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Maybe You Start with a Good Hotdog

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Thursday, March 20, 2008
Charlotte, North Carolina

MAYBE YOU START WITH THE HOTDOGS

One of the biggest challenges facing Louisiana’s newly elected Governor Bobby Jindal is the challenge of re-instilling pride in the attitudes of many Louisianians. Government can only do so much. But a governor can be a catalyst in raising the public’s expectations.

The whole focus of public accountability and local pride came to mind this past weekend as I was attending the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina. Now I do admit a bit of favorable prejudice towards the Tar Heel State, having graduated from Chapel Hill back in the 60s. And 50 years ago, many observers linked North Carolina and Louisiana as the two southern states with the greatest potential for economic growth and a higher quality of life in the South.

Both states had a strong agricultural base, with tobacco being king in Carolina and both cotton and sugar cane offering farmers a good living in Louisiana. It was textiles in Carolina and oil Louisiana. The two great university presses in the South were located at Chapel Hill and Baton Rouge with major American literary figures concentrated around the two great state universities.

But an economic downturn hit both states in the late 1970s. North Carolina quickly diversified and centered its future economic development on an innovative research triangle that attracted startup businesses all over the state. High oil prices enticed Louisiana to keep the status quo. And things haven’t changed much.

Several Louisiana cities have recently sent groups of business leaders and public officials around the country to observe what seems to be working in other cities. They would do well to make a pilgrimage to Charlotte. Here is what they would find.

One of the first things you notice is the cleanliness, not just in Charlotte, but throughout much of the state. There are exceptions. But by and large, you just don’t see the litter that seems to cover Louisiana.

A few months ago, former Louisiana State Senator Robert Barham was a guest on my radio show. He told the story of his efforts to bring a Japanese automobile plant to Northeast Louisiana. The Senator had picked up the Japanese officials in Shreveport and drove them to the plant site some 20 miles east of Monroe. He and his group made what they thought was a first-rate presentation, but the Japanese decided to go elsewhere. When he followed up the visit to find out why Louisiana was turned down, he was given two reasons. First was the lack of a trained workforce. But just as important, was the liter along highways. He was told: “Your people do not seem to take much pride in keeping their state clean.”

A brand-new monorail system has just opened in Charlotte, traveling throughout the downtown area and linking all the major hotels to the convention center. Congestion throughout the inner city has been greatly reduced and I found it to be a quick and easy way to travel from my hotel to the sports arena. An idea well worth considering, by the city of New Orleans.

Charlotte, as well as a number of other North Carolina cities is in the process of becoming “wired.” Even midsize cities like Winston Salem are installing wireless broadband networks. As one city official told me: “We are trying to differentiate our North Carolina cities from other locations as we are competing for those knowledge — based companies. If your city is not wired up, you’re just not going to be competitive.” As has been written here in several recent columns, internet access, particularly for students statewide, could be the single biggest asset towards moving Louisiana’s lackluster educational system literally giant steps forward.

And what’s all this about hotdogs? Let me confess that I love a tasty, grilled all beef hotdog with chili, mustard and relish on a warm bun. And that’s just what I got at the basketball tournament. Now I’m a regular in Tiger Stadium, the LSU Marivich Center, and the Superdome. And let me tell you, the hotdog comparison is like night and day. At these locations, you get a boiled, shriveled weenie on a cold, often stale bun. Certainly no pride here.

The bottom line, Governor, is that in setting out your new agenda, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are a number of progressive ideas emanating from cities and states all over the country. Many of these ideas will require a major financial investment. But others, like keeping our roadways clean, are simply a matter of instilling a sense of personal responsibility. That’s where pride begins.

And you will particularly make me proud of your efforts if you make it your personal mission to do something about those lousy hotdogs at Tiger Stadium.

******

This week is the 40th anniversary of the massacre of over 500 unarmed Vietnamese villagers by U.S. soldiers at the village of My Lai. It was one of the major low points by American soldiers in the Vietnam War. Many more deaths could have occurred and the story might never have become public if it were not for a Lafayette, Louisiana helicopter pilot named Hugh Thompson.

Colonel Thompson was flying over My Lai and was stunned to look down on the orgy of killing that took place in the village. He told his chilling tale as a guest on my radio show last year. Colonel Thompson landed his helicopter between the villagers being killed and the attacking American troops. He demanded that the random killing stop, and at one point directed the machine guns of the helicopter at the advancing soldiers.

This story was buried for years, and he was instructed by the military to make no comment about the atrocity that took place. He later was allowed to tell his story, and published a best-selling book about the events that transpired. Hugh Thompson, by his actions, was an American hero. As distasteful as the events at My Lai were, Colonel Thompson stood tall for American moral values, and he is one of those leaders for which Louisianians should be proud. He passed away a few months ago.

******

“When you look at a state, it’s like reading the hopes,
aspirations and pride of everyone who built it.”

– Hugh Newell Jacobsen

Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown

2 Responses
  1. Kilroy at Fort Polk

    This was in some respects a good article, Mr. Brown; but I hate to inform you that they don’t play basket-ball at Chapel Hill; only football. KILROY at Ft. Polk

  2. S. W. LeJeune

    Jim: let’s forego the hotdogs all together and just serve andouille dogs. I know it is an acquired taste but considering the amount of adult beverages consumed before and during the games,
    most tiger fans will eat almost anything when the hunger pangs strike.
    And yes, Hugh Thompson was a real hero. Unlike so many others today that lack a moral compass, he “stood up” when it counted. He would be embarrassed, but we should memorialize him in some way here in Lafayette.

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