Winnfield opens Civic Center with "Hall" event
Renovated forestry building is modern, ready to serve for years into the future

By Tom Kelly
Editor and Publisher

A more auspicious "grand opening" for the newly renovated and remodeled Winnfield Civic Center could hardly be imagined than the 2005 Louisiana Political Hall of Fame Induction held on Saturday night, January 29.

Inside the handsome new interior, warm wood colors shone from the overhead vaulted ceiling, supported by a series of massive laminated wood beams which span the length of the auditorium for an uninterrupted view from end to end and side to side. A draped stage is crowned by a copy of Winnfield's trademark "Three Governor" logo, and every facility from completely audible sound system, to spacious kitchen and serving area to modern rest rooms make the facility one for the community to grow into over many years into the future--a far cry from the long-outmoded almost 40-plus year old Forestry Building which defied every effort to conduct meetings large or small in which speakers could be heard, with or without sound amplification.

The new facility was also equal to the A-list crowd of guests and inductees: A sitting U.S. Senator. A State Department Ambassador. A former foreign country first-lady. A retired White House U.S. Secret Service agent. Several others, more of which later.

One "first" which was not mentioned in our hearing during the 2005 ceremony, but which rates notice: The Long political family--including two governors, several U.S. Congress members, state legislators, and other lesser officials, several of whom are on the Hall of Fame roll of honor--may not be in danger of losing their numerical leadership in the Hall, but they do appear to have a strong second-place challenge from the Boggs family.

U.S. Representative Hale Boggs of New Orleans was in the first class inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993, taking his place in the initial draft with six Louisiana governors, plus senators and other legislators.

The following year, his widow, Lindy Boggs, was inducted, having been elected to fill his place in the Congress and serving until her retirement when she was then appointed as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican. In the 2005 draft, their daughter, Barbara Boggs Sigmund, born in New Orleans in 1939, was inducted. The late Mrs. Sigmund carved out a political career of her own, including both elective and appointive positions in Washington DC, and New Jersey, where she resided with her husband.

Mrs. Sigmund was elected in 1972 to the Princeton, NJ Borough Council, and in 1975 to the Mercer County Board of Freeholders. As a county official she led efforts to establish one of the first shelters for battered women in New Jersey. During a 1982 run for the U.S. Senate in which she placed second, she was discovered with eye cancer, necessitating the complete removal of her left eye. She was elected mayor of Princeton in 1983 and in 1987, and in 1989 was a runnerup in the Democratic primary for Governor of New Jersey. She served as Mayor until her death from a recurrence of the cancer in October, 1990. Last month she became the third member of the Boggs family inducted into the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame.

For the second consecutive year, a sitting major United States Senator was among the Hall of Fame crowd, this time as an honoree. (Last year, Massachusetts' senior Senator Ted Kennedy attended for the induction of his father-in-law, Crowley Judge Edmund Reggie.)

Republican senior Alaska U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, currently serving as chair of the Commerce and Transportation Committee, was added to the Louisiana political pantheon as a Friend of Jimmie Davis.

As a member of the U.S. Senate for over 35 years, Sen. Stevens was a personal friend of Governor Jimmie Davis of Jonesboro, a fan of his music, and a host for Gov. Davis during his appearance at the Kennedy Center concert in Washington. During his acceptance speech, Sen. Stevens recalled being together with Ronald Reagan, then a Hollywood actor, and Governor Davis, who had also been a successful movie actor. Reagan, then considering a run for the California governorship, asked Davis for advice on a political campaign for the California position.

Following his acceptance, Sen. Stevens joined his introducer, Theodore (Ted) Jones and the Jimmie Davis Band and the Gene King band in a trio singing the trademark Davis song, "You Are My Sunshine," with audience participation on the choruses.

Stevens currently also serves as president pro-tempore of the U.S. Senate, is a former Senate Whip, is immediate past chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and current chair of the Commerce and Transportation Committee.

One of the event's most engaging draftees was Robert W. Bates, who today owns and operates a commercial horticultural nursery at Forest Hill, Louisiana. Bates, a Louisiana native, graduate of Northwestern State University at Natchitoches, applied and was accepted in 1965 as a member of the United States Secret Service, posted to duty at the White House during the administration of President Lyndon Johnson.

Tall, trim, handsome, and bearing a slight physical resemblance to movie star Clint Eastwood, one of whose film roles was an aging Secret Service agent on duty with the presidential White House detail, Bates could have gone on and on with stories about the up close and personal quirks and pranks of Presidents Johnson, Ford, Nixon, and other high-up notables for whom he provided security during his career. Among his details were security for the Johnson and Nixon children while they were in college, for President Johnson on domestic and foreign trips, and with Nixon, including his 1972 trip to China. He also provided security for Vice President Spiro Agnew, former First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and a number of foreign heads of state. He finished his Secret Service career in 1976 as Agent in Charge of the Shreveport, Louisiana field office. He retired with his wife and children to Forest Hill, where he operates Robert Bates Nursery, in the commercial nursery complex south of Alexandria.

Bates told of being raised by a single mother in "a shotgun house with a dirt floored kitchen," and had praise for the dedication of men and women, "just people, like you and me," who find themselves in high political office with responsibilities and commitment for the care and security of our country. Robert Bates is the kind of guy who makes you proud to salute the flag.

