Former Louisiana Governor Robert Kennon thought he had the issue that would return him to the mansion when he ran for governor again in 1963: He would bash the President.

      Kennon, a conservative who was also a Democrat back in the days when every serious candidate belonged to that party, had served as governor from 1952- '56. Back then governors were not allowed to succeed themselves so he had to sit out a term. The election of '63 gave him an issue. The President, Jack Kennedy, was very unpopular. Central to the local contempt was Kennedy’s advocacy of the Civil Right bill. Back then staunch conservatives, especially in the South, still argued for “states rights” saying that issues such as racial matters were questions for the states to determine and not the federal government. The former governor described the Kennedy brothers as being, “young misguided men.” Former Governor Kennon, in effect, became a one-issue candidate, but it was an issue that packed an emotional wallop: “Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy.” His rhetoric had traction. Early in the campaign the former governor was seen as the front-runner.

      Then there was Dallas.

      Within only a few weeks before the election the object of Kennon’s contempt became a tragic figure. Metaphors of Camelot were evoked in memory of the fallen president whose push for civil rights was largely praised.

      In Louisiana, Robert Kennon’s campaign took a tumble. From down in the pack, an also-ran public service commissioner, John McKeithen, made the runoff against New Orleans Mayor deLesseps Morrison.

      No serious southern politician, in those days, could fully embrace civil rights. Some office-seekers, however, were privately more open minded to it than others. McKeithen represented a new era of southern politician- certainly more moderate on social issues. Middle of the road governors would be elected across the South. (One, Georgia’s Jimmy Carter, would eventually become President.) Voters wanted their state to be more in the mainstream, and less in the back yard.

      Nevertheless, president-bashing would remain a part of state politics, especially, as in the current election, when the president is a Democrat and thus linked by stereotype to big government. That despite the following:

      • Politically, any Democrat elected governor would have to be conservative and would govern over a legislature in which Republicans control both houses.

      • Trying to link the John Bel Edwards’ votes to the President would make mores sense if he was a congressman rather than a member of the state house of representatives.

      • Louisiana’s impressive recovery to date from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita was almost entirely paid for by big government. (While the federal government is blamed for the levees failing, one could imagine how much worse the barriers would have been if the state had had to build them.)

      Truth is unchecked conservatism is as bad as unchecked liberalism. There has to be a healthy tension between the two.

      That still leaves room for real issues rather than to just say, “Obama, Obama, Obama.”     

      Had Robert Kennon offered more imagination and less fear-mongering he might have returned to office. Fairness is a gift to bring to any political campaign.

     

 

                                          –30-

 

BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and at book web sites.