Blanco wins, prepares to take office in 2004
Movement starts to organize Legislature with picks by new Governor in Baton Rouge

By James Ronald Skains
Journal Correspondent

Kathleen Babineaux Blanco became not only the first woman elected Governor of Louisiana but also the first sitting Lt. Governor to move up to the top spot, although many have tried.

Then-Lt. Governors Jimmy Fitzmorris lost in 1979, Bobby Freeman in 1987, Paul Hardy in 1991, and Taddy Aycock in 1972.

The only two Lt. Governors to move directly into the Governor's chair were Earl K. Long in 1938, when Governor Richard Leche was jailed in the Louisiana LSU corruption scandals, and Jimmy Noe in 1935, who succeeded to office when then Governor O.K. Allen died in office just months before the end of his term.

The closest prior finish by a woman in a Louisiana Governor's race was a close third-place finish in 1995 by now U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, whose brother Mitch Landrieu won election last month as Lt. Governor to succeed Mrs. Blanco.

Mrs. Blanco also broke another trend, being elected as a long-time Democrat on the heels of Republican gubernatorial victories in Mississippi and Kentucky just days earlier, and in other Southern states in recent elections. Her immediate predecessor Mike Foster is a Republican.

Although Republican opponent Bobby Jindal apparently pulled close in the final laps of the race, Lt. Governor Blanco dug in her high heels in the final few days and made it across the finish line first. She used both her track record of accomplishments in the tourist industry as Lt. Governor and the opportunity for the women of Louisiana to help elect one of their own. Their votes helped Blanco to become the first woman Governor of Louisiana pull out a 52-48% winning margin.

Her record shows that as Lt. Governor, Blanco has up-graded the state parks all over Louisiana as well as promoting numerous special events around the state in the last eight years. Blanco also presided over a very ambitious yet highly successful "Louisiana Purchase" 200th anniversary statewide celebration event.

She had previously served as a State Representative from Lafayette Parish and then served as Public Service Commissioner from the Acadiana area of Louisiana before being elected Lt. Governor in 1995.

In the just completed Governor's election, Blanco's hometown base did not respond with overwhelming support. However, she ran strong in most of the rural parishes in the Piney Woods.

Throughout the just completed election, Louisiana Legislative leaders had emphasized that the new governor would face a very independent legislature next spring.

In recent days following her election, Governor-elect Blanco has indicated that she would like to see two veteran North Louisiana legislators in key roles. Apparently, State Representative Joe Salter of Many is the Governor's choice for Speaker of the House and longtime State Senator Noble Ellington of Winnsboro appears to be the favorite to succeed Senator John Hainkel as State President.

Reportedly, Republican Senator Hainkel has offered to switch from the Republican party to the Democratic party to retain his Senate President's position.

Jay Chevalier, longtime participant in Louisiana politics since the days of Earl K. Long and close friend of Governor-elect Blanco told the Piney Woods Journal, "I think that everyone underestimated Kathleen Blanco. Throughout her career, she has always performed better than expected. The mistake that Blanco's opponents made in this election was that they underestimated her tenacity, persistency and intellectual ability to understand people and problems," Chevalier stated. "Her past record shows that she was and is a problem solver in her own right. She left each office, that she has been elected to in better shape than when she took office."

"And look what she has accomplished with the Louisiana Purchase celebration," Chevalier pointed out. "The Louisiana Book Festival which she started in 2002 under the Lt. Governor's office drew over 20,000 people the first Saturday of November of this year with more than a hundred authors and scholars in attendance."

Chevalier states that he expects tourist development to continue to be a major part of Governor-elect Blanco's program in order to produce new jobs into Louisiana. He believes with all the natural tourist attractions across the state, points of interest and historically significant areas, Louisiana could become one giant tourist attraction, bringing jobs and money into the state during Blanco's governorship.

"Under Governor Blanco, Louisiana tourism may be one tremendous economic boom for the state," Chevalier said.

Veteran State Senator Mike Smith of Winnfield, Louisiana, who was re-elected without opposition to his third term in office recently, said he felt the incoming governor is a very likeable, down to earth, and very pretty lady.

"However, I do believe for her to be a really successful governor, she will have to remain conservative," Sen. Smith said. "People don't want to lose any of their services, but at the same time, they don't want things to go liberal. She can't become too liberal with her appointments to office. Those she chooses will need to be in tune with the wishes of the people of the State of Louisiana. Joe Salter would be a good choice for us as Speaker of the House," Sen. Smith said. He pointed out that if Senator Hainkel remains president, they can continue to work with him on the pressing problems facing the state.

Sen. Smith further said he feels Governor-elect Blanco will have to renew some taxes but at the same time find effective ways to deal with the budget problems facing the state.

"As far as projects here in our area," Sen Smith said, " such as the Port DeLuce Reservoir, the Castor Creek Lake project, and the Coochie Brake Preserve, all may be possible depending on budget constraints."

While Northwestern State University remains underfunded in Sen. Smith's opinion, Natchitoches will be able to continue to move forward with their convention center. He stated firmly that he believes the next eight years will be better for Northwestern's financial conditions than the last.

State Representative Jim Fannin who represents Jackson, Bienville, with parts of Winn and Ouachita parishes, spoke with the Journal.

"I think that Governor-elect Blanco will be very fair to us in North Louisiana. She has made numerous trips to the small towns and rural areas of Louisiana and knows firsthand our problems and needs," Rep. Fannin said. He feels working with the new governor will be easy, that she will try to help solve the jobs and health care problems experienced across the state. Governor-elect Blanco is extremely receptive to working to solve North Louisiana's problems, Fannin said.

"Governor-elect Blanco is very aware that the forest industry is the heart and soul of our economy in North Louisiana," Rep. Fannin stated. "Personally, I'm looking forward to working with her. I think the next four years will be good years for the people of Louisiana."

In the final vote tally on November 15, Governor-elect Blanco carried 52 of the 64 parishes in Louisiana with a 52,884 vote victory margin. In 18 of the parishes that are heavily dependent on forest industry, Blanco's margin of victory was 26,611 votes.

An analysis of the parish vote totals indicates that the election was somewhat a rural versus metro election. Candidate Bobby Jindal carried Ascension, Bossier, East Baton Rouge, Jefferson, Lafayette, Livingston, Ouachita, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, and St. Tammany, all parishes considered as metro areas. In some larger parishes such as Terrebonne, Tangipahoa, St. John the Baptist, Lincoln and Caddo, the vote totals were more evenly split although Blanco still carried those parishes as well.