The looming retirement of state Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield, marks the end of Louisiana’s most storied political dynasty; once he leaves the Capitol, no member of the family will hold state or federal office in Louisiana for the first time in 72 years.
That doesn’t mean their legend won’t live on, in the landmarks built on Huey’s watch, in the colorful stories of Uncle Earl’s exploits, and this timeless phrase attributed to Huey’s son (and Gerald’s distant cousin) Russell, the late, longtime U.S. senator: ''Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that man behind the tree.''
The latest evidence that it always helps to have some metaphorical man behind some imagined tree is the deal to send more money to New Orleans to help rebuild its aging infrastructure, which has apparently cleared all remaining hurdles in the state Legislature. Despite a period of tense, on-again, off-again negotiations among New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, Gov. John Bel Edwards, legislative leaders and representatives of the tourism industry, all sides emerged with much of what they wanted.
That’s because the cost of the investment is largely being shifted elsewhere, to the tourists who flock to the city in huge numbers each year. One key element is a one-percentage-point increase in the hotel tax that visitors pay. A second, which requires a city referendum to take effect, is an increase in taxes charged to guests who stay in short-term rental properties. A third clears the way for the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to build a hotel and monetize other assets, all in the aim of attracting more paying customers.
So in this case, the man behind the tree is lots of men, women and children who’ll pony up a little more when they come to town — and who won’t be voting the next time Cantrell, Edwards and the lawmakers who approved the package appear on any ballot.
You don’t need to be steeped in politics from an early age — as all those Longs have been — to know that this is the sweet spot for any politician.