Louisiana Influences Washington’s Political Elite

Do political analysts and consultants from Louisiana have an edge over others because of the state’s colorful and controversial political history?

I asked Charlie Cook, a nationally recognized political analyst, that question recently, and he admitted working in a political campaign was an influence early in his career. But it wasn’t the only thing.

Cook, a Shreveport native and author of the Cook Political Report, will be in Lake Charles Dec. 1 to deliver the keynote address at the Hector San Miguel Award Luncheon at L’Auberge Casino.

Three other prominent political operatives in Washington, D.C., have ties to Louisiana. James Carville directed the successful presidential campaign of former President Bill Clinton in 1992. Cokie Roberts, the daughter of Hale and Lindy Boggs of New Orleans, and her husband write a political column for Universal Syndicate. Ron Faucheux, a former Louisiana legislator and editorin-chief of Campaign and Elections magazine, rounds out the list.

Cook is a graduate of Captain Shreve High School in Shreveport, and he said being on the debate team there was a stronger political influence than the place of his birth. However, he added that working in former U.S. Sen. J. Bennett Johnston’s 1972 election campaign was also a factor.

Several Shreveport attorneys were involved in Johnston’s early political career when he was a state representative and state senator, and Cook said he used their law library to do his debate research. He eventually worked part-time in Johnston’s office and did research for the 1972 U.S. Senate campaign.

Johnston had just come close to winning the Louisiana governor’s race in 1971, but lost the Democratic runoff to former Gov. Edwin Edwards, whose victory margin was only 4,488 votes. The vote differential changed from day to day, and the final tally wasn’t official until 10 days after the primary.

Cook said he regrets he wasn’t involved in the governor’s race because of the well-known competitors among the 20 candidates. Along with Johnston and Edwards were Lt. Gov. C.C. “Taddy” Aycock, David Chandler, a Life magazine reporter who wrote about organized crime in Louisiana, two-time Gov. Jimmie Davis, U.S. Rep. Speedy Long, former Congressman Gillis W. Long, John Schwegmann of the New Orleans supermarket chain, Republican Dave Treen and Warren J. “Puggy” Moity, a stormy political figure in south-central Louisiana.

Cook said he thought it was amazing that Johnston and Treen years later wrote to President George W. Bush urging a pardon or commutation of sentence for Edwards, who was imprisoned for extortion in connection with riverboat licenses.

Johnston in 1972 had challenged U.S. Sen. Allen J. Ellender, who died during the campaign. Johnston said his name recognition from the 1971 governor’s race helped him win the Senate seat.

Working in Johnston’s campaign had him bouncing around politics, Cook said.

“I found myself in the early 1980s voting for Republicans most of the time and working for the other side,” he said.

Cook said he started the Cook Political Report in 1984, and the newsletter has become “the bible of the political community.” He became a columnist for Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, in 1986 and moved his column to the National Journal in 1998.

CNN and then CBS used Cook as an election-night analyst. He has been a consultant for NBC since 1994.

“Networks sign you to exclusive contracts so they will have people on short notice,” Cook said. “And to keep you off other networks.”

Cook said there is a need for someone to handicap races for political action committees and lobbyists because most political reporters have never worked in a campaign.

“Someone who has actually done a campaign comes at it from a different perspective. We have far left, far right and everything in between subscribers. It’s niche specialty journalism. Like a credit rating agency where you’re evaluating races.”

Cook and Lake Charles businessman Oliver G. “Rick” Richard III both had ties to Bennett Johnston in their early years. And Richard worked with the Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana to get Cook to speak at the Dec. 1 luncheon. Longtime American Press court reporter Vincent Lupo will receive the 2nd annual Hector San Miguel Award for excellence in journalism.

Getting the latest update from Washington, D.C., and a closer look at the 2012 presidential campaign from a born-and-bred Louisiana political insider will be this political writer’s dessert on Dec. 1.

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