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Chapter Fifteen: Down the West Side of the State and Over to Baton Rouge
Shreveport, which is Louisianas third largest city, was the starting point of my campaign. The Times of Shreveport is the areas dominant newspaper. I could not make an appointment to see a reporter there on my first day of campaigning, Wednesday, February 4th, but did set something up for the following day. Teddy Allen, a columnist, would see me on the morning of the 5th. In the meanwhile, I set up appointments by cell phone with some of the other newspapers to the east and north of Shreveport: in Minden and in Ruston. The Springhill Press in Springhill, near the Arkansas border, discouraged a visit then.
I called first on the Minden Press-Herald and met with a young reporter named Teresa Gardner. She took my handout materials and a photo. Then I headed north to the small town of Homer for an unannounced visit to its newspaper. Although it was lunch time, Catherine Graham stayed in the office to talk. She was interested in talking with me about veterans benefits. Her husband was a Vietnam vet who needed medical care. The government was refusing to help unless they could provide the right documentation of his military record. What to do about this? My only advice was to tell her to keep at it: The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Graham wanted me to eat lunch at a restaurant in town owned by another relative. I was sidetracked when by chance I ran into another newspaper office, belonging to the Haynesville Advertiser, just around the corner. The editor there, Kathy Foster, seemed interested in my issues. After talking for awhile, she took my photograph and said she would put something in the paper.
My next stop, Ruston, was more than forty miles southeast down Louisiana highway 146, a beautiful country road. As I crossed what we would call the county line into Lincoln Parish, I was reminded of the different terminology used in Louisiana. Parish is, of course, their term for county. This word has a religious flavoring reinforced by all the parishes whose names begin with Saint - St. Mary, St. Tammany, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, etc. My favorite Louisiana term, however, was Police Jury. This has nothing to do with a police force but is equivalent to our County Commission. They are the people who run the parishes. Along highway 146, I saw a crew of young men dressed in prison garb, picking up trash along the road. They put it in black plastic bags for later pickup. Louisiana is not unique in this regard. I have seen the same type of work crew in my own urban neighborhood.
Arriving at my destination, I had a twenty-minute visit with the editor of the Ruston Leader, Tre Bishof, and another man I was a bit tired by then but got the job done. We talked about economic issues and they took a photograph. These men referred me to Greg Hilber at the Monroe newspaper, east another twenty-five miles. That visit would have to be postponed. While listening to the car radio, I had heard that State Farm was closing its regional processing center in Monroe to consolidate its southeastern operations elsewhere. The decision would cost 1,300 jobs. This news was still fresh and people were in shock. A long-time agent with State Farm was arguing that the move would save money and, in the long run, benefit Louisiana people by producing lower insurance rates. After my interview in Ruston, I drove back to the motel in Bossier City which was about one hundred miles to the west. If I had been properly prepared, I might also have stopped to visit the newspaper in Arcadia. Instead, I called it a day.
Next morning, I had an appointment with Teddy Allen at The Times. He came out to the front desk to talk for a few minutes. I gave him a photo of myself and left some literature. After that appointment, I visited the office of the Bossier Press-Tribune in Bossier City. Reporter Seth Fox and a young woman named Erin talked with me in a conference room for half an hour. We had a thorough discussion of debt and employment issues. By this time I had assembled a standard packet of literature focusing upon my trade proposals. I forgot to leave a photo but then, recognizing that omission, came back to the front desk with one for Fox. A day later, Seth Fox called me on the cell phone to ask permission to use a photo of me with my wife appearing on my campaign web site. He also asked for permission to refer me to a man at Politics Louisiana in Baton Rouge. Fox said he wanted to stay in touch about the campaign.
After the interview in Bossier City, I scouted downtown Shreveport for good locations in case I wanted to stage a television event in that city toward the end of the campaign. Where was the most pedestrian traffic? I found a public building, later identified as the Caddo Court House, on Texas Street between Market and Marshall. This had been Louisianas state capitol under the Confederacy. A replica of the last Confederate flag flew in front of a war monument. I jotted down several locations in the red-covered spiral notebook which I used to record information for my campaign. Now it was time to head south out of town.
All afternoon I visited newspaper offices along U.S. highway 171 after calling ahead on the cell phone. First was the office of the Enterprise and Interstate Progress in Mansfield. Cindy Williams, the editor, was a down-to-earth person who talked with me in her office. I had to interrupt our meeting briefly to take a cell phone call from Teddy Allen of The Times. It was Williams, though, who let me know of the Governors Conference on Rural Economic Development taking place next week in Natchitoches (pronounced NACK-ih-tish). This is something, she said, which a political candidate ought to attend. She photocopied a sheet with the pertinent information. Before leaving, I remember Williams saying to me: Be sure to take time to see something of our beautiful state.
