumstances that leave a number of questions unanswered to this day. Republicans look to Ronald Reagan as their
ideal. But John Kennedy captured the hearts of the American people like no
other president, before or since. And
from the first stirrings of his efforts to become president, to events that
took place after his death, my home state of Louisiana has had a special place
in the Kennedy legacy.
John Kennedy’s first foray in
building Louisiana relationships began in 1956, during the then young Senator’s
efforts to become the vice presidential candidate on the Adlai Stevenson
ticket. Stevenson had promised the VP
spot to Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver, but didn’t want to offend the Kennedy
patriarch, Joseph Kennedy. So he threw
the nomination open to the convention floor.
As luck would have it, the
Louisiana delegation sat right beside the Massachusetts delegates. John Kennedy and his campaign manager and
brother Bobby became fast convention friends with two senior Louisiana delegates,
Judge Edmund Reggie of Crowley, and my mentor and friend, Camille Gravel from
Alexandria. But the Louisiana delegation
was controlled by Governor Earl Long, and he was firmly committed to Kefauver
for the vice presidential nomination. Long
left the convention early, having given strict instructions to Reggie and
Gravel to support Kefauver.
Despite orders from Ole’ Uncle
Earl, Reggie and Gravel led the whole Louisiana delegation in support of John
Kennedy. Long was furious, since the
rest of the southern states went with Kefauver, the southern candidate. But the efforts by Reggie and Gravel built a
special bond between Louisiana and the Kennedys.
Four years later, when John
Kennedy set his sights on the presidency, he knew his Catholicism would be a
problem. There had never been a catholic president, and Kennedy wanted to
build some initial political bridges in friendly territory. On October 16,
1959, he headed for Crowley, Louisiana, at the invitation of Judge Reggie and
his wife Doris, to be the Grand Marshall of the International Rice
Festival. (A sad side note. Judge Reggie passed away this week at the age
of 87.) One Hundred and thirty thousand
people packed the streets to show their support and affection. There are some marvelous photos taken at the
Rice Festival of the future president, who never wore anything on his head in
public, sporting a hat made from rice.
Following the Rice Festival, it
was on to Baton Rouge, and then to the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans where
Kennedy received similar accolades from the city’s large Catholic population. There was no doubt that Louisiana was in
Kennedy’s corner. After he had become
president, he reminisced that he felt his campaign had really taken off after
his initial foray into the deepest of the deep southern states.
Under the Kennedy presidency, many
Americans throughout the country felt a new wave of optimism, which they referred
to as Camelot. But then came Dallas. An
unstable 24-year-old man with a $21 rifle changed the world. Some historians have written that the Kennedy
assassination caused America to loose its innocence. And sadly, Louisiana ties to Kennedy’s death
emerged. Lee Harvey Oswald was born in
New Orleans, and was active for years in the Crescent City as a pro-Castro
New Orleans District Attorney
Jim Garrison alleged a conspiracy involving a number of Louisianans, and even
the CIA. Garrison exposed contradictions
in the Warren Commission Report, but his witnesses turned out to be unsavory
characters and he was too small a player to take on an alleged international
conspiracy. And by the way, a key member
of the Warren Commission was New Orleans Congressman and House Majority Leader
Hale Boggs. The Louisiana Connections
I knew “Big Jim” (he was 6’ 5”)
well, and shared a locker right beside him at the New Orleans Athletic Club
throughout the investigation and trial. He would often whisper that a new
bombshell was about be revealed and he was certain that he would solve the case
of the century. Jim, as it turned out, was both delusional and paranoid. The case consumed him and he died a few years
later at 70.
So at the beginning of the Kennedy
presidential quest, and at its end, Louisiana was in the mix of history. Both the highs and the lows of the Kennedy mystique
were partially framed by those who loved him and by those who hated him in the
Fifty years later, President
John F. Kennedy is remembered as one of Americana’s most inspiring and creative
presidents. But his story would not be complete without an acknowledgement of
the strong feelings of affection between this popular president and the people
of the deepest of the deep southern states. Louisianans by the thousands were
there for him on his path to the White House from the very beginning. And, tragically, at the end, as well.
"It certainly was one of the most
spectacular political tours I've seen... If I ever had any doubts that Kennedy
should be the nominee, as far as Louisiana was concerned, any other candidate
would be totally unsatisfactory by comparison."
Jim Brown’s syndicated
column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on
websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing
updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear
Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00
am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com
Two Presidential Candidates-One up. One Down!
Thursday, November 14th,
CHRIS CHRISTIE AND BOBBY JINDAL!
During the past month, a number of publications have
profiled potential Republican candidates who could be major contenders for the
2016 presidential nomination. After his
lopsided re-election victory last week, New Jersey Republican Governor Chris
Christie is leading all the major polls.
