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Monday, June 5th, 2023

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


     We are used to hearing legislators in Washington call each other liars.  Just a few months ago during the President’s State of the Union speech, Congressman Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia jabbed a thumbs down in the president’s direction and yelled “liar” after his comments. “Joe Biden is lying to the American People,” Greene tweeted during the speech.  But all the congressional bantering about lying is small potatoes as compared to what takes place in Baton Rouge at the state capital. The Bayou State has been operating in a dysfunctional manner for years, with a long and colorful history of legislative brawls, viciously partisan debate and charges of lying.

      I was in the middle of such a legislative altercation in my first few months as a Louisiana state senator back in 1972.  A controversial proposal to create a new trade school system was up for final passage in the waning minutes of the legislative session.  I sat next to Senator “Big Jim” Jumonville, who was as brash and tenacious in debate on the senate floor as they come.  He just never took no for an answer.  Jumonville was opposing last minute amendments that would take one of the trade schools out of his district and move it to Baton Rouge.

      The legislation would die if not passed at the stroke of midnight, and the official clock high on the back wall of the senate chamber was ticking away.  With only seconds left, Jumonville pulled off his boot and heaved it at the clock in an effort to stave off the deadline.  He missed.  Off came the other boot as Big Jim hollered out to his colleague at the podium, “You are a liar.”  He then rose back to throw the remaining boot.  I put myself in grave danger by grabbing Jumonville’s arm in an effort to calm him down. He missed the clock a second time, and time ran out.  I don’t think Big Jim ever forgave me.

     And who can forget the Governor Earl Long story of reneging on a promise to a group of south Louisiana constituents? The blow-by-blow account was given to me by my deceased friend, Camille Gravel, who was on Long’s staff and a witness to the Governor’s comments.  Long was reluctant to live up to a campaign commitment, and Gravel inquired as to what he should tell the group.  Without batting an eye, Long told Gravel: “Just tell them I lied.”

     Dutch Morial was Louisiana’s first black legislator, and went on to serve as a judge and two-term Mayor of New Orleans.  With much humor and gusto, Dutch relished telling friends of his first day at the state capitol as a new legislator.  Representatives have seatmates, with their two desks sitting side by side.  As chance would have it, Dutch sat right next to Representative Jesse McLain, who represented an archconservative district in southeast Louisiana that had been a hotbed of Ku Klux Klan activity.

     Now Dutch was from a Creole background and quite light skinned. As Dutch told me years later of that first day “” when he took his seat, Jesse leaned over and whispered: “Where’s that lyin’ N”¦..? (Yes, the N word.)  Dutch said he just smiled, looked around the room for a minute, then leaned over to Jesse, got right up in his face, and said: “You’re looking at him.”   Then he burst out laughing.  A flustered McClain excused himself from the legislature for the rest of the day.

     So as tensions continue to mount up in the nation’s capital, tell those congressmen from other states that they are playing softball with their interparty scrabbling. If they want to learn how to experience real hardball politics, they can certainly find a “learning experience” here in Louisiana.  We have plenty of political lyin’, cussin’ & discussin’, fumin’ and fightin’ going on in the deepest of the deep southern states.  Maybe it’s in the roux or the Tabasco sauce.  But it’s always lively here when Louisiana politics is involved. So just come on down.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownla.com. You can also listen to his regular podcast at www.datelinelouisiana.com.



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