Another forty miles down the road, I came to Many, the seat of Sabine Parish. The receptionist at the Sabine Index informed me that the papers political reporter was out of the office. While we were having a conversation about the campaign, an African American man, in his mid 30s, joined us. He said it was a coincidence that I was from Minnesota because, that very day, he had been talking with someone about moving to that state. This man was a Christian minister and also a political activist who worked with a nonprofit organization that provided services to delinquent men. He said he was an assistant to the Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives. About that time, the political reporter, Pam Russell, returned to the office. We had a good ten-minute conversation about my issues. She took my photograph and promised to write a story that would appear on the front page.
That was an upbeat visit. The next one, in Leesville, was less satisfying. I arrived at the office of the Leesville Daily Leader about 4 p.m., just as the political reporter, Kelly Moore, was leaving to cover an assignment. She did not have time to talk with me then, but gave me her business card. I left a copy of my leaflet about the candidates employment proposals. There is a large military base just south of Leesville called Fort Polk which had a newspaper with a circulation of 14,000. A guard at the entrance to the base asked my business. Pulling off to the side of the road, I placed a cell-phone call to the newspaper editor . There was no answer. I therefore did a U-turn and left the premises.
My next stop was DeRidder. Hopefully I would arrive there before closing time. The Beauregard Daily News in DeRidder had a policy of allowing political candidates to write campaign announcements of up to 400 words which would be run for free. Subsequent publicity would be through paid advertising. I took my time in composing the statement. Then I gave the editor, Elona, a photograph of myself and a copy of my employment leaflet.
Done for the day, I headed for Baton Rouge. This involved a drive of around 140 miles. Since it was now evening, I could not visit newspaper offices along the way First I drove southeast on Louisiana highway 26. West of Basile, I picked up a major highway, U.S. 190, which went due east to Baton Rouge. I made a reservation by cell phone for a room at the Motel 6 in Port Allen, this side of the Mississippi river from Baton Rouge. The desk clerk, a young Italian woman named Angel, checked me in. She later called my room to ask if everything was OK. This was to be my home away from home for much of the time spent in Louisiana.
I had come to Baton Rouge because I thought it important to get in touch with the states large newspapers early in the campaign. Ed Anderson of the New Orleans paper, the Times-Picayune, was assigned to its state capitol bureau. My top priority was to make contact with him. Since Baton Rouge has Louisianas second largest population, its newspaper, The Advocate, was another priority. I left a message on Andersons answering machine. He called me back promptly to report that he was sick with the flu and would not be coming to work that day. From a call to The Advocate, I learned that this newspapers political reporter, Marsha Shuler, also worked out of the press office in the Louisiana state capitol. It was imperative, then, to go to the capitol the first thing on Friday morning.
Shuler was in when I visited her office at the state capitol on Friday. We did not talk long. She wrote notes on her pad and took some of my literature. An associate helped pick out the best photograph, opting for the picture of me in suit and tie rather than the more casual plaid shirt. The Times-Picayune office was next door. I popped my head in to introduce myself. I said I had already spoken with Ed Anderson who was sick with the flu. A man in the back of the room said: Im Ed Anderson. Despite his illness, Anderson had come to the office to work on a deadline story. He said, however, that he might be able to find a few minutes to talk with me. We went to the cafeteria across the hall to grab some coffee and talk.
Andersons questioning centered in the nuts and bolts of my campaign. He was less interested in hearing my views on economic issues. How much money did I plan to spend in the campaign? I said it would be close to $5,000. Expenditures over that amount required filing with the Federal Election Commission. In the end, I thought I would probably have to file. How would I campaign? I said that I would be visiting newspaper offices, trying to get on talk-radio shows, and making public appearances in an effort to attract television coverage. Anderson suggested that Mardi Gras might offer some opportunities for public appearances.
Since he was with a New Orleans newspaper, I took advantage of this meeting to ask Ed Anderson which he thought were the best locations in New Orleans to find crowds willing to talk with political candidates. He made two suggestions: (1) Woldenberg Park along the Mississippi River. This was close to Harrahs Casino, the French Quarter, and other tourist attractions. (2) the junction of Veterans Memorial Drive and Causeway Boulevard in Metairie. Studies showed that many people congregated in this area (north of downtown, near Lake Pontchartrain.) Regarding my purpose in running for President, I said, for the first time, that I was hoping to get 5% to 10% of the primary vote. It would be a definite victory if I received 10%.
