There were back slaps, hugs, warm reminiscences and laughter — especially laughter — when the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame inducted six new members at a ceremony in Lafayette on Saturday night.
Five of the inductees — Paul Hardy, Raymond Blanco, Marion Edwards, Richard Zuschlag and Ron Gomez — have close ties to Acadiana and had been political allies or enemies at various times during their political careers.
The political fights were forgotten when Hardy, Blanco, Zuschlag and Gomez gave short speeches to the crowd focused on the good memories. So did Edwin Edwards, the four-term governor, who spoke on behalf of his younger brother, who died in 2013.
“Louisiana politics is really a sport,” said Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, in a statement that many of the crowd could have made.
The sixth inductee, Edwin Lombard, is from New Orleans. A judge on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal, Lombard is the only one of the six who still holds office.
“This is one of the great nights for politics in Louisiana,” said Jay Dardenne, the state Commissioner of Administration, who served as the master of ceremonies.
Saturday night’s event at a Cajundome meeting room was sold out with 500 tickets, said Ted Jones, who chairs the Political Hall of Fame board. With the most recent inductees, the hall now has 181 members.
Hardy, 76, was a French-speaking conservative Democrat from Cecilia who was elected to the state Senate in 1972 and then as secretary of state in 1975. He finished fourth in the 1979 governor’s race. In 1987, after switching parties, he was elected as the first Republican lieutenant governor since Reconstruction.
Raymond Blanco, 83, was never elected to political office. But while he worked at what is now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, he served as the chief political strategist for his wife, Kathleen, beginning with her election to the state House from Lafayette in 1983. He continued to pore over polls and plot Kathleen’s political moves with her as she won six more elections. The last one in 2003 made her the state’s first female governor and him the state’s first First Gentleman.
Zuschlag, 70, also never sought political office, although he repeatedly contemplated running for mayor of Lafayette.
“Richard, you ought to run for something,” joked Ted Jones, the hall of fame board chairman, when he introduced Zuschlag Saturday night to warm applause.
Instead, Zuschlag raised money for candidates — in 2003, he co-chaired the money-raising part of Kathleen Blanco’s gubernatorial campaign — and oversaw efforts to allow Acadian Ambulance, the company that he founded and still leads, to operate throughout much of Louisiana.
Marion Edwards, who was 84 when he died, also preferred to remain behind the scenes. He served as a trusted adviser for his brother during campaigns and during his four terms as governor. Suggestions for appointments to key boards named by the governor frequently came from Marion.
Gomez, 84, had a booming radio voice that he honed as the play-by-play announcer for football and basketball games at what was then called the University of Southwest Louisiana. He parlayed that recognition into election to the state House in 1979 and two re-election wins. As a conservative Democrat, Gomez pushed to limit lawsuits filed against companies accused of being responsible for injuries.
Lombard, 72, has served as an elected official in New Orleans since 1974. For 29 years, he served as the clerk of Criminal Court — which oversees evidence and the city’s election system — and since 2003, he has been an appeals court judge.
Lombard said he believes he is currently the longest serving African-American elected official in the country.