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Chapter Twenty: The Southern Tier of Cities on Interstate 10

 

Monday morning I delayed my departure from the motel in Alexandria to check with the advertising departments of several large Louisiana newspapers. For each paper, I calculated the cost of running a one-inch retail ad on the day of the primary, March 9th, and on the two previous days which included Sunday. Most papers gave discounts for multiple insertions on consecutive days. I already had circulation figures and ad rates for these publications from my directory photocopies. I had made a preliminary assessment of advertising costs per reader in these newspapers and had ranked them by cost effectiveness.

These rankings changed as I called the advertising departments and obtained more current numbers. The following cities’ newspapers were ranked in descending order of effectiveness: (1) Lafayette, (2) New Orleans, (3) Lake Charles, (4) Baton Rouge, (5) Alexandria, and (6) Shreveport. Monroe’s newspaper was even more expensive than Shreveport’s in advertising costs per reader. In addition, I checked with the Baton Rouge paper to see if political ads were accepted for the 90-paper deal offered by the Louisiana Press Association. While this had not been done before, a staff person agreed to check association policies. My ad was accepted.

I had already composed copy both for the classified and retail ads. For the classified ad, the text read: “Vote Bill McGaughey for President in Democratic Presidential primary March 9th. He’s for tariffs to stop employment loss to low-wage countries. Straight talk on jobs!” For the retail ads, the text read: “Vote Bill McGaughey for President in Democratic primary March 9th. Straight talk on jobs - tariffs on imports from foreign sweatshops.” Before the second ad ran, I had softened “foreign sweatshops” to “low-wage countries” and made other alterations. This text should fit in one column inch. A thick black border would set it apart and draw attention, I was sure.

In the late morning, I departed Alexandria to make another swing through Leesville, fifty miles to the west. Reporter Kelly Moore of the Leesville Leader had been on her way out the door when I called last time. Today would be an unusual time for Leesville, though, since President Bush would be visiting the troops at Fort Polk on the following day. I thought of contacting radio stations in the area. A call made to station KVVP-FM while on the highway was suddenly disconnected when the cell phone went dead. Perhaps I was out of range of the Verizon Wireless network.

Once again, no one was available to talk with me when I arrived at the newspaper office. Everyone was preparing for the Bush visit. I also called the base newspaper at Fort Polk and reached a recording. Since I had already visited the two papers immediately south of Leesville on U.S. highway 171, my plan for the day was to visit two other papers in the extreme southwestern part of the state: in Sulphur and, especially, Lake Charles. This would be the start of a swing through southern Louisiana where the bulk of the state’s population lived.

First, I thought I would follow up on the call to KVVP-FM, the station previously reached. Radio stations KVVP-FM and KROK-FM were housed in a building just off highway 171 a mile from the turnoff to Fort Polk. When I walked in to introduce myself, I was referred to the owner, Doug Stannard. A wide-ranging conversation ensued. Stannard was a career military officer who had lived in several bases before coming to Fort Polk. He liked living here and had stayed in the area following his discharge from military service. We discussed my economic issues. “Are you a socialist?’, he asked at one point. I assured him that I did not favor government ownership of productive enterprise, but did believe in government regulation of business to promote certain ends.

Stannard believed in the democratic process and was happy to have a presidential candidate visit his station. He brought me into the studio to see the news director, Jim Alexander. Alexander was fiddling with knobs on a computerized control panel. Once he had finished this business, he recorded a statement from me. I talked for five to ten minutes. Alexander said he would edit this down to a suitable length and then play the edited recording several times during the next few days. (I had fantasies of President Bush listening to this as his motorcade traveled to Fort Polk.) I bade farewell to Alexander and to Stannard in his office and continued my travels south.

It was 65 miles from here to Lake Charles. I tried calling the Southwest Daily News in Sulphur but the number had been disconnected; or perhaps I misdialed. In any event, my destination for the day was the Lake Charles American Press. The managing editor, Bobby Dower, gave me directions to the newspaper’s office. He was in a meeting when I arrived. I decided to talk with the advertising department during the wait. I placed an order for a one-inch ad, paying by credit card. Dower was still meeting when I finished my business with the sales representative. I asked a reporter if he would notify Dower that I had arrived. He appeared shortly, assigning reporter Mike Jones to talk with me. We had a good interview focusing on my economic issues. Since Mardi Gras week was approaching, I asked Jones about the festivities in Lake Charles. He photocopied a page from the newspaper telling about a “lighted boat parade” on the lake Sunday, February 22nd, starting at 7 p.m.

Lake Charles enjoys one of the most striking vistas in the state of Louisiana, situated as it is on the edge of a large lake. A boardwalk along the lake connects the Civic Center in the downtown area to Harrah’s Casino and points beyond. Coming from the west on I-10, I stopped first at the Tourist Center which has an alligator pond.The Motel 6, where I spent the night, is several miles east. That evening, I visited the casino dropping $2.00 on the video slot-machine games. The gambling rooms are located in two large boats moored to the dock - for legal reasons, I suppose. The whir of electronic machinery is quite hypnotic. I could see that a customer might spend himself silly before realizing what time it was. I also searched the area near the Civic Center for good locations to make campaign appearances when I returned for the Mardi Gras boat parade. I would need to let the television stations know where to find me if they chose to cover my activities.

