Politics, Louisiana Style

Angus Lind recalls colorful Louisiana politicians and other assorted characters, and a few memorable quotes from the state’s history.

In a state that has produced state legislators, two governors, and politicians and political hacks nicknamed Speedy, Sixty, Pappy, Bubba, Puggy, Buster, Taddy, Black Cat, Uncle Earl and The Kingfish, Louisiana politics and politicians were, are and continue to be legendary, their quotes ranging from entertaining to hilarious to outrageous.


Fair Grounds Racetrack publicist, handicapper and boxing promoter Allen “Black Cat” LaCombe in 1959 on a dare from cronies at Curley’s Neutral Corner bar, ran for governor under the campaign slogan “Run the Squirrels out of Office — Keep the State Safe for the Nuts.” An Irish Channel character with a “dese” and “dose” Yat accent, LaCombe was originally from Echo, a small town in Avoyelles Parish. Incredibly, he once taught a handicapping course at Tulane night school in hallowed Gibson Hall. But he would finish seventh in a heavyweight field of nine to a former governor, Jimmie Davis, the “Singing Cowboy” of “You Are My Sunshine” fame, who spent more time singing than politicking.

In 1969 an eccentric gambler with deep pockets, Rodney “Get the Gorilla” Fertel, ran for mayor of New Orleans, promising he would get a gorilla for the Audubon Zoo if elected. He didn’t come close. Still he went to Singapore and got two gorillas for the zoo.

Long dogged by corruption charges, colorful Cajun lightning rod Edwin Edwards spent 16 years as the governor of Louisiana. In his last election in 1991 he faced Klansman David Duke. Bumper stickers everywhere said, “Vote for the Crook — It’s Important.” On election day in 1983 against Republican David Treen, Edwards famously told reporters, “The only way I can lose this election is if I get caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy.” In 2001 he was convicted of racketeering charges and served eight years in federal prison.

Earl Long giving a speech, circa 1959
Earl Long “on the stump” following his release from a hospital, 1959. (David R. McGuire Memorial Collection — LaRC 271, Tulane University Special Collections, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, courtesy Louisiana Research Collection)

Country singer Jay Chevalier wrote “The Ballad of Earl K. Long,” and became part of Uncle Earl’s entourage. “Aside from his cussing, drinking, gambling and carousing, he was the best Christian I knew,” said the singer of the three-time-good-ol’-country-boy governor of Louisiana.

In The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association in 1988 author Edward F. Haas of Wright State University quoted Eugene Schlossberger, a philosophy professor at LSU as telling USA Today that “Politics plays the role in Louisiana that TV wrestling does in the rest of the nation. It is fixed. It is flamboyant. It is surreal. It is our spectator sport.”

A.J. “Joe” Liebling wrote for The New Yorker magazine from 1935 until his death in 1963. In 1961 after spending time in Louisiana with Earl Long and learning more about his famous brother Huey P. “The Kingfish” Long, Liebling wrote one of the most famous books ever written about Louisiana politics, The Earl of Louisiana. A chapter is devoted to “Black Cat” LaCombe and Jimmie Davis. Liebling suggested that “Louisiana politics is of an intensity and complexity that are matched … only in the republic of Lebanon.”

As the lyrics of country music singer Jerry Jeff Walker’s song “It Don’t Matter” say:
Down in Louisiana it don’t matter
If you’re sane as a judge or mad as a hatter.