Louisiana politics and the State Capitol’s press corps lost a legend with the passing of John Maginnis.
John was as much a fixture in the State Capitol as the most seasoned of politicians.
In contrast to his fellow journalists who would be furiously scribbling in the press area of a committee room, John would lurch in the corner, usually with his hands behind his back, taking in the legislative sausage making, processing the inevitable amendments, and, of course, making mental notes of the “darndest things” said by representatives and senators of whom I am convinced would vie for mention in the “They Said It” section of his weekly newsletter.
John was not just a reporter; he was a freelance journalism powerhouse and media innovator well ahead of the curve in political reporting. Before there was a Politico.com and the legions of other state politics oriented websites, there was a Louisiana Political Fax Weekly.
Though not an elected official, John was a public servant of sorts, penning cogent columns that brokedown the intricacies of complex fiscal and policy matters so those outside the State Capitol could better understand what was happening inside the “House that Huey built.”
John was also the one of the few reporters covering Louisiana politics who possessed a sense of humor beyond the gridiron show skits.
I got to know John initially from reading his book Cross to Bear and his regular appearances at joint meetings of the LSU College Republicans ad College Democrats. That John would make time to visit with university students to discuss state government was a testament to his character and his lack of pretense.
I came to know John personally from his riverfront walks in New Orleans. John would spend his weekends in Nola and like clockwork his exercise routine had him passing through Woldenberg Park around 4:30 PM, which is where I used to hang out on weekend afternoons to watch the ships go up and down the Mississippi River. John would take a break from his walk and shoot the political breeze while taking in the breeze from Old Man River.
After I was elected to the Republican State Committee John would call every so often to get background when he was writing on GOP politics. I was honored that someone who rubbed elbows with movers and shakers deemed me a credible enough source to consult for stories that would be read by powerbrokers on the Fourth Floor of the State Capitol and the West Wing of the White House.
John’s best work was his first book, The Last Hayride.
Hayride chronicled the 1983 governor’s race between the Republican incumbent Dave Treen and former Governor Edwin Edwards. Until the release of his authorized biography decades later, Hayride served as the closest thing to a bio on the charismatic Cajun politician.
Thirty years later Maginnis’s book on Edwards’s third election as governor remains the best book on the intricate dynamics of post-Long era Louisiana politics.
It is a shame that John will not be there to cover EWE’s “Final Hayride.”
His book on the 1991 gubernatorial race, Cross to Bear, will go down as an important book, providing an insightful explanation on how the “Race From Hell” came to be, particularly for future generations of political scientists who cannot fathom how the electorate would be presented with such a choice.
Yet of all of his endeavors, the one that had the most profound impact on my political maturity was his magazine Louisiana Political Review. Maginnis’s in depth coverage of congressional redistricting in the Review would mark my introduction into that tedious yet important process, particularly at a time when Louisiana was still required to have even a single precinct change precleared by the US Justice Department.
That St. Bernard Parish never had the indignity of being represented by Congressman Bill Jefferson a decade later is due in no small part to the education I received from his irregularly published but always informative magazine.
Perhaps the great “What If?” related to Maginnis isn’t how he would have fared working on the national level (probably not so well as Maginnis was a sui generis journalist who would have been out of place working for a major newspaper) but how effective he would have been in state government as Commissioner of Administration, had a governor entrusted him with the keys to the kingdom.
Beyond understanding the policy, Maginnis understood the politicians whose support he would need to advance his proposals, a talent lacking in most high level bureaucrats.
Through his writings and conversations, I will be forever grateful for the many years of indirect continuing education on Louisiana politics I’ve received from John.
Until we meet again alongside the bank of a different river.