Rabalais: Rodrigue’s Reluctant Legacy

RABALAIS’ POLITICAL HISTORY

Before George Rodrigue’s Blue Dog made Louisiana’s “I Voted” sticker a hot item, the late artist’s iconic creation had another significant impact on politics.

After the historic gains made by Republicans in the 1994 midterm elections, two Louisiana congressmen, Billy Tauzin and Jimmy Hayes, joined with a group of fellow House Democrats, mostly from the South, to push for a more conservative agenda. Working together, Tauzin and Hayes founded their group as a new Democratic caucus.

With 23 initial members, the bloc was the largest collection of swing votes in the House, not closely allied with either President Bill Clinton or House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

They began calling themselves the “Blue Dog Democrats.”

Holding the first meetings in Tauzin and Hayes’ offices, the group drew the inspiration for their name from Rodrigue’s famous “Blue Dog” paintings hanging on the congressmen’s walls. The name was also partially derived from the “Yellow Dog Democrats” of the 1920s, who were said to be more likely to vote for a dog than a Republican. When asked about the moniker, one member joked that partisanship had turned the yellow dog blue.

Rodrigue, for his part, was not enthusiastic about the congressional caucus named for his artwork. While he had done portraits of presidents, governors and other prominent politicians (some of which are on display in LaPolitics’ Capitol office), he preferred to stay strictly nonpartisan, working for both Democrats and Republicans alike. For example, Rodrigue painted works for both Kathleen Blanco and Bobby Jindal during their respective terms in the Governor’s Mansion.

According to Rodrigue’s wife, Wendy Rodrigue, he later said, “Without my permission they adopted my image. As usually happens with hometown folk, they assumed that they were doing me a favor. Instead I’ve spent the past twenty years trying to distance myself and my artwork from this connection.”

For their part, the group’s Louisiana co-founders left within the first year. Tauzin joined the Republicans in the summer of 1995 and Hayes followed suit in December. But the Blue Dog Coalition continues to this day on Capitol Hill, their website still attributing the name to a reluctant Cajun artist.

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