"The Last Constitution" by Jeremy Alford; CC73 Publishing; 451 pages
Told against the backdrop of the tumultuous 1970s, "The Last Constitution: Louisiana’s Greatest Political Generation and the Document that Defined Them All" offers an intimate snapshot of a transitional time in the state’s history and a better understanding of the public policy issues that still garner headlines today.
The book tells the story of Louisiana’s 1973 constitutional convention — one of the last successful conventions conducted in America — and it peels back to the proverbial layers of the towering figures who made the convention tick.
"The phrase 'constitutional convention' may evoke thoughts of dignified statesmen and serious discussions of fundamental law,” said author Jeremy Alford in a news release, “but in Louisiana in 1973 that wasn’t the case. The delegates who gave us our current Constitution were an unruly bunch at times. They ignored the wishes of the governor and the Legislature. They literally made their own rules, blew deadlines, ran out of money and were forced to relocate several times. At one point they even shared a venue with amateur wrestlers.”
Using convention transcripts, delegate interviews, newspaper accounts, oral histories and an unpublished memoir by the convention Chairman E.L. "Bubba" Henry, "The Last Constitution" serves as a political roll call for some of the biggest names in 20th-century Louisiana politics.
In 1973, first-term Gov. Edwin W. Edwards and the Legislature’s “Young Turks” were riding high when the two political forces teamed up to pass legislation for another constitutional convention. The were part of a younger generation, one that swept aside the deeply rooted influences of Huey P. Long’s legacy and replaced it with the kind of independent spirit that permeated American culture and politics during the 1970s, the release says.
"Edwards and the Turks charged delegates with reviewing and approving a constitution drafted mostly by staffers," according to the release. "The delegates, however, ignored that charge and penned a plan for drafting their own constitution on the back of a cocktail napkin from Pastime Lounge, which in turn became one of the first official documents entered into the convention record.
"Skeptical of anyone who sought to exert pressure on the proceedings, delegates pushed back on many of the governor’s requested changes and watered down the duties of the convention chairman. Most importantly, in the shadow of growing public distrust in government and President Richard Nixon on television every evening, the delegates convinced voters to approve a new constitution."
With an afterword by former Gov. Edwin Edwards, "The Last Constitution" is available at TheLastConstitution.com and in bookstores in January.
Alford, an independent journalist based in Baton Rouge, is the co-author of both "Long Shot," which recounts Louisiana’s 2015 race for governor, as well as the forthcoming "The Party Is Over: Louisiana Politics in the 21st Century," a political compendium to be published by LSU Press next year. He is the editor and publisher of LaPolitics Weekly and The Tracker, Louisiana’s oldest trade publications for elected officials, lobbyists, donors and campaign professionals. His byline appears regularly in The New York Times and his work has been featured in The Dallas Morning News, The Associated Press and Campaigns & Elections magazine. He is a political analyst for several Louisiana television outlets and has served as a commentator for CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, C-SPAN and NPR.