It is in the nature of politicians to declare they are working their socks off for the public good, and quite a few of them may even believe it.
C.B. Forgotston generally didn’t, figuring that if they weren’t hypocrites, they were delusional. And on the rare occasion when what he called the “leges” embraced some sound policy, he figured that was what they were paid for. If a sugary compliment ever passed his lips, it had nothing to do with events at the State Capitol, where his disdain for politicians was warmly reciprocated.
His blog, a must-read for Louisiana political junkies, won him many admirers and was for decades a cast-iron resource for the local commentariat, which could always expect a friendly email in the event of error.
His suicide will mean less rigorous scrutiny of errant officialdom. He really did work his socks off for what he regarded as the public good, and that is not just obituary soft soap. He was a tireless scold, just for the love of it. Sure, he made money out of politics at various stages earlier in his career, but his blog was pro bono.
The relentless negativity of which politicians frequently complained no doubt helped lower them in the public esteem. But a facile assumption that pretty much all politicians are crooks is commonplace and not restricted to Louisiana, so Forgotston’s acerbities fit the zeitgeist perfectly.
Besides, he was negative because there was a lot to be negative about, as the “Misery Index” on his website demonstrated. This listed scores of economic, sociological and medical studies in which Louisiana was ranked at or near the bottom nationwide. It is still up, its most somber entry averring that Louisiana has been rated the 48th worst state to die in.
After Hurricane Katrina flooded Forgotston out of his New Orleans home, he moved to Hammond, which perhaps did not seem excessively rural, because he grew up in Tensas Parish. It was in Hammond that Forgotston shot himself Sunday.
Forgotston, in denouncing some legislative act, would often claim that its folly was so obvious that even he could see it. He liked to aver he was “not the sharpest knife in the drawer” — the supposed consequence of attending Louisiana public schools; that was the only assertion on his website that nobody believed.
If Forgotston was hardly the only pundit to believe that politicians could be self-serving and venal, nobody else could disparage them with the same authority, because he had watched them up close for many years. He was staff attorney to the convention that drew up the 1974 state constitution and to the House Appropriations Committee before signing on as a paid lobbyist in the doomed campaign to block the Harrah’s casino in New Orleans. He earned his jaundiced view through experience.
And he was jaundiced until the end, his last blog exulting in the imminent departure of Gov. Bobby Jindal. Forgotston always despised public officials who put their political ambitions before the public weal, so it was only natural that he should reserve his most withering contempt for Jindal.
Not that Jindal was unusual in getting the rough side of Forgotston’s tongue. Most legislators probably resented Forgotston, if only because he kept meticulous records of their votes and urged his readers to hold them accountable. For chicanery he had no tolerance, frequently denouncing, for instance, the convention that allows House members to change their votes after the event in the official record.
His emails were naturally not welcome in the Capitol, and a few months ago, state Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, responded to some adverse comment on elected officials thus: “Take me off your list until u do something positive about anyone.” Forgotston obliged to remind Martiny, who is also an attorney, that the right to petition government is in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and politicians are not entitled to refuse emails on a public server.
Baton Rouge won’t be the same without him.
James Gill’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.