Some political experts are probably laughing at the possibility that former Louisiana Gov. Charles “Buddy” Roemer is thinking about running for president in 2012. Roemer said as much when he announced he had set the machinery in motion to see if the time is right.
“I know that people will laugh and scoff, particularly the politicians and the political know-it-alls,” he said.
The experts weren’t laughing when Roemer ran for governor in 1987, but he was pretty much a political unknown outside of northwest Louisiana. He represented that area in the U.S. House of Representatives for four two-year terms.
Roemer, 67, is smart enough to know a presidential run for him is the longest of longshots. However, didn’t President Obama come out of almost nowhere to win the big prize? And Republicans are having a difficult time zeroing in on a favorite.
Give Roemer credit for using a theme patterned after his gubernatorial campaign, dubbed the Roemer Revolution. And his formula has potential to give him some traction.
Money is what it’s all about, he said. But he added that he won’t take contributions larger than $100 and won’t accept money from political action committees.
It’s an idea that is almost unheard of these days, but it is gaining Roemer attention in national circles.
Mark McKinnon of The Huffington Post writes that the former governor, by focusing his campaign on money, “will give America a chance to act on what three-quarters of us already believe — that money buys results in our government, and that corruption must be stopped if our government is to be controlled.”
Roemer said in 1987 that he wasn’t well known because he didn’t have a lot of money. Even so, he limited personal contributions and wouldn’t accept PAC money.
Political analysts believed Edwin W. Edwards, governor at the time, would be in a runoff in 1987 with U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston of Metairie.
A statewide poll showed Livingston in the lead at 20 percent. He was followed by Edwards, 16 percent; Brown, 15; U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin, 14; and Roemer, 11.
“The race is yet to be won, and I think it’s wide open,” Roemer said. “If you’re in last place, you’re not far off. If you’re in first place, you’re not far ahead.”
Roemer had a reputation in Congress as a maverick who worked outside the system and refused to play by the rules. It was obvious he wouldn’t hesitate to shake things up in Baton Rouge.
In July of 1987, he said, “I’m going to run for the next four months as hard as I can, as honestly as humanly possible, telling it like it is. And I think we’ll win.”
Roemer is an inspirational speaker and last week demonstrated he hasn’t lost the enthusiasm and desire to try and turn the political world upside down.
Iris Kelso, a columnist for The Times Picayune of New Orleans, in 1987 called Roemer “Louisiana’s first governor from the age of television.”
Supporters in 1987 praised his intelligence, ambition, wit and willingness to work. They said he had the ability to bring out the best in those around him.
One of Roemer’s biggest boosts came when he was endorsed by The Times-Picayune. And he explained why he became the surprise winner in 1987.
“Our message was fundamental change,” he said. “It means a change in the relationship of money and politics, and of special interests to a leader.”
Roemer’s administration had its controversies because he refused to buckle under when opposed by the political establishment. And it was a major reason he failed to make the runoff when he sought re-election in 1991.
Louisiana voters want change in politics, but they will only accept so much. That is why reform governors have always found it hard to win a second term.
Edwards, like he did when Dave Treen was governor (1980-84), was always on the sidelines playing the spoiler when Roemer pushed too hard.
Teachers, homeowners and politicians all had beefs with Roemer, and the resentment of them and others cost him at the polls. His unsuccessful effort to reform the state’s tax system also hurt.
Nevertheless, he was man enough to take the blame and bowed out with class.
“The people spoke and they said, ‘Buddy, thanks, but you didn’t do enough.’ And I think that’s fair,” Roemer said.
Timing is important in the next presidential race, just as it is for any election. And that is where Roemer may have a message that resonates with voters.
“I’m going to ask America in this exploration and beyond to take a look at a better way, to step up, family by family, person by person and let’s take back our representative democracy,” Roemer said.
“Washington, D.C., has become a boom town, and the rest of America is hurting.”
McKinnon said, “… The single message he (Roemer) will preach is that (practically) every single problem that we as Americans face can be tied to the corrupting influence of money in politics. His success will turn on how powerfully he can prove that claim.”
I believed in Roemer in 1987 and in the changes he wanted to make in state government. And a longtime reader at the time explained why better than I could.
“The things that Roemer wants to do for Louisiana are the same things you’ve been advocating all those years,” he said.
If there is a possibility that Roemer might be able to change the political climate in the nation’s capital, I’m willing to do my part to try and give him that opportunity.
Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].