Blanco heads list for Hall of Fame induction

By James Ronald Skains
Journal Correspondent

The first Lady Governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Lafayette, headlines the 2006 Political Hall of Fame inductees to be officially enshrined at the February 4 banquet in Winnfield, Louisiana.

Governor Blanco, like two of the other honorees, Cecil Picard and Victor Stelly began her odyssey in politics from an initial career in education.

Governor Blanco was an educator before being elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1978 from Lafayette Parish. She was vice-chairman of the House Education Committee before seeking the office of Lt. Governor in 1995.

As Lt. Governor she invigorated the Department of Cultural, Recreation and Tourism. She also oversaw the largest expansion of the State Parks system in Louisiana history which brought the parks system to a competitive level with surrounding states.

Shreveport native Charles "Charlie" Cook is one of the most influential non-elected personalities in Washington, D.C. Cook edits and publishes a book on national politics that is considered the "Bible" of politics inside the D.C. beltway. Cook's Political Report contains detailed information on all members of Congress along with their voting records.

David Broder, a well known national political commentator describes Cook as, "perhaps the best non-partisan tracker of political trends in America today."  For twelve years Cook wrote for the prestigious "Roll Call" newspaper and currently writes for "Congress Daily AM" as well as the "National Journal." The Shreveport native has reached the status of true Washington DC "insider" and political consultant.

Also, being inducted in the class of '06 is the current President of the Louisiana State Senate, Senator Don Hines. Hines began his career as a medical doctor in his hometown of Bunkie with a family practice in 1966. He still practices medicine during his off-time from his duties as Senate President which have been considerable since August 29, 2005.

A graduate of Bunkie High School in the late-50's, Hines then served a four year hitch in the U.S. Navy from 1959 to 1963 before entering the University of Southwest Louisiana (now ULL) pursuing a pre-Med degree. From USL, Hines entered LSU Medical School where he earned his degree before moving back to Bunkie.

His first stint in politics was as a twenty-one year member of the Avoyelles Parish School Board from 1972 to 1993, when he was elected state senator in District 28. Governor Blanco selected Hines as President of the Louisiana Senate when she took office in 2004.

Cecil Picard, a native of Vermillion Parish and a former teacher and principal, is the current appointed Louisiana Superintendent of Schools. He began his public service as a state representative in the Edwards era. He then became a three term State Senator representing Vermillion and Acadia parishes before being named the third appointed Superintendent of Louisiana Schools, after decades of the position being a state-wide elective office.

Picard, the former chairman of the Senate Education Committee was first appointed superintendent by Governor Mike Foster and was re-appointed by his friend and former colleague, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco in 2004.

Another former educator in the Hall of Fame class 2006 of is Victor "Vic" Stelly. Stelly, a teacher and coach from 1962 thorough 1974 was first elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1988 after serving four years on the Calcasieu Parish School Board.  Stelly, a Zachary High School graduate, earned his first college degree from Northwestern State University before pursuing graduate degrees at LSU and McNeese State University.

For twenty-five years, Stelly also operated an insurance and real estate firm in Moss Bluff just north of Lake Charles.  Politically, Stelly is best known for authoring the "Stelly Tax Plan" which eliminated state taxes on food, drugs, and utilities. To offset this loss of state tax revenue, state income taxes were raised under the Stelly Plan. Stelly's political works are preserved in his "papers" housed at McNeese State University.

Another 2006 Hall of Fame member is the late Secretary of State W. Fox McKeithen, the son of the legendary Hall of Fame member and former Governor John McKeithen. Fox, as he was widely known during his 58 years tragically made headlines in 2005 due to a fall at his home in Baton Rouge that left him paralyzed. Although he was determined to return to his office which was effectively run by his First Assistant Al Ater during months of rehab, it was not meant to be.  After one lung collapsed and a bout with pneumonia, Fox was confined to a life of being kept alive with a ventilator. 