Early next morning, Tuesday, February 17th, I drove west and north about 25 miles to meet with Jerry Wise, editor of the Wise newspapers in Dequincy. After briefly discussing my campaign issues, Mr. Wise had a photographer take a picture of us together. He suggested that I call upon the Southwest Daily News in Sulphur. An article in that paper might also be printed in the Leesville Leader. He gave me directions to their office. I dropped by unannounced at the Southwest Daily News only to learn that no reporters were available to interview me. They would be in the office starting at noon. This was hours away. I left a copy of my campaign leaflet and a photo with the receptionist and then drove east on U.S. highway 90.

The Lake Charles paper had already been covered. My next stop was in the town of Welch. The editor of the Welch Citizen was a Swedish immigrant named Bengt Lindell - someone I might have expected to meet in Minnesota rather than Louisiana. He had taken this job after marrying an American. We talked about Sweden, the United States, and cultural topics, besides trade and employment issues. Robert Bly, a Norwegian-American, had jokingly proposed to bomb Sweden if he became Secretary of Defense in my administration.

Then, I continued down the highway to the larger town of Jennings. A young reporter named Rebecca Chaisson interviewed me for the Jennings Daily News. After running through my set of issues, I asked Chaisson about political attitudes in her community. Jennings is mostly Republican, she told me. Republican organizations were quite active there.

My visits to the towns along I-10 were settling into a routine. I would call ahead to the next place after finishing an interview. The editor or receptionist would give me directions to the newspaper office. I am used to going by street names. In Louisiana, though, it seems that people prefer to give directions by citing landmarks. In this case, it was always something like: “Take exit 64 off the interstate, go straight ahead and over the railroad tracks, then turn left at the first stop light. Our office is two blocks down the street on the left.” I had street addresses for all the newspaper offices. Once I spotted the street name on a sign, I was comfortable that I could find the office. Confusion was possible, however, where two or three turns had to be made before reaching its street.

After Jennings came Crowley, another good-sized town. The editor of the Crowley Post-Signal, who handles its political reporting, is Harold Gonzalez. He was not in when I arrived at the office. An assistant told me that the plumbing had backed up in his home and water was all over the floor. He was waiting for a plumber to arrive. As a landlord, I could appreciate his situation. Reached by cell phone, Gonzalez was not able to say when he would come into the office. I could wait for him, if I wished, or do otherwise.

Instead, I decided to drive to Rayne, which was six miles east of Crowley. There were two newspapers in that town. The editor of the Rayne Acadian Tribune said it was not a good time to come calling since this weekly paper was being printed on the next day. The publisher and sports editor of the town’s other paper, the Rayne Independent, was willing to see me. He was Walter Cart. His wife, Jo, was listed as the editor. Mr. Cart talked with me briefly at the counter and took literature and a photo. Then I drove back to Crowley. Harold Gonzalez was sitting in his office among stacks of reading material. He thanked me for returning to Crowley and then talked for ten minutes or so and took a photograph.

The dominant newspaper in the area was the Daily Advertiser in Lafayette, Louisiana’s fourth largest city. Here I was not so lucky. I first had trouble reaching the right contact person. A man in the editorial department gave me directions. He said I should turn off Interstate 10 at the “Evangeline Thruway”, then take this road a mile or so until I reached Jefferson Street, where I should turn right and take the underpass. Unfortunately, there was no exit marked “Evangeline Thruway”. I drove past Lafayette as far as Breaux Bridge where I realized I had gone too far. Placing another cell-phone call, I learned that the Evangeline Thruway was also Interstate 49 going south. The name, familiar from a Longfellow poem, reminded me that I was in the heart of Cajun country. The real Evangeline had waited for her lover to return under a tree still standing in St. Martinville, ten miles east of town.

I found a parking place two blocks off Jefferson and walked to the office of the Daily Advertiser. The receptionist contacted an assignment editor who, after a brief investigation, informed me that there were no reporters on hand to interview me. A young reporter named Arnessa Garrett did, however, come to the counter to meet me and accept literature. She would make sure that my literature reached the right person. While at the newspaper office, I decided also to talk with the sales representative, Mary Abrams, about placing my ad. I followed Abrams to her upstairs office, showed her the text of the proposed ad, and discussed how the art work might be done. She took my credit-card payment.

That was all for the day. I would need to return to Lafayette to seek coverage by the Daily Advertiser and also by The Times of Acadia, a free-circulation weekly whose offices were in the same building. Mary Abrams had urged me to pick up a copy of that publication which occasionally runs stories on political subjects. However, there was no point in spending the night here. Some important business remained to be done in Baton Rouge. That city, Louisiana’s second largest, was 52 miles to the east on Interstate 10.

One would think that this stretch of highway would be dotted with cities and towns. In fact, it ran through a swamp associated with the Atchafalaya river. About ten miles of highway ran on a concrete platform above this swamp, alleged to be North America’s largest. Joining a fairly heavy stream of traffic, I navigated the scenic highway until I reached Port Allen. I then took the Lobdell exit and booked a night’s stay at the Motel 6, my lodging place of ten days earlier.

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