While mulling over this year of memories, Louisianans ought to remember the accomplishments and life of Kathleen Blanco, who died Aug. 18.
The former governor, a native of Coteau in Iberia Parish, packed both honey and sting into her political dealings. As for honey, most Louisianans who met her over her 25 years in political office will remember her as an ever-gracious lady, proud of her Acadian roots, typically endearing and impactful in one-on-one conversations and encounters.
The sting? Ask former lawmaker Troy Hebert, of Jeanerette, whose politics have run the gamut. Early in the Blanco administration, after his appointment to lead a House of Representatives committee, he strayed from the Blanco line and, per the governor’s wishes, was stripped of his chairmanship. He lost a lot of perks that 2004 day.
It was Hebert who dubbed Blanco the “Queen Bee,” but the two eventually resumed cordial relations.
Blanco died last summer after almost a two-year fight against a rare form of cancer but met her fate with boundless faith and the courage she always demonstrated.
Among her legacies is the Kathleen Babineaux Blanco Public Policy Center, created at her alma mater, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, in 2018. The effort started with her donation of 90 boxes of materials to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, which are kept in the Edith Dupre Library.
It was established as an independent research center, supported privately, to explore issues Blanco deemed most important in her public leadership: criminal justice reform, poverty and economic opportunity, governmental ethics and education.
The center’s intent is to hold thoughtful discussions on these and other matters of public concern. In a 2018 interview discussing the center’s establishment, Blanco said she envisioned it “as a voice of reason — nonpartisan reason.”
She said the Blanco Center should “acknowledge the good ideas from both political party perspectives” and set “the tone for compromise. I think that’s the most important thing.”
“It’s an important endeavor and something the state desperately needs,” the former governor said. “If it is done well, it will affect the whole country.” Perhaps it will.
The governor’s expressed good wishes reflect the political core of a thoughtful leader, a pro-business, fiscally responsible Democrat. They also reflect the best intentions of a public servant and ought to give pause to those who practice bare-knuckled partisanship. It’s a lesson needed in Louisiana and beyond.
There is a better way. The Queen Bee knew that.