With this being the month of Valentine’s Day and Louisiana being so political, here’s my take on the top 10 political couples of all time. They are listed in ascending order, so no peeking.
10. William C.C. and Eliza. Life was rough in the 1800s, even for the politically prominent. W.C.C. Claiborne, the first territorial governor of Louisiana, faced the scourge of yellow fever as a public official and as a family man. His first wife and daughter died from it. (Politics may have been the culprit: He blamed the deaths on the unhealthy location of the governor’s mansion, which was then on the New Orleans riverfront.) Five years later, his second wife died from the same disease.
9. Chep and Zsa Zsa. A lighter note here. Through the late 1950s, New Orleans Mayor DeLesseps “Chep” Morrison, a widower, dated many glamorous women, and the most notable was bombshell movie star Zsa Zsa Gabor. At the peak of their relationship, the mayor was Gabor’s constant escort. Flowers and letters flowed back and forth. By late 1959, Morrison issued a statement denying rumors of a wedding. The two remained friends.
8. Edwin and Elaine. He was Louisiana’s handsome governor with a reputation for philandering. She endured it as long as she could. Being married to Edwin Edwards at least brought Elaine to a place where few women had entered, the U.S. Senate. After incumbent Allen Ellender died, Edwin appointed his wife to the interim vacancy, saying she was the only person in Louisiana he could trust not to run for a full term. She remained neither senator nor Mrs. Edwin Edwards.
7. Marc and Michelle. Marc Morial was the brash young mayor of New Orleans. Michelle Miller was the attractive TV news reporter. Their nuptials packed the St. Louis Cathedral and represented the merger of power and TV glitz, and their ratings soared.
6. Melinda and John. For four years Melinda and John Schwegmann were the ultimate power couple. She was lieutenant governor, he was a member of the potent public service commission. Sometimes, however, power is short- circuited. She lost her job when she ran unsuccessfully for governor; he was defeated after his district was gerrymandered to favor the Northshore. The grocery store empire was blacked out in the era of corporate takeovers. Still they had their day – and most of all, they’re still Melinda and John.
5. Moon and Verna. Certainly the most politically prolific couple in the state’s history. Former mayor/cabinet secretary/appeals court judge Moon Landrieu and his wife, Verna, produced progeny that includes (to date) a U.S. senator, a lieutenant governor and a judge. To add to the clout at family gatherings, there’s a sister-in-law, Phyllis Landrieu, who’s now a member of the Orleans Parish School Board.
4. Kathleen and Coach. They have the distinction of redefining gender roles at the highest level. Kathleen Blanco is governor; Raymond “Coach” Blanco is the state’s first first gentleman. Remember to use a saucer when serving tea at the mansion, Coach.
3. Hale and Lindy. Hale Boggs was a congressman from New Orleans on the fast track to becoming speaker of the House. Lindy Claiborne Boggs – the second Claiborne to make this list – was his wife and also a skilled political operative. When he disappeared in a plane crash, she was elected to his seat and stayed there for a long, successful career on her own merits. In retirement, she’s still a woman about town. The story continues.
2. Edwin and Candy. She was the beautiful, young second wife who lived two years in the governor’s mansion as first lady and then stood by her man through trials, conviction and federal prison. He was the aged husband who agreed from jail to a divorce. A sad ending – but what a beginning.
1. Earl and Blaze. The governor and the stripper, Earl Long and Blaze Starr. Had they married, she may not have made the most eloquent of first ladies, but she would have attracted more attention than the governor. Earl was no fool. Many years later a movie was made about the couple. He was probably laughing from beyond: No other governor, not even Huey, could say that he had been played by Paul Newman. •