With the impending collapse of a second lung and the onset of a second bout with pneumonia, Fox McKeithen courageously made the decision that life under those conditions was not something that he chose to endure.  After several meetings with his family and close friends, he made the decision to have his life support systems disconnected.

He gave the order himself to have the systems disconnected with the words, "let 'er rip." Fox's first elected office was that of state representative from Caldwell Parish, the home town of both himself and Governor McKeithen. Fox was as flamboyant as he was politically savvy.

Fox was a music lover and a part-time crooner and recording artist who organized and produced for several years a state wide tour of Louisiana musicians that he dubbed, "The Louisiana Cavalcade of Stars."  Although  he relished the idea of some day following in the footsteps of his famous father and becoming Governor of Louisiana, that opportunity never presented itself before his untimely death.

The last inductee in the class of 2006 Hall of Fame is late former State Senator Sylvan Friedman of Natchez, Louisiana who represented Natchitoches and the central Louisiana Red River valley in the State Senate for many years. Friedman was a contemporary of Earl K. Long and ate numerous meals of cornbread, greens, sweet potatoes and buttermilk with "Uncle Earl" in the old Governor's mansion.

For several years of his tenure as State Senator, Friedman  had a room reserved at the old Governor's Mansion and was a late night "political talking companion" for former Governor Earl K. Long. Although he lived in the small farming community of Natchez, a few miles south of Natchitoches on highway One, Senator Friedman was a staunch supporter of Northwestern State University.  The Student Union building on the NSU campus is named in his honor for his many contributions and help to the University that he loved.

Receiving the 2006 "Friends of Earl K. Long Award" is Earl's longtime House of Representatives floor leader, cigar chomping Willard L. Rambo. The award will be accepted by his widow, Mary Long Rambo.  Rambo was a WWII Army Air Corp veteran of the China-Burma theatre before he came home to Georgetown and embarked on a career as an oilman.

He joined forces in marriage with Mary Long, a member of the politically active Long Family and in 1952 was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives where he served until 1960.  He was elected to the State Senate in 1964 and served through 1968.  His love for airplanes rubbed off on his wife Mary and she became a pilot of renown in her own right, entering coast to coast solo flying derbies called the "Powder Puff Derby."

Rambo and his wife Mary also launched a long running Saturday night Rodeo in the town of Georgetown that became an area wide attraction giving many of the younger generation of that day something to see and do in rural Grant Parish.

Perhaps the most compassionate elected official in Louisiana in recent times is the recipient of the "Friends of Jimmie Davis Award." Senator B.G. Dyess of Rapides Parish was an appointed official in the parish before retiring and seeking the office of State Senator. From an early age, Dyess was an ordained Minister preaching in numerous rural churches throughout central Louisiana.

While a State Senator, Dyess was a member of the Louisiana Integral Action Council for the Homeless. Before, during, and after his Senatorial career he has worked tirelessly on this cause.  He did not seek re-election in 2003 due to the ill health of his wife.

Also on the agenda of the February 4 event in Winnfield is The Jimmie Davis Band under the direction of its many talented director, Theodore L. "Ted" Jones. Jones is a member of the "Thumb-pickers Hall of Fame" in Muhlenberg Kentucky.  The Northwestern State University graduate and native of Tifton, Georgia has honorary degrees from both Nichols State University and Northwestern, is a 1963 graduate of University of Mississippi Law School.

Jones was a Jimmie Davis confidant of many years, the Chief of Staff for former Congressman Speedy O. Long during the 1960s and now moves easily through the political circles in Huey P. Long's state capitol in Baton Rouge and the Halls of Congress in Washington, DC. Jones, in his long political career has provided counsel to Governors, Congressmen, U.S. Senators, and presidential candidates.

However, Jones' first love is picking an old guitar which he and the other members of The Jimmie Davis Band will do during the Political Hall of Fame Induction banquet on Saturday evening, February 4, 2006 in Winnfield, Louisiana.