His philosophy was simple. Have state government provide basic public services, keep up the infrastructure, and provide public protection. No meddling in private business; No political deals to benefit supporters. He just wanted to create a healthy business climate, run the state efficiently, and then tell government to “just get out of the way.” See that the trains run on time. Nothing creative or entrepreneurial. That wasn’t the job, according to Treen, of state government.
Dave Treen was elected Louisiana Governor in 1979 in a close election against then Public Service Commissioner Louis Lambert. Voter fraud had been alleged in both the primary where Lt. Governor Jimmy Fitzmorris had been nudged out of the runoff, as well as the general election itself. I joined the statewide fray having been elected as Secretary of State at the same time. Shortly after taking office, the new Governor suggested we meet to talk over the election process. He wanted a full investigation into any of the election fraud allegations, and we both agreed on creating an Election Integrity Commission, the first such investigative body by any state in the country.
I never saw anyone so enmesh themselves in the details of government. Some criticized Treen for being so deliberative and slow to make a decision. He would be ridiculed unmercifully by Edwin Edwards in their future election confrontations when Edwards accused Treen of taking an hour and a half to watch 60 minutes. But that was his strength. He did not jump head first into some quick fix financial boondoggle expecting immediate results. Treen knew it would take years to dig the state out of the hole left by short-range thinking administrations going back many decades.
I tagged along on a helicopter trip with the Governor when we were both invited to speak to a Chamber of Commerce meeting in New Iberia. He read over a request on a budget matter the whole way over and back, something Edwin Edwards might have spent 4 or 5 minutes with. “These decisions often set precedents that are followed by years,” he said. “I want to be sure I get it right.”
I talked with Greg LeRoy, author of JobsScam, about state giveaways to bribe out-of-state businesses to move in. He recognized Dave Treen as a solid conservative who knew that the best way to attract new companies was with lower business taxes and a healthy business climate rather than dangling subsidies. And, according to Greg, Louisiana has still not learned Dave Treen’s lesson. “By impoverishing their tax base in the name of jobs, the Louisiana public officials continue to perversely harm the ‘business climate.’”
And the former Governor was certainly a strong conservative in courageously raising his objections when he felt there was government oppression. Treen wrote the forward to the biography of Edwin Edwards. Here’s what he had to say about the Edwards’ conviction. “I believe the federal government, and by that I mean Judge Frank Polozola, doubled his (Edwards’) sentence from the prescribed five years purely out of vindictiveness,” Treen wrote in the foreword. “They didn’t like him. That’s not a good reason to double someone’s sentence and is, I believe, a misuse of power.”
Dave Treen had strong feelings about what government should do and not do. He eloquently expressed a litany of conservative values and ideas in a book he wrote back in 1974 while in Congress about conservative principles and pursuing what you believe in. It was called Can we afford this House? “Ideas have consequences,” he wrote. “They need to be implemented.” Dave Treen wanted to have government help in a number of ways, but knew there were costs to consider and “consequences.”
Yes, Dave Treen was a nice guy. But history will remember him as having core beliefs and sticking to his guns. We could use a lot more like him in public office today.
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.