All the Hall of Famers are special, but the only foreign head-of-state to be inducted so far is Carlos Flores, the former President of Honduras in Central America. Ex-president Flores was not present at the induction, and was represented by his wife, Mary Flake Flores, the former Honduran First Lady, who was also a recipient of Hall of Fame honors. Seņor Flores remained in Honduras to campaign for their daughter, who is a candidate for the national Senate in elections due shortly.

Carlos Flores received a BS degree in industrial engineering from LSU in 1971, and a BS degree in 1973. It was at LSU that he met Mary Flake, a native of Memphis, Tennessee, who grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and earned a Bachelor of Science in marketing and textiles at LSU. They married in 1973 and moved to Honduras, where Seņor Flores was elected President of the country in 1997, on a platform to improve trade and tourism between Louisiana and Honduras. He is a newspaper owner, and a past president of the Congress in Honduras. He has been named an Honorary State Senator of Louisiana and an Honorary Cajun.

Mrs. Flores is known in Honduras for her humanitarian efforts, having served as president of over 20 humanitarian and cultural foundations. She is the second person to receive the Diet Eman Humanitarian annual award, given in honor of a Dutch nurse who during World War II risked her life to protect thousands of Jews hunted by the Nazis.

Eddie J. Jordan, Jr., admitted that his high-water mark as the first African-American U.S. Attorney in Louisiana history just about earned him a ticket to California--or, just about anywhere not in Louisiana, from the partisans of former Governor Edwin W. Edwards, whom he successfully prosecuted on charges relating to gambling casino licenses.

Jordan, born in 1952 in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, grew up in the Pontchartrain Park neighborhood in New Orleans. From there, he attended Wesleyan University and Rutgers University School of Law on academic scholarships, and in 1981 became a law professor at Southern University.

From 1984 to 19897 he served as Assistant U.S. Attorney under U.S. Attorney Paul Volz. In 1994, President Bill Clinton named his U.S. attorney in New Orleans, the first of his race in Louisiana history. While serving as U.S. Attorney, his office investigated, indicted, and ultimately convicted the former Governor, who had been tried and acquitted on different federal charges by former Attorney Volz. Subsequently, Jordan was elected District Attorney of New Orleans, the position he now holds.

During his acceptance speech at the Hall of Fame induction in Winnfield, Jordan said that during the time leading up to and including the Edwards trial, he was not universally popular in New Orleans, where the former Governor had strong political support. He said he received several pointed messages indicating he should plan to leave the state if Edwards were convicted. However, he won election as District Attorney, and maintains strong support. Jordan said the State of Louisiana is getting better, and urged citizens to continue to oppose corruption in public office.

When J. Curtis Joubert, the former Mayor of Eunice, Louisiana, was introduced for his Hall of Fame award, it appeared that approximately a third of the audience rose for a spontaneous standing ovation. Joubert acknowledged that "half of Eunice came up here," indicating that his support was home folks proud to see a native son honored.

Joubert is a native of Lawtell in St. Landry Parish. He received the BS and Master's Degrees from University of Southwestern Louisiana at Lafayette. He was an educator before entering politics, elected as Mayor of Eunice in 1981. Elected three times to that post, he later was elected as State Representative for St. Landry, and then as Public Service Commissioner and on the Board of Trustees for Colleges and Universities. He was a chief organizer of the Louisiana Tourism Commission's FrancoFete, and worked in the planning for the Louisiana Purchase Celebration in 2003. A native Cajun French speaker, Joubert has traveled to many countries, including France, on behalf of Louisiana, and has spoken French at the palace of Versailles. "They knew what I was talking about," he said.

Hall of Fame distinction was made posthumously to William (Bill) Lynch, the former investigative newspaper reporter who later served as Louisiana's first Inspector General.

Lynch worked for newspapers in Shreveport and New Orleans, and became known statewide for his tenacious reporting on corruption in the State. Politicians often feared his reporting, but respected his commitment to digging out allegations of corrupt or questionable practices.

Governor Buddy Roemer appointed him as the state's first Inspector General, with the power to investigate on behalf of the government. He was continued in the post by Governor Edwin Edwards, and continued in the position until his death in 2004.

His award was acknowledged by his son, who said his father was "the nicest and best man I ever knew."

Francis Thompson is the co-dean of the Louisiana House of Representatives, having been elected in 1975. He was been reelected since, and will continue until term limits end his career in 2008.

Thompson has served as chair of the House Agriculture Committee, Legislative Auditor Advisory Review Council, House Special Committee on Homeland Security, Enrollment Committee, and the Rural Caucus.

Prior to entering state politics, Thompson served on the Richland Parish School Board from 1968 to 1975.

During his acceptance, Thompson related humorous stories about members of the Legislature, and said that one of his big surprises in State service was learning that the political Longs were not all bad, despite his family's conservative anti-long positions during his childhood. This realization came, he said, from his friendship with Rep. Jimmy Long, a Winnfield native who served from Natchitoches parish for many years, retiring four years ago with the longest record of service of any member at the time.

The special award for Louisiana's Young Political Leader was made to Tracy Young, a native of Euless., Texas, graduate of LSU in political science, and press assistant in the Republican National Committee in Washington DC. Inn January 2001 she joined the staff of President George W. Bush's White House, assisting with Presidential media events on the White House grounds. She has been Associate Director of Communications at the White House since 2003, directing domestic policy communications.

Friends of Earl K. Long awards were made to Benjamin Clyde Bennett, Jr., retired Judge of the 12th Judicial District of Louisiana, and Ben T. Grant, retired Justice of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Texas, and author of "The Kingfish," a one-man play about the life of Huey P. Long.