Former Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco
Former Governor Blanco passes away at 76
After a lengthy battle with cancer, former Louisiana Governor Kathleen Babinbeaux Blanco passed away Sunday, August 18, at the age of 76.
Blanco, a native of New Iberia, was first elected to the Louisiana Legislature in 1983 and was one of few females serving in the chamber at the time. She later was elected public service commissioner before being elected to serve as lieutenant governor under Governor Mike Foster’s administration.
In the November 1995 runoff election, Blanco received 65 percent of the vote to defeat Suzanne Krieger and to succeed Melinda Schwegmann as lieutenant governor. Schwegmann was the first female to fill that position in the state.
Here in Evangeline Parish, according to the Sunday, November 19, 1995, edition of the Ville Platte Gazette, Blanco received 10,339 votes, or 76.53 percent, while Krieger received 3,171 votes, or 23.47 percent. Blanco also had more absentee votes, 940-302.
Eight years later, Blanco ran for the office of governor to succeed Foster and was ultimately elected as the state’s first female governor by defeating Bobby Jindal in the runoff election.
An article in the Sunday, November 16, 2003, edition of the Ville Platte Gazette reported, “Blanco led in Evangeline Parish, unofficially two-to-one, but the state totals were too close to confirm her the winner early in the evening. Locally, Blanco received 69.81-percent of the votes or 7,951 votes compared to Jindal’s 30.19-percent or 3,438 votes.”
Blanco served one term in office as governor because her term was adversely impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. The adverse impacts, according to some, came from how the federal government handled relief efforts following the storms.
Local attorney Alex “Sonny” Chapman recalled a phone conversation with Blanco where she stated President George W. Bush and his senior advisor Karl Rove “were playing politics to try to make Kathleen look bad and make the Republicans look good.”
Chapman further recalled, “We had a long talk, and she said ‘if I could do that all over again when New Orleans flooded, I would change my party affiliation to Republican.”
While Blanco’s term was tarnished in the eyes of some people, she left a lasting legacy with others, especially with two Evangeline Parish public officials who knew her best.
“I got to know her through her husband, Raymond Blanco,” said 13th Judicial District Court Judge Gary Ortego. “We called him ‘Coach’ Blanco because he was, at one time, an assistant coach at USL. Then, when we went there, he was the dean of students. In those days, you had to go in the dorms, and he was the head of that.”
When Blanco ran for governor, Ortego, along with Dr. Adam Tassin, was her informal campaign manager here in Evangeline Parish. Blanco later named Ortego to the state board of tax appeals.
“Governor Blanco was very intelligent, sincere, honest, and receptive,” Ortego said. “As governor, the short time she served, she was very popular and was very competent and effective. She was pro-life and pro-gun and was very focused on education because she was a teacher. She was good for all of Louisiana.”
Ortego continued, “I think it’s such a huge loss for her family and the people of the state because she continued her work, even after she was out of office, with the endowments at USL. She was just a great person and leader for the state.”
Another parish official who knew Blanco best was former State Representative and current Assessor Dirk Deville, who is good friends with Blanco’s daughter, Nicole.
“Kathleen was a wonderful person,” Deville said in a statement. “It was not only my privilege to serve with her but my privilege to get to know her on a very personal level through her family. She was very loving and kind.”
Deville continued as follows: “Regarding her public service, as lieutenant governor, she marketed Louisiana as a whole and, in particular, was a great ambassador of Acadiana. As governor, she championed the cause of our poor less fortunate. She believed strongly that providing a great education system to our residents was the way to ensure an avenue for all to develop and advance.”
“I will always remember her for her willingness to work with all government officials, regardless of party affiliation, in order to improve our state as a whole.”
Blanco’s body will lie in state today in the capitol rotunda in Baton Rouge following a Celebration of Live Interfaith Service held at St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Baton Rouge beginning at 10 a.m.
Public visitation will then begin Friday at 12:30 p.m. at St. John the Evangelist Cathedral in Lafayette and will continue Saturday until a Mass of Christian Burial at 10:30 a.m.
Upon Blanco’s passing, current Governor John Bel Edwards released statement which in part stated, “Serving as this state’s first female governor, Kathleen was a trailblazer and broke many barriers, leading the way for others to follow. She stands among the giants who have helped shaped Louisiana’s history. Kathleen loved this state and our people and was a shining example of what can be accomplished by hard work and determination.”
“She led Louisiana through one of our darkest hours, when hurricanes and the failure of the federal levee system devastated much of our state. I hope history will remember Governor Blanco as a tireless advocate for Louisiana, who fought fiercely for our state to rebuild following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.”
“Louisianans owe a debt of gratitude to Governor Blanco, who always put the people of our state first, fighting to improve the quality of life for our families and children, championing better educational opportunities for all students at every level and building a stronger Louisiana. In 2004, she said: ‘I feel that call to lift up the less fortunate, the call to improve our communities and our state. It drives me to serve Louisiana as governor.’”