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Louisiana in the 1980s


Chemical manufacturing in Louisiana
Chemical manufacturing in Louisiana

During the first two terms of Edwards (1972-1980), Louisiana had unprecedented economic prosperity as a result of the oil boom. Under Edwards’s leadership, the state focused its economic hopes on the oil industry, despite forecasts that the state’s oil reserves were declining and the industry’s future in the state was less than promising. State taxes were reduced as revenues from oil royalties and oil industry taxes became the government’s main source of income. For a brief period, state revenues exceeded expenditures. The Edwards administration used the surpluses to create the largest state bureaucracy per capita in the nation. Treen won the governorship in 1979 on a reform platform, but was unable to get the cooperation of the pro-Edwards legislature. In 1983 Edwards ran against Treen and was again elected governor. In 1985 he and several associates were indicted for fraud and racketeering in a hospital construction scandal. The first trial ended in a hung jury; at the second trial, in 1986, Edwards was acquitted.

The highly publicized Edwards trial coincided with the state’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Oil prices had begun a gradual decline in 1981, producing a ripple effect in the Louisiana economy. In December 1985 the world petroleum market virtually collapsed, as did the oil-based south Louisiana economy. In the 1987 primary, Edwards lost the nomination to Democratic Congressman Charles E. “Buddy” Roemer, who became governor in 1988.

Like the Treen administration before it, Roemer’s reform administration was unable to get its programs through the legislature. In October 1988 Roemer called for a special legislative session to enact a sweeping fiscal reform program. Although the state was burdened with a $1 billion debt and leading newspapers, television stations, and business interests supported the program, it met a resounding defeat. A watered-down version was also defeated by the legislature in March 1989.

The Edwards faction advocated state-sanctioned gambling as the route to economic recovery for Louisiana. The faction was opposed by proponents of economic diversification. The gambling advocates eventually won, despite widespread grass-roots opposition. This generated resentment among the voters. This resentment grew with a precipitous rise in state and local taxes, the continuing economic malaise, and the growing influence of special interest groups. Rumblings of a grass-roots political upheaval were first felt in the strong 1990 senatorial campaign of David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan member, against Louisiana’s senior U.S. senator, J. Bennett Johnston. The voter rebellion gathered strength following Edwards’s defeat of Duke in the 1991 campaign for governor.

Edwards declined to run again in 1995. The rapid growth of the gambling industry, the perceived indifference of state politicians, and FBI allegations of corruption in the legislature led to the election in 1995 of Republican Mike Foster. Foster was an outspoken opponent of gambling and, as governor, worked to remove the pro-Edwards leadership in the legislature. In 1999 he was reelected by a large margin. The following year, a jury convicted former governor Edwards and four associates, including his son Stephen, of racketeering, extortion, and conspiracy charges in the awarding of casino licenses. Edwards appealed the convictions, but after his appeals failed he entered federal prison. "Louisiana" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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