“Keep your eye on this guy,” media maestro Dino Seder told this reporter in 1981, as we watched TV spots for one of his prize clients, “Buddy’s is going places.”
He was referring to just-elected Rep. Charles “Buddy” Roemer, III, D-La., a true conservative Democrat when they existed, Harvard graduate, and someone definitely on the political make.
In Seder’s commercials, Roemer, who died Monday at age 77, answered impromptu questions from small groups and inevitably replied with facts, figures, and rapid-fire cadence — “Buddy Talk” — in Seder’s words.
Colleagues who served with Roemer in the House said he made no secret of his desire not to make long-term employment out of his time with them. He had his eye on other places, including the Governor’s Mansion in Louisiana and, after that, the White House.
“Buddy often let me know he was eyeing things beyond Congress,” a onetime Republican House colleague told Newsmax. “And, in case you forgot, he’d remind you he went to Harvard.”
Harvard classmate James Lombard, later GOP leader of the Florida House of Representatives, said Roemer “reminded me exactly of Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy — folksy and brilliant in one package.”
To say Roemer was born and raised in politics is no exaggeration. His father, Charles “Budgie” Roemer, Jr., managed the winning campaign of Democrat Edwin Edwards for governor in 1971 and then became Gov. Edwards’ commissioner of administration — roughly the equivalent of a prime minister. Edwards and other politicians often came for coffee and political talk at the Roemer plantation in bucolic Scopena, Louisiana.
Buddy was valedictorian at Bossier City High School and went on Harvard. After graduation, he worked in his father’s computer business, cultivated local contacts of his own, and prepared for the first available opportunity for major office.
That came in 1978, when veteran Democrat Rep. Joe Waggoner announced retirement. Roemer, then 35, jumped into the “jungle primary” in which all candidates regardless of party were on the same ballot and if none received a majority, the top two would meet in a run-off.
Roemer ran as an unabashed conservative, but trailed moderate Democrat State Rep. Buddy Leach and conservative Republican Jimmy Wilson. In a runoff, Leach edged Wilson by a much-disputed 266 votes.
Leach, Wilson, and Roemer met in a rematch in 1980. This time, it was Roemer who made it into a runoff with fellow Democrat Leach and, with Wilson’s strong support, he won handily.
True to his words on the campaign trail, Roemer was a “Reagan Democrat” who supported the 40th president’s tax and budget cuts and anti-communist “contras” in Latin America.
“Often wrong but never in doubt,” is how House Speaker Tip O’Neill characterized his colleague from the Pelican State.
In 1987, with Louisiana’s oil economy in precarious shape and the state wracked by a $1.3 billion deficit, Gov. and Roemer family friend Edwards was in trouble. Buddy Roemer made his move and jumped into a primary with five major opponents.
“Buddy was at the bottom of most polls but then became Ross Perot before Perot,” said Quin Hilyard, then research director for the campaign of Republican Rep. Bob Livingston and now senior commentary editor for the Washington Examiner, referring to the folksy Texas billionaire who ran for president as an independent in 1992. “He started talking about ‘scrubbing the budget’ and ‘bricking up the top three floors of the Department of Education’ and it really caught on.”
With strong performances in televised debates and the endorsement of every major newspaper, Roemer made it into the runoff with the unpopular Edwards. Facing sure defeat, Edwards conceded the race then and there, and Roemer became governor.
Louisiana’s punditocracy generally agrees that Roemer was an honest and committed reformer. But his efforts to completely overhaul the state tax system and abolish government agencies he considered wasteful and redundant were thwarted by the voters in a statewide initiative.
At the urging of President George H.W. Bush in 1991, Roemer switched from Democrat to Republican. But when he sought reelection that year, his actions that had upset conservatives came back to haunt him in his new political home. A committed environmentalist, he irked the state’s gas and oil industry with fresh regulations.
Pro-lifers were incensed when the governor vetoed legislation that would have eliminated abortions in cases of rape and incest. Roemer explained that the measure would have violated the spirit of Roe v. Wade.
In his next trip to the polls, Roemer was eliminated and the runoff was between his predecessor Edwards and former Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon David Duke.
In 1995, voters seemed poised to tell Roemer they were sorry and would return him to the governorship. But Republican Mike Foster came on strong in the finish and Roemer placed fourth.
He finally did achieve his dream of running for president in 2012 and sought the nominations of the Republican, Reform, and Americans Elect Parties. He was not a factor in the nominations of any of them.
“Buddy tried his darndest in public life but didn’t always succeed,” Quin Hilyard said. “He was legitimately a reformer and legitimately, a good man.”
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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