After Ed Anderson excused himself, I walked along the corridor of the press offices. Down the hall were offices of the Associated Press. A young woman was sitting at a computer terminal near the door. I introduced myself. When I said I was from Minnesota, she remarked that she thought I had a Minnesota accent. Despite some well-publicized humor about speaking Minnesotan, I did not think there was such a thing as a Minnesota accent. I responded, however, by saying that I did not think Louisiana residents had accents. I had come here expecting to hear regional dialects but found people - admittedly, often on television - speaking a fairly standard version of Americanized English. She didnt have an accent, for instance.
No, said this woman, whose name was Melinda Deslatte, she was from southern Louisiana. When she first came here, she had an accent; but now she had lost it. There were, indeed, regional accents in Louisiana. People in the northern part of the state had southern accents. Those in the Lafayette area had another kind of accent. Those in New Orleans had still another. However interesting this discussion was, she had to return to work. Deslatte gave me her business card and invited me to stay in touch.
After leaving the capitol, I dropped by the headquarters of the Louisiana Democratic Party on Government Street to introduce myself. Emily, a receptionist, and Michelle, sitting at a computer, spoke with me for a short time. If I came back on Monday, some of the bosses would be in. Michelle was able to confirm that my name was on the ballot. Lieberman was not. Sharpton was not. But Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, Dennis Kucinich, Lyndon LaRouche, and John Edwards would also still be listed as, of course, would John Kerry.
The Louisiana Election Bureau in the Secretary of States office was the official source of information about elections. Its office was located on the east side of Baton Rouge several miles from the capitol off I-12 behind the Louisiana Archives building. Not being familiar with this highway, I took a wrong exit which brought me to a largely deserted city park near a lake. There was no entrance ramp back to the highway. Some strange-looking geese were feeding on a beach. I drove south around a larger lake only to discover that I was now on the campus of Louisiana State University (LSU). Taking Stanford Street would help get me back to the highway.After more wanderings with the help of a map, I rejoined I-12 and, in time, located the Election Bureau office.
My primary purpose was to inquire if I might obtain a sample copy of the primary ballot (the same one you see on the cover of this book). That would be no problem. I filled out a request form. An election official also gave me a printout of the candidates names, which matched what I had been told at Democratic Party headquarters. I learned here that my first name would appear in quotes: Bill McGaughey. Joe Liebermans name also appeared this way on the printout but his withdrawal from the presidential race had come in time for him to be removed from the ballot. Sharpton was challenging his exclusion in court. I was apprehensive about being the only candidate on the ballot whose name, besides being listed last, would have quotation marks around it. I was assured this was no big thing. Plenty of other candidates in Louisiana have their first names in quotations, the official said. In any event, it was too late to make changes. If I had come in the previous day, they might have been able to do something. Now the order for ballots had already gone to the printer.
Still having some time left in the day, I decided to visit more newspaper offices. I tried to make appointments with the Baton Rouge Weekly Press, an African American newspaper, and with the Port Allen West Side Journal. This was not a convenient time to call on either. Fifteen miles south of Port Allen was the town of Plaquemine (pronounced PLACK-mon). I called ahead to its weekly newspaper, the Post South, to ask for directions. A woman on the phone directed me down Louisiana highway 1 to a fork in the road beyond the city limits. Cross over the railroad tracks. Take a right turn at the Jack-in-the-box. I did not know what this meant but was too timid to ask. Was Jack-in-the-box another unique Louisiana term for a road configuration?
In my confusion, I turned off the main highway too soon and crossed over some railroad tracks. It was not the right place. After asking directions, I did find the newspaper office. But I never saw any Jack-in-the-box. (Weeks later, passing back through this area again, I spotted it. This is a restaurant franchise. There was a sign on highway 1, maybe forty feet tall, plainly lettered Jack in the Box.)
The editor of the Post South, Steve Colwell, had to finish some business for twenty minutes. We then discussed political issues. It was one of those discussions which, I came to realize, made campaigning so worthwhile. Besides giving my pitch, I was receiving interesting feedback from a man knowledgeable about local issues. Colwell said he was a big fan of the Job Corps to train and discipline youth. This parish had many chemical factories owned by Dow Chemical and other companies which produced plastic. The high cost of natural gas was killing that industry. There was increased competition from abroad. Sugar growers in this area complained of subsidized sugar from Mexico. The crawfish industry was suffering from Chinese competition. Trade issues were much on peoples minds.
Additionally, Colwell (who was not a Cajun) worried that Louisiana was losing its culture. The requirement to study French had been dropped from the high-school curricula ten or fifteen years earlier. Years ago, when the locals wanted to keep a secret from you, they would talk among each other in French. But that generation was dying out. Todays children were facing an uncertain, cultureless future - jobless, too, I might have added.
We finished our conversation well after 5 oclock. I was ready to begin my first weekend in the state.
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