Back Home in the Banana Republic…

Here’s the latest buzz, condensed:

— A few folks in New Orleans and some Democrats are warning that the race for treasurer could be tighter than many think, thanks to a disproportionate turnout in the Big Easy, which would in turn favor attorney Derrick Edwards. But the political oddsmakers, by and large, are still giving the edge to former Rep. John Schroder. Aside from that notion, it’s quiet out there. (But we may have some related legal news to share to subscribers of LaPolitics Weekly on Thursday.)

— Former Judge Desiree Charbonnet opened fire against Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell not long after the runoff commenced, and her team hasn’t let up since. Local politicos doubt, however, that enough damage was done to catapult Charbonnet past Cantrell in New Orleans’ mayoral election. There has probably been more chatter about whether Cantrell will have to worry about legal issues in the future in regard to her reportedly “freewheeling use of a City Council credit card.”

— In House District 77 retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness has launched a few bombs in the direction of Covington City Councilman Mark Wright. An outside PAC is also going after Maness. This one could turn interesting down the stretch… (We’ll have a complete update for subscribers in LaPolitics Weekly on Thursday.)

— There are also elections on Nov. 18 for Oakdale city marshal, Caddo Parish commissioner, Baton Rouge city court judge, Denham Springs councilman, Washington town councilman and Franklin city marshal, as well as a civil judgeship and two council races in Orleans.

— With projections hovering around 10 percent, the big story will be turnout. Expect a robust reaction from Secretary of State Tom Schedler if it indeed drops that low.

ABOUT THOSE BANANAS…

You likely already know the backstory, but here we go… The following was excerpted from a PEOPLE magazine article that was published in August of 1985.

A Louisiana Legislator Calls His State 'a Banana Republic' and Gets Cheers in Response

By Peter Carlson

Kevin Reilly was mad. He was impatient, frustrated, seething with rage. When he walked out of the Louisiana legislature’s summer session, the 57-year-old, four-term representative felt like Mount St. Helens on the eve of the explosion.

For weeks the Harvard graduate, president of a billboard company and part-time lawmaker, had lobbied to persuade his legislative colleagues to increase the state’s funding for its colleges and universities. He had begged and cajoled and used all of his ample oratorical powers, and he had gotten nowhere. And then, as he stomped out of the session, a reporter asked him what the legislature had done for higher education in 1985. That did it. That seemingly innocent query set Reilly off, and he promptly committed the ultimate political sin: He spoke his mind and he spoke it bluntly. His adopted state of Louisiana was nothing but “a banana republic,” Reilly declared. “What we ought to do is declare bankruptcy, secede from the union and file for foreign aid.” There was more. “We lead in all the good stuff—illiteracy, unwed mothers—and we’re last in education.” Then, with heavy sarcasm, Reilly added: “Louisiana, you can be proud of yourself.”

If that weren’t blasphemy enough, Reilly also took a few swipes at the laid-back Louisianans (“a lazy, stupid population”), at their idea of a meaningful life (“a pickup truck and two shotguns”), at their elected officials (“either hypocrites or liars or both”) and even at the NFL’s hapless New Orleans Saints (“40 obese, weightlifting slobs”). When he finished his rant, Reilly went home to his wife, Dee Dee, and said, “I just ended my political career.”

It certainly seemed so. The next morning a prankster placed a banana on each legislator’s desk as a reminder of the collective slight. When Reilly appeared his colleagues greeted him with a chorus of boos and hisses.

At that point Reilly rose to defend himself. He admitted that he had suffered an attack of “foot-in-mouth disease,” but he did not apologize. Instead, he told the legislators that they were foolish and shortsighted to skimp on education. Louisiana’s oil industry would not carry the state forever, he said, and soon it would need a talented, educated population if it was not to become the “Appalachia of the South.” Finished, he left the podium.

Instead of more boos and hisses coming from the floor an amazing thing happened. The representatives—those same folk he’d categorized as hypocrites or liars—rose to their feet and gave Reilly an ovation.

The public—those “lazy, stupid” Louisianans—was even more supportive. Hundreds wrote congratulatory letters to Reilly. One citizen, a self-proclaimed pickup-driving, shotgun-owning Saints fan, wrote, “All I can say is Amen.”

What does this bizarre incident mean? Is the American electorate so starved for honesty that Don Ricklestype invective is the new “in” language of politics? Reilly, who loves Louisiana and doesn’t want to leave it (he was born in Boston but has lived in Baton Rouge for the last 31 years), knows only this: Suddenly he is popular. “Up to now, nobody ever wore themselves out patting me on the back,” he marvels.

At this point, he says, he is thinking about capitalizing on his serendipitous outburst by running for the state senate.

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