"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy, when skies are gray"
-- Former Louisiana Governor Jimmy Davis
As Mitch Landrieu won an overwhelming re-election as Mayor of New Orleans, a thought kept running through my head.
Is this the end of the "colorful" Louisiana politician?
I've followed Louisiana politics from a perch in Kentucky since my high school days 35 years ago. Although I have long been fascinated with the populism and style of Huey Long in the 1930s, most of my interest has been for the same reason that I watch professional wrestling: for the entertainment value.
Along with Huey, who was colorful and incredibly effective, you also had his brother Earl, who was just colorful. Then you had four terms of Edwin Edwards, who was somewhat effective, extremely colorful and spent a long stretch in prison for some of the things he did as Governor. Along the way, you would read about politicians hiding money in th2eir freezer and even a former Ku Klux Klan member briefly elected to the Louisiana legislature.
Mitch Landrieu's predecessor as Mayor was Ray Nagin. He is currently on trial in federal court for corruption charges.
Even if they weren't crooked, Louisiana seemed to pick leaders for reasons other than their executive ability. Jimmy Davis served two terms as Governor on the strength of his hit song, "You Are My Sunshine," which he would perform as he went from campaign stop to campaign stop.
A lot of fun, but as a businessman, they did not look like people who I wanted to be running any place where I had a home or employees.
Since my wife was chosen to be President of the oldest all girls school in the United States based in New Orleans last July, I've done a crash course in studying modern Louisiana. One of my first sources was an ex-bureaucrat, who kept saying, "that is how we do things down here."
Well, maybe that doesn't work anymore.
I've gotten involved and interested (see my disclaimers at the end) in starting to develop a working theory: That Louisiana is becoming more interested in competence and less interested in "how we've always done it."
There are many reasons the Edwin Edwards reality show flopped. One would be that people aren't as interested in that kind of silliness anymore.
When you get to the top level of Louisiana politics, you have Mayor Landrieu and his sister Mary, up for election in his fourth term in the United States Senate. On the Republican side, you have Senator David Vitter, who just announced that he is running to replace Bobby Jindel as Governor.
None of them are ever going to have their own reality show. Not unless you want pictures of them sitting at their desks crunching paperwork.
They are as different politically as night and day and Vitter has a scandal in his past, but none of them are accused of stealing anything or playing the kind of "good old boy" politics that Louisiana had been infamous for.
Mary, the only female senator from south of the Mason-Dixon line, and Jindel, a former Rhoades Scholar with an Indian-American background, are as far from the stereotype as you can get.
Landrieu ran for reelection with a string of commercials that could easily be mistaken for a Chamber of Commerce fundraising drive. They touted the growth in the economy, the drop in the murder rate and the idea that New Orleans has come back from the damage of Hurricane Katrina ready to kick into a high gear.
His primary opponent was a polite and well-educated judge, who tried to point out that not every segment of the community was participating in the growth, but was never able to light a fire amongst the activists needed to get momentum going.
New Orleans was blessed with a good run for Mayors in recent history. I've gotten to know Mitch's father Moon Landrieu and he is more an intellectual than a backslapper. Moon served two terms as Mayor where he desegregated employment in city government and went on to serve in President Jimmy Carter's cabinet.
Moon has nine children, 37 grandchildren, but only one wife. No reality show for him.
Moon was followed by "Dutch" Morial, who broke the color barrier and later Dutch's son Marc, who is currently head of the national Urban League. The Morial's were successful in attracting and keeping Fortune 500 businesses and economic development. Things seemed to be hopping. Follow them with some mediocre leaders and Ray Nagin and New Orleans started from ground zero.
The voters of New Orleans told us that they like the way that Mitch Landrieu is focused on bringing the city to a different place, with the focus being on business instead of backslapping.
When you look at the current lineup of leadership, what they are saying over and over is goodbye to the good old boy way of doing things.
(Disclaimer: Mary Landrieu, like her mother, sisters and various other family members, is an alumnus of the Ursuline Academy, where my wife serves as President. I've gotten to know many members of the Landrieu family in the past few months and donated $501 to attend a fundraiser for Mitch Landrieu. I've also gotten to know Judge Monique Morial, who is a graduate of Ursuline and the daughter/sister of the former Mayors. David Vitter's wife is also an Ursuline graduate. )
Don McNay, www.donmcnay.com, is a best-selling author, commentator and annuity consultant who lives in both Lexington, Kentucky and New Orleans.