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 Marxist.
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 abound.
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 Bayou State.
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.
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 State.
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 numerous problems.
This is a message that will play well in Louisiana. Come on home Bobby Jindal!
Has the final shoe dropped on Louisiana insurance policyholders who are seeing their insurance costs skyrocket, and who continue to pay the highest insurance costs in America? Can it get any worse? Well, I hate to tell ya, but yes it can, and it will.
Louisiana representatives at several levels of government are scurrying to cover themselves from mounting criticism of these rapidly rising insurance rates. In almost every area of insurance coverage, the Bayou State leads the country with the highest costs and the greatest increases.
The rising cost of insurance premiums has driven a number of companies out of Louisiana in recent years. But now, the cost for all types of insurance has grown so dramatically that the average family is being forced to consider whether they can continue to live in the deepest of the deep southern states.
Obamacare has become a major embarrassment and detrimental campaign issue for Senator Mary Landrieu. She is in the fight of her career in her efforts to be re-elected in 2014, and now, all the problems with its implementation have ensnared her in a shower of criticism.
When Obamacare was implemented, Landrieu told her fellow senators -- “Those individuals who like the coverage they already have will be able to keep their current plan. This is a very accurate description of the bill before us.” Now we find out that this is not true. Also, she is bogged down defending a program that can’t even get the computers up and running. The senator will be facing some tough questioning by her constituents right up to next year’s election day.
Her main Republican opponent, Congressman Bill Cassidy, has his own problems, being criticized by a much more conservative Republican candidate, Colonel Rob Mannes, for having proposed “Obamacare Light” when he was a member of the Louisiana State Senate. Manes has strong Tea Party support and he will no doubt keep Cassidy on the defensive in the months to come.
Then there’s the property insurance debacle that has caused so much hardship on so many Louisiana property owners. Every member of the current Louisiana congressional delegation as well as state insurance officials were caught off guard by their failure to oppose federal legislation that will cause a massive increase in the cost of flood insurance for Louisiana property owners. Some premiums have been pegged by the news media to increase by as much as 3000 percent.
The members of congress were caught napping and let an extremely damaging law slip though the cracks. A last ditch effort by Gulf Coast legislators to delay implementation of the new law has been an uphill fight since it’s being strongly opposed by the insurance industry. You see, insurance companies handle any claims that are made on a percentage of the premium charged, so the higher the premiums, the more the insurance company makes.
If you live in a Louisiana flood zone, get ready for a big jump in your insurance costs. Every property owner will also get stuck with continuing assessments because of the outright negligence of Citizens Property Insurance, the state-run company that’s been a finance disaster for the state from day one. Several recent court decisions will force the state fund to pay out close to $150 million in damages for failing to pay claims due after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Since they do not have the money in reserve, guess who will have to pay? Private insurance companies paid their claims on time. But the ineptitude of the state run company will cause Louisiana owners to get stuck with the $150 million tab.
Property insurance rates charged by private companies ought to be decreasing. And they are in many states. HomeonwnersInsurance.com reports that the average home insurance policy nationwide is $875, and has dropped since 2012. And it makes sense. After all, there have been no major storms in years, and the cost of re-insurance bought by insurance companies has been steadily dropping. A national publication, The Insurance Insider, reports that home insurance “rates are down on an average of 15-20 percent.” Yet in Louisiana, rates continue to rise and are more than 10% higher than the cost in Florida.
How about auto insurance costs. Any good news there? Nope! The New York Times reported earlier this year that Louisiana continues to lead the nation in having the highest annual premiums at $2,700. No other state in the South comes close. If you live in industrialized New Jersey, the cost is $1,697. In New York, on average, you would pay only $1,369.
Is there anything Louisiana elected officials can do about these soaring costs? Of course. First, begin talking about this serious problem. In the past few years, in Louisiana, virtually no public officials, from members of congress, the Governor, the legislature, or the insurance department, have discussed the problem. Property and auto rates have no pre-approval like they are required to have in most other states. Companies can charge pretty much whatever they want.
A serious study of other states with lower rates will determine a host of suggestions that could lower insurance costs in Louisiana. I’ve written extensively about what common sense solutions should be put in place in past columns, and I will offer a litany of suggestions in the near future.
But when all is said and done, it comes down to commitment. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be much of a will by the elected officials who could make a difference.