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Charles Laffiteau\'s Bigger Picture

Last update - Thursday, February 25, 2010, 11:01 By Charles Laffiteau

Ah, New Orleans! The Crescent City, the Big Easy, the birthplace of American jazz and the home of the world-famous Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday) celebrations – the final day of the ‘Nawlins’ winter social season before Lent begins.

Despite the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina just four-and-a-half years ago, the ‘city that care forgot’ still throws a street party that no other city in the world (except possibly Rio de Janeiro) can match. But while the famed French Quarter avoided much of the Hurricane Katrina flood damage suffered by the rest of the city, one doesn’t have to travel far to see the parts that were not so lucky – the result of political infighting and corruption that has a long history in the state of Louisiana, and is unrivalled anywhere else in America.
What makes this state unique is the fact that its voters, unlike those in other US cities and states, often re-elect these corrupt politicians even after they’ve been exposed or convicted for their wrongdoings.
The first and probably the most honourable of Louisiana’s many rouges was the pirate Jean Lafitte, who distributed part of the booty he stole from French and Spanish ships to the local folks so they would allow him to attack these ships with impunity from the mini-kingdom he established deep in the Louisiana bayous.
Later, just prior to World War II, Louisiana’s most notorious politician – a populist Democratic Governor named Huey ‘Kingfisher’ Long – built roads, bridges, hospitals and schools by raising taxes on oil companies and the rich. So what could be wrong with this? Well, in conjunction with these seemingly ‘good deeds’, Long also garnished state employees’ salaries for ‘contributions’.
Much more recently there was Edwin Edwards, a charming but notorious womaniser who was elected Governor four times between 1972 and 1996. During that time, Edwards was the target of more than a dozen federal and state criminal corruption investigations but was acquitted at every trial.
Edwards’ luck finally ran out in 2000 when he was convicted and sentenced to 10 years for extorting money from casino boat operators in return for state gambling permits.
This leads to the recent downfall of another famous Cajun politician. Former Congressman Billy Tauzin was well known for saying that “half of Louisiana is under water and the other half is under indictment”, but he was also better than others at avoiding being caught stealing.
After 20 years in Congress, Tauzin decided it was time to cash in on his political power, so in 2003 he paid more than $1m for a 1,500-acre ranch in south Texas. Since he couldn’t afford to pay the mortgage himself, he invited business executives and lobbyists who needed his support to cover it by becoming ‘members’ of his ‘Cajun Creek hunting club’.
But Tauzin didn’t stop there. He used his position as a Republican leader to push an unfunded Medicare drug plan that prohibited the government from negotiating lower prices with drug companies through the House of Representatives. Then Tauzin promptly resigned from Congress so he could become the $2m-a-year head of Pharma, the drug industry’s lobbying group – a slick move considering he also got to keep the money he had in his re-election campaign treasury and his Congressional pension.
So I had to smile when I was greeted with the news that Billy Tauzin had just been forced out of the Pharma job and into an earlier-than-planned retirement on his federal pension. It’s good to know that there is some truth in the old saying that what goes around comes around.

Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas who is pursuing a PhD in International Relations and lectures on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU

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