The news of the passing of former Governor Buddy Roemer saddens me. I admired Governor Roemer as a Governor who worked us through a very tough time.
I write today to tell of his attentiveness as a Congressman. He was our Congressman in the 4th Louisiana Congressional District between 1981 and 1987. I was not glad when he won his race, because he beat out my uncle who was the incumbent in the seat. I was kind of sore at him, because, well, I try to stick with my family. But, he was the Congressman and I had to accept it.
While in college, I became very politically aware and began what I continue to this day, which is being an engaged citizen who reaches out to my elected representatives. In 1985, a particularly volatile vote was coming up in Congress related to national defense and I felt the need to let my Congressman know my opinions. I wrote an impassioned letter to Buddy Roemer about this vote and told him what his constituent thought.
As opposed to dismissing my concerns out of hand, he picked up the phone to call me. He called ME. A college kid. Whether or not he knew I was his former opponent’s nephew is beside the point; I doubt he ever knew anything about my background. But he called ME, a college student, to talk about this important vote. I can still remember where I was when the vote came in—in an apartment in Ruston, Louisiana. As it turns out, the Congressman and I were on the same sheet. We had a cordial conversation and I was deeply appreciative of his time.
Two years later, when I was beginning my career in the Air Force, my former wife became very ill. Our small hospital at the base could not handle her situation and we were sent downtown for health care. The military’s old insurance provider, something called CHAMPUS, had a firm deadline on the length of time for in-patient care. As we were approaching the deadline, the insurance company told me they could not help me anymore and that I’d have to make other arrangements. The doctors told me she needed the care and that her life was in jeopardy. The insurance company said “tough.” The numbers escape me all these decades later, but I remember the cost for care for my then-wife was many times my monthly salary as a junior officer. When I asked the insurance company what I could do to appeal the decision, they told me basically “nothing.” I asked if it would do any good if I got my commander involved.
I’ll never forget the lady’s tone to me on the phone: “You can call a 4 star general, lieutenant, and it won’t help you.”
I called Congressman Roemer’s office. I told his staff about my wife’s situation and asked if they could help me find a way to appeal this seemingly heartless situation. An hour later, the insipid lady from the insurance company called me back and told me the decision was reversed.
My wife survived this situation. She’s alive today. I don’t know she wouldn’t have survived, but I know she DID. I didn’t speak to the Congressman on this, but the people on his staff made it happen.
As we in Louisiana say goodbye to Buddy Roemer, we all have our different memories of who he was and what he did. My memory is that I know he cared enough to call a college kid about a vote in Congress. I know he hired the kind of people on his staff who helped his constituents when they were in trouble and he may well have saved a life.
I grieve for his family at this loss. I am grateful our state had a man of his character who sought public office and did decent things.
Chuck Owen is a Republican Louisiana state representative from Leesville.