"An intimate snapshot of a transitional time in the state’s history... A political roll call for some of the biggest names in 20th-century Louisiana politics."
—The Advocate (12.20.20)
The delegates to Louisiana’s 1973 Constitutional Convention were an unruly bunch of policy pirates who charted their own course. Their generation swept aside the deeply rooted influences of Huey P. Long’s legacy and replaced it with the kind of independent spirit that permeated American culture and politics during the 1970s.
First-term Governor Edwin W. Edwards and the Legislature’s “Young Turks” charged delegates with reviewing and approving a constitution drafted mostly by staffers. The delegates, however, ignored that charge and penned a plan for drafting their own constitution on the back of a cocktail napkin from Pastime Lounge, which in turn became one of the first official documents entered into the Convention record.
Distrustful of anyone who sought to exert pressure on the proceedings, delegates pushed back on many of the governor’s requested changes and watered down the duties of the Convention chairman. Along the way they ran out of money to bankroll the Convention, missed more than a few important deadlines, and were forced to relocate their base of operations three times. (At one point delegates were sharing a hall with amateur wrestlers.)
Long after delegates left the Convention in 1974 their commitment to public service continued. They ultimately became statewide elected officials, such as governor and insurance commissioner, members of Congress and the Legislature, including a House speaker and a Senate president, federal judges, and business tycoons. They are Louisiana’s greatest political generation.
If you want to understand today’s political headlines, there’s no better place to start than The Last Constitution. This book relies on Convention transcripts, delegate interviews, newspaper accounts, oral histories, and an unpublished memoir by the chairman to paint a picture of one of the most important eras in Louisiana politics.
In early 1970, the Lotus Club in Monroe was Louisiana’s second-oldest social organization, which made it the place to be seen in the northeastern corner of the state. For the previous five decades, the club’s Tiffany stained-glass and ornate wood paneling provided a place — the ninth floor of the Ouachita National Bank building — for mixing fellowship, business, and politics. On a frosty January morning of that year, Congressman Edