Thursday, June 09, 2011

And I Have Not Run for Office for Six Months Now

Ron Gomez. My Name Is Ron. Memorirs of a Louisiana State Representative. New York: iUniverse, Inc., 2000.

Ron Gomez was a singer and stand up comic who ran for and was elected to the Louisiana state legislature. He served three terms.. He admits he made mistakes. He is proud that he remained honest through his career, unlike what he saw happen with many other legislators. This was a legislature where the Senate Pro Tempore once announced a Senate vote as "trial lawyers 26, insurance companies 66."

The Louisiana legislature is famed for being the site of quote such as "if it weren't for the Rural Electric Association, we farmers would still be watching television by candlelight" and "I don’t know anyone here that's been killed by a handgun."

The author recalls admiring the Louisiana Capitol building as a child. It is a building with an unusual shape for a Capitol building. The shape is one that made Bob Hope comment “this damn city's got a hard on." Gomez recalls working at the building he admired and observing its many artistic details.

Gomez was a radio announced who eventually covered state government news. We was also the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce President. He had never considered running for office before age 44. He and the Chamber of Commerce membership supported building a convention center in Lafayette. The Mayor opposed this. He decided it would be helpful to fight for the convention center from inside government. He ran for an open State House seat.

A person observing Gomez early in the campaign observed Gomez had not walked around and met the people in the room. Gomez realized he needed to go out, work crowds, and speak with many people he had never met before, He began campaigning hard.

Gomez tried to campaign by going to every voter. He observed he could reach about 90 homes in a night, half the time there was no one home. In only four or five homes of those who answered seemed interested that he was running for office, and of those, only about 10% had a question for him. The most common questions were what party he was and who else was running. Often a growling dog would answer the door.

Gomez led a field of four candidates with 42%, Louisiana holds a runoff between the top two candidates if no one wins a majority, Coming in second was Mary Regan, the only Republican in the race, at 20%. Much of the African American vote favored Gomez in the second round. This voter segment had supported a candidate who had been eliminated in the first round of voting.

In Louisiana, found mostly in the African American community, mostly Democratic supporters drove voters to the polls, told riders which candidates they urged them to vote for, and the drivers could even go into the voting area and "assist" them in voting. Candidates would pay these drivers $25 to $100 per vote based upon past records of success. Gomez did not pay for this but as a Democrat running against a Republican his name was included among those with the Democratic drivers.

Gomez noted much of the African American vote went for Republican David Treen for Governor over Democrat Louis Lambert. Treen paid to have election day pamphlets with Treen's voting number to be distributed to voters. Some Democratic voters than changed the pamphlets by hand to get voters for vote for Lambert. Treen carried the African American vote in Lafayette but not be as much as was expected. Treen still rewarded Layfette Democrats with jobs.

As a state legislator, he learned constituents would visit at 5 am, as when a relative was arrested. He observed 70% of constituent requests were not relevant to what state legislators could do, as people reached out with all kinds of problems.

Gomez learned legislators have little privacy. His 22 year old son's auto accident with no injuries was news because he was a legislator's son.

Gomez observed the media gives far more attention to opponents of a bill that passes than to supporters. Negativity makes news, which stirs more negativity towards legislators.

Gomez also notes the media is not good at explaining the legislative process. A legislator may support an issue yet be seen as opposing it because it was amended in a way that caused the legislator to oppose it. He also observes reporters often themselves do not understand the legislative process and there may be errors in what they report. He also learned to give the answer that made sense. Sometimes uninformed reporters would ask flawed questions, such as one inquired during debate on state liability laws, if the U,S. should admit liability in downing an Iranian plane,

Gomez notes some legislators made mistakes. Rep. Carl Gunter defended incest by stating "maybe we would get super sharp kids."

One of the first legislative votes Gomez faced was a bill to raise legisaltive pay. Legislators supporting it urged early approval of it in the belief voters would not remember the vote at election time in four years. Gomez voted against it although a lower pay raise then initially proposed was passed. The Louisiana legislature also later increased their retirement benefits and allowed them collect at an earlier age of 55.

Gomez noted a former legislator was retained by railroad interests to lobby to have specific bills defeated. A legislator would introduce these bills, not to get them passed, but to keep alive the reason for hiring his friend. In return legislators were treated to meals by railroad lobbying.

Gomez learned Louisiana had procurement officials who handled one items and received commissions from the industries from which they ordered. One person received $100,000 in commissioners from light bulb manufacturers. Gomez tried unsuccessfully to get these practices changed.

Gomez continued pushing for a convention center. He was informed his plan was opposed because it did not have bond fees for lawyers, real estate commissions, and guaranteed contracts for engineers and architects. Governor Treen actively oversaw points in the bill. The project was approved and built.

Gomez is critical of four term Governor Edwin Edwards for using his office to enrich himself and his friends.

Gomez observed Governor Charles "Buddy" Roemer a brilliant person who could also develop a closed mind that then refused to listen to logic,. Roemer had mood swings that Gomez believes may have been caused by his diabetes and insulin.

Louisiana had severe financial problems. Gomez criticized Edwards for overspending Louisianans into debt. The state government issued Revenue Anticipation Bonds to escape going bankrupt from one billion of debt. It also created a statewide Recovery District that, similar to local recovery districts, could increase local sales taxes on one cent per dollar.

Gomez voted to seat former Klan member David Duke in the Louisiana legislature. A challenge to his qualifications had been decided in favor of Duke by the state courts. Duke was seated by a 69 to 33 vote.

It is observed much legislation reflects what business or interest it helps. The author describes many frustrations with the legislative process. He resigned to accept an appointment as Natural Resources Secretary.


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