LA Democrats revel in past, plan for future


EBR Parish Democratic Executive Committee hosts Banquet

BATON ROUGE-A desire for change, growth and honor brought Democrats from all over Louisiana to East Baton Rouge Parish to celebrate the party’s history and make plans for the future.

The event, “Remembering Our Roots: Every Man a King”, the first of what will be an annual banquet for the group, was held May 31 at the MJ Womack Center in Baton Rouge. It honored three EBR Democrats for their service to the party.

“If we don’t remember the past we will not understand much of the present and have no conception of the future,” said former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards who served as the keynote speaker. “The past is important because we build on it to make things better.”

L to r:Ben Jeffers, Dawn P Collins, Represenative Patricia Haynes-Smith, Louis Reine

State Rep. Patricia Haynes-Smith was given the J.K. Haynes Sr. Award of Advocacy in Action; Louis Reine, president of American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations Louisiana was given the Victor Bussie Award of Excellence and the Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Ben Jeffers.

“Receiving an honor from the party that I have worked hard for is a humbling and gratifying experience,” said Jeffers, who was honored for being the first Black person to serve as the Chairman of the Louisiana Democratic Party.

Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell and John Bel Edwards discussed some of the issues the state is facing.

“We have a charity hospital system in this state that has been in place since the 1700s, it has survived the civil war, the world wars, hurricanes, but it could not survive Bobby Jindal and the Republican majority,” Edwards said.

Campbell pointed to some of the issues facing Louisiana, such as budget cuts and coastal erosion.

“The state constitution says only domestic oil can be taxed,” Campbell said. “Since 1922 we refine 95% foreign oil in the state of Louisiana and only refine 5% Louisiana oil, but we only tax the oil refined in the state.

Campbell continued that Louisiana’s biggest problem is coastal erosion and that every hour – land equal to the size of one football field – is being washed away from the state’s coast.

Along with discussing issues facing the state, speakers highlighted the unity within the party.

State representative Edward “Ted” James said that the beauty of the Democratic Party is that it is made up of a variety of ages, socio-economic backgrounds and races with similar ideas.

“We will not be successful if we don’t give our resources, change will not happen if we continue to let this state be red,” James said. “If you can’t afford to write a thousand dollar check, you can give your time and call a thousand people, if you can’t call a thousand people you can knock on a thousand doors, we have to come together.”

Representative Edward "Ted" James and Volunteer Maria Harmon
Representative Edward “Ted” James and Volunteer Maria Harmon

James said that the melting pot of citizens who come together with ideas and work hard to put them into action to create a better Louisiana is the party’s greatest asset.

Maria Harmon, a volunteer for the East Baton Rouge Democratic Party, is one of those helping the party attain the assets James referenced.

“Since I graduated this summer with my Masters I have been looking for a job,” Harmon said. “The hard work the Party has been doing inspired me to work voluntarily [with them] as I search”

Harmon said as volunteer she learned no matter who a person is or where they come from. everyone is affected by the decisions made by elected officials.

“There are so many issues affecting young people right now, such as budget cuts to higher education, health care, pay day lending and equal pay for women – all of these things affect us as young people,” she said. “A lot of younger people today are more progressive, more liberal and we need to have our voices heard.”

Former governor Edwards is one of the pioneers for diversity among politics in Louisiana. During his time as governor, he appointed more Blacks and women to high positions in his administration than his predecessors anywhere in the nation.

Edwards reflected on the first time he took the step to create racial equality by appointing the state’s first Black post master Huey Fontenot. He said its something he still considers one of his proudest moments.

Councilwoman C.Denise Marcel

Even though Edwards held acclaim for such doings, he is now more widely known for being convicted of 17 counts of racketeering, extortion, money laundering, mail fraud and wire fraud in 2001. He was sentenced to 10 years and was released in 2011.

“At night I would reflect on how people supported me and how we worked together to better this state, how we were the voice for people who couldn’t speak,” Edwards said. “I’d sit and wonder what it would be like when I got out.  The last conscious thought I’d have would be for the people of Louisiana. All those concerns were washed away when I got out and realized you had not forgotten me.”

Earlier this year Edwards announced he would run for the vacant seat on Louisiana’s 6th Congressional District.

The Democratic Executive Committee had only six weeks to prepare for the event, making it clear that the banquet’s theme, inspired by Huey P. Long, still resonates with people in the capitol city and beyond.

By Cameron James