They say Huey Long’s ghost still haunts the Louisiana Capitol.
“The corporate element of this state are being told what they can do, what they can’t do, what they will pay for the welfare of the people of Louisiana,” said Louisiana’s 40th governor.
But it’s not his voice echoing through the marble halls, or Long’s fog-shrouded figure rounding a corner late at night that people mean when they talk about his ghost these days.
“It’s politics, and it’s Huey Long politics,” explains state Sen. Conrad Appel of Metairie.
“Huey wanted the power focused on Baton Rouge,” adds the third-term Republican. “He wanted the ability to micromanage what happens in the local parishes and cities, and that was his way of doing it, because anybody that controls the money controls the power.”
“Exorcising the ghost of Huey Long” has become a recurrent theme as Louisiana continues struggling to balance its budget. It’s a dirge sung by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, as well as by conservatives like Appel.
“Money should be raised locally, spent locally, where the local voters have a say in the leaders that are spending their money," he says. "But that’s not the way it is."
Instead, we have the Long model of "Share Our Wealth."
“We start from the bottom. None shall be too poor,” Long said, during one of his filmed speeches explaining the theme he hoped to ride to the U.S. presidency.
Appel says that clearly does not work.
"We should tackle it from the top to the bottom, creating a new constitution based on modern government principles – not on the principles of Huey Long’s age."
Appel says prior legislative battles over the locally-assessed inventory tax versus the state-paid inventory tax credit are an example of attempting ineffective piecemeal change. He points to the current furor over the industrial tax exemption program (ITEP) as another.
“Most government in Louisiana is focused in Baton Rouge, and for us to pick out a little piece of it and try to effect a change – without changing the whole – can really be problematic.”
But in light of the current political atmosphere, Appel isn’t sure if Huey’s ghost can be exorcised anytime soon.
“Is there the political will to change it all? Probably not, unless there’s some really strong leadership that we haven’t seen so far.”