Surprising to many, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal rarely makes current
lists of viable contenders. It’s been
rough times for Bayou State governors. Jindal’s
approval numbers have plummeted in recent months, and former Governor Edwin
Edwards’ reality show has been cancelled.
Who would have thunk it!
In the past week alone, Time Magazine and The New
York Times have profiled Christie, along with other major
contenders, many who presently serve as governor. The Times headline read: “As
Washington Keeps Sinking, Governors Rise.” In both articles, Christie is
portrayed as a hands-on governor who has an agenda to get things done, and
stays in close contact with other officials in his home state. Jindal was not mentioned in either article.
During the past several years, Jindal has crisscrossed the
country speaking to Republican Party organizations on behalf of numerous
Republican candidates. This week, the Associated
Press reported that Jindal has been out of state for more than two months in
this year alone, for fundraisers, speeches and other campaigns. That’s one day out of every five. This travel does not sit well with his constituents
back home. Jindal’s approval ratings
have dropped to the low thirties, lower than President Obama in the Bayou
Governor Christie was little more than a blip on the
political radar screen three years ago, while Jindal was touted as the fair-haired
boy of the GOP’s conservative future. What
caused one to skyrocket and the other to plummet? One to be the front-runner
for the Republican presidential nomination while the other has been relegated
to carrying on a fight to stay relevant on the national scene?
A number of political observers note that there is a stark
difference in Christie’s and Jindal’s governing styles. A Christie supporter in New Jersey told me
that Christie is a consummate hands-on governor who is engaged at every level
of New Jersey government with Republicans and Democrats alike. “Nothing gets by this guy, and he is really
plugged in to key issues that voters care about.”
The recent Time profile portrays Christie as a
governor who …“has run the Garden State with combustible passion, blunt talk
and the kind of bipartisan deal making that that no one seems to do anymore. He’s a war horse with a temper and a tongue,
the guy who loves his mother and gets things done.” Legislators say Christie is
accessible, and they have no problem getting his ear, whether he finally agrees
with them or not.
The word most used to describe Jindal’s governing style is
“disengaged.” And that comes from friend and foe alike, even from members of
Jindal’s own staff. His key floor
leaders in the legislature rarely speak to him.
In fact, the lieutenant governor and the state treasurer both have said
that they have not talked to the governor in over a year and a half. In his first two years in office, Jindal was
much more available, regularly traveling the state for ribbon cuttings, church
services, and speaking engagements. Then
national ambition set in, and Jindal’s availability was greatly curtailed.
The differences between Jindal policy and Christie policy
are striking. Christie readily accepted
Medicaid expansion funds, saying: “It is the smart thing to do for fiscal and
public health.” Jindal said no to some
$18 billion in federal funds that would cover some 400,000 Louisianans for
years to come. According to Jindal’s own
Department of Health and Hospitals, this federal program would save the state,
some $544 million. And because of
Jindal’s failure to accept these federal dollars, the Rand Corporation, a major
non-profit research organization, says that every person who buys private insurance
coverage, because of cost shifting, will see a jump in their premiums anywhere
from 8 to 10 percent.
In other areas, Jindal has cut funds to higher education by
$800 million, while Christie has increased college funding by $ 750 million. In New Jersey, the governor appoints the
insurance commissioner, and Governor Christie has made insurance reform a major
priority. When I was Louisiana Insurance
Commissioner in the late 1990s, New Jersey had some of the most expensive
insurance costs in the nation, including the country’s highest automobile rates. At that time, Louisiana was in the middle of
the pack nationwide. Today, the roles
have reversed as New Jersey rates have dropped considerably, while Louisiana
leads the nation in high insurance costs.
Do both governors have an Achilles heel? Maybe.
Jindal is short, and as stupid as it sounds, voters generally elect the
taller of two presidential candidates. And
Christie? Well, lets just say it. He’s
fat. He was on the cover of Time
Magazine this week, and the headline was titled; “The Elephant in the
Room.” Double entendre here? Christie will counter that he is “pleasantly
plump,” that he recently had Lap-Band surgery, and that a lot of voters identify
with his efforts to lose weight.
But the real key to Christie’s success is simply that he
shows up and listens. As Peggy Noonan
wrote last week in the Wall Street Journal, “To show up, for Christie,
is to show respect.” Christie says it this way: “You gotta show up regularly,
consistently. And you gotta listen. You can’t always talk at people, you have to
listen. If you show up and let them know
you care about them, they’re willing to give you a chance. People want to be paid attention to.”
Chris Christie may not win the Republican nomination. But right now, he’s leading all the other
wannabes. And he did not build his base
by running from state to state, week in and week out, out giving speeches. He did it by staying home in New Jersey,
listening to his voters, working closely with the legislature, and solving
This is a message that will play well in Louisiana. Come on home Bobby Jindal!
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous
newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see
continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear
Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00
am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.