BOOKS & THE CULTURE Race from Hell BY MARY O’GRADY CROSS TO BEAR. By John Maginnis. 374 pages. Baton Rouge: Dark Horse Press. $19.95. 1992. IN THE 1991 LOUISIANA gubernatorial contest, known to many as the “Race from Hell,” Edwin Edwards, a former governor and classic Louisiana populist, faced incumbent fiscal reformer and Congressman Buddy Roemer and the inimitable state Rep. David Duke, who was fresh from his unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid. As John Maginnis comments, “For Louisiana Voters it was like watching a train wreck, except they were along for the ride.” In Cross to Bear, Maginnis provides a detailed and entertaining account of that train wreck, in a book valuable to the non-Louisianan reader for its lucid explanations of the bizarre practices of politics in Louisiana. Good-humored digressions include an account of the fall of the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart; the Baton Rouge televangelist was discovered, during the period covered by the book, in the company of a prostitute in a cheap motel on New Orleans’ Airline Highway to Heaven. Maginnis, who in The Last Hayride documented Edwards’ unsuccessful 1983 re-election campaign, understands Louisiana’s history of strong patriarchal governors, and in Cross to Bear traces the origins of strong-man rule in Louisiana to the installation of the second Spanish governor of Louisiana, Don Alejandro O’Reilly, an Irishman sent by the Spanish king to deal with his newly acquired and unruly French subjects subjects who had compelled the first royal gubernatorial appointee to flee for his life. In honor of his own arrival, O’Reilly invited Louisiana’s most prominent French citizens to a gala banquet. Meal concluded, the gentlemen guests retired for cigars only to find a contingent of the governor’s soldiers who marched them away, O’Reilly’s apology for his little deception still ringing in their ears. O’Reilly had most of them shot, and his tenure as governor continued, unmarred by Creole turbulence. Although summary execution is no longer within the authority of Louisiana governors, the office remains remarkable for its nearly autocratically wide range of powers. Maginnis argues that, because of the influence of the succession of strong state chief executives and the effects of “involuntary immigration from Africa, which had its own kings,” the majority of Louisianans have historically shared only min Mary O’Grady is an Observer editorial intern. 18 FEBRUARY 26, 1993 imal experience in representative democracy. While retaining the governor as the closest equivalent to an absolute monarch tolerated under the U.S. Constitution, Louisiana is also unique for its open primary, a phenomenon striking in its simplicity, which inspires journalists and scholars to employ adjectives like, “`peculiar,’ screwball,’ [and] even ‘dangerous’. The open primary puts all candidates on the same ballot, regardless of party affiliation, for consideration of all voters: It allows Louisiana voters unlimited freedom to choose their candidates for office, from parish police juror \(the senator, with no filtering effect interposed by Democratic or Republican party machine pols. open primary then meet in a runoff election in a system not unlike the Texas special election by which voters in this state will elect Lloyd Bentsen’s successor. Major political party leaders, national and state, view Louisiana’s open primary system with undisguised loathing. Their position is bolstered by episodes such as Democratic incumbent Sen. Bennett Johnston’s narrow victory over David Duke in the 1990 U.S. Senate election. Johnston had never before faced serious opposition, Maginnis reports, and “[t]he rules for gaining the Republican endorsement [were] written by the influential Anal Retentive Wing of the party,” which had thrown its support behind a notorious loose cannon named Ben Bagert, thus pointedly avoiding any public encouragement of the candidacy of born-again Republican and former Klansman Duke. State and national Republican officials were later forced to pressure the hopeless Bagert to withdraw from the race, lest Duke survive to become the Republican candidate in a fall runoff and embarrass Republican candidates in general election races nationwide. \(Republican leaders feared that out-of-state voters unfamiliar with Louisiana’s open primaries would naturally assume that Duke was the preferred nominee of By Maginnis’ account, a number of factors combined to defeat Gov. Buddy Roemer’s reelection bid in 1991. Roemer had been elected in 1987 as a Democratic reform candidate, pulling his support from “middle-class, good government types” and others, including conservative voters, who found themselves disgusted with then-Governor Edwin Edwards’ high living and pungent whiffs of corruption. Using his “directto-the-people” style of politicking, Roemer had steamrollered the Legislature into granting him unprecedented power to cut budgets and raise fees. He soon found himself governing by veto, having exhausted his stock of good will among legislators. Then, in quick succession, he allocated money to education reform and environmental programs pleasing his middle-class constituency but alienating the rest of his supporters and shut himself up in the Governor’s Mansion for a period of months. Reclusiveness is not a quality desirable in Louisiana governors. Roemer’s seclusion undoubtedly hurt him politically in that most sociable of states. It also accelerated the breakup of his marriage. In October 1989, First Lady Patti Roemer packed her bags and left the Governor, who responded by throwing himself into a series of personal growth and self-help projects. Roemer, or, “Hamlet, Prince of Politics”, as Maginnis calls him, never regained his momentum. “We had everything going for us but a candidate,” Roemer’s mother remarked sadly, the morning after the primary. Edwin Edwards’ indictment and two trials on racketeering charges had punctuated his third term as governor, from 1983 to 1987. He had seen his popularity plummet as he was forced to raise personal taxes in a vain attempt to stanch the hemorrhage from the state budget. Conventional wisdom in 1987 held that “[t]he only way Edwards can ever be re-elected is to run against Adolf Hitler.” Edwards pronounced himself glad to be rid of the office of governor in 1987. Four years later, appealing to his old power base, low-income blacks and Cajuns, gladhanding his way through every village barbecue and parade, and making no secret of his contempt for middleclass morality, Edwards made the runoff, along with David Duke. , Maginnis tells the twisted story of David Duke’s political career, from neo-Nazi adolescence through his later attempts to shed his record as a Ku Klux Klan leader, and describes the efforts of sane Louisiana Republicans to dissociate him from their party. Maginnis also points out the degree of tolerance Duke found in the state Republican Party, despite his long paper trail of hate-filled published writings and speeches. Vivid passages of Cross to Bear take the reader to steamy outdoor rallies and small town food festivals to meet rank-and-file Duke supporters, people who perceived their taxes going to buy disposable diapers and beer for darkskinned sluggards across town while their jobs went to affirmative action hires. Cross to Bear reads like a novel a darkly comic novel. Maginnis, the editor and publisher of the Louisiana Political Review, has written a book that anyone with an interest in Louisiana politics, or issues of race and class, will find worthwhile.