I was 30 years old in 1986 when I first heard Congressman Buddy Roemer speak at a small breakfast downtown. Wow! (Few could argue he was the best orator they ever heard.)
Buddy inspired me to believe we could “slay the dragon” and build a better Louisiana. He set the standard for an honest political campaign, believing “big ideas can beat big money.”
In the 1987 campaign, I remember the day before the election—when it was obvious Buddy had miraculously surged from fifth into first place—he was in his headquarters and one of the staff came into Buddy’s office and said three businessmen wanted to see him, each bearing a check for the maximum $5,000 donation. (He knew they had previously supported other candidates, but they clearly wanted to get on board with him just in time.) Buddy simply instructed the staffer to please tell them that he said, “Leave the office and take your money with you.“
Buddy wasn’t a political candidate—he was a principled candidate. He changed our politics. He changed Louisiana.
He raised the bar on ethics in politics and campaign finance before it was the law. He led by example, proving Louisiana could be better. Buddy embodied the revolution.
Roemer was a public servant, not a politician. A politician tells you he will scrub the budget on the campaign trail, but then further muddies it once in office. Buddy was not that guy. He told voters what he would do if elected and then actually did his best to accomplish that goal as governor. That’s called leadership. Buddy Roemer was a leader.
When Roemer took office, he dealt with a $1 billion shortfall on an $8 billion state budget at the time. Today, that would be the same as a $4.5 billion shortfall.
Buddy was one of the smartest people I’ve known. And there can be no doubt the best orator on the stump. No one could capture the hearts, minds and attention of a room better than Buddy. He had a gift and he used it for good to help others.
Buddy Roemer was one of my best friends. I loved his passion for life and his courage to take a stand and speak truth to power. He was unconventional, often going against the grain. I so admired him for that.
My friendship with Buddy has lasted for decades. We ate many a meal together at Zeeland Street Market, Waffle House and Fairway View “solving the world’s problems.” I will miss that.
Many may not remember, but Roemer had a Harvard MBA and used his skills in business after politics when he founded two banks in Baton Rouge, including b1BANK, now the second-largest community bank in Louisiana. He saw banking as another way to help people.
I am grateful I had the opportunity over the past couple of months to visit Buddy, tell him how much he meant to me—and bring him some of the fried chicken he loved. Dark meat.
It was tough to see this warrior in a wheelchair as his health failed him due to diabetes. This man was a giant, strong. A man who slayed dragons and only feared his God almighty.
He was also so proud of his large Roemer family that he loved dearly—and my family has been blessed to know. Our hearts and prayers go out to all of them.
Louisiana’s former governor has left this earth, but his legacy and spirit live on—certainly in his family—but also within everyone around the state and nation who was touched by either the Roemer revolution or his incredible life.
I am comforted and at peace knowing Buddy’s personal faith in Jesus has him walking in heaven now, probably asking lots of questions and even sharing some ideas.
There was a frequent phrase Buddy affectionately used often with others to honor them— but I think it best applies to him: Buddy, you da’ man!
Roemer was a revolutionary and impacted so many areas in our state. Below are remembrances from a few friends who have worked by his side:
“Buddy was never afraid of big problems, big ideas or the burdens of leadership. He inspired a generation to hope for a Louisiana free from the shackles of cronyism, underachievement, special interests, and corruption. He made aspiration believable.”
—Len Sanderson, Roemer’s chief of staff
“Buddy governed at a tough time (1988). The state had cash flow and budget problems when he came into office. Only one of the previous six state budgets had been balanced. Nothing came easily. He balanced all four budgets, gave teachers pay raises, reformed government and much more. He will be known, not for these things, but for his integrity and honesty. He was a man of great virtue.”
—Dennis Stine, Roemer’s commissioner of administration
“Buddy Roemer felt differently than previous governors about the environment. He thought it mattered. His administration helped to develop and pass Act 6, Louisiana’s foundational commitment to coastal restoration. He hired professionals to run the regulatory agencies. And he began to align economic development with a sustainable and protected environment.”
—Steve Cochran, deputy chief of staff under Roemer
“Gov. Roemer’s extraordinary efforts to improve public schools were far reaching and innovative. From improved instruction and standards, to pre-K and merit pay, putting kids first was always the core principal driving change. Ultimately, these efforts set the course in education reform for decades and made a difference. We can all be proud.”
—Stephanie Desselle, deputy chief of staff-education under Roemer
“One of the things that made Buddy special was the lack of separation between his passions. Community banking was for him the next iteration of his larger, longer dream: the lifting up of those around him. Same goals as those he had in politics, and similar tactics, just a different vehicle, a vehicle I think he came to believe was perhaps one better suited than politics for the creation of lasting, sustainable impact. He recognized the best businesses aren’t about making money, the best businesses are about making a difference, and that’s what he hoped our bank would do.”
—Jude Melville, president and CEO of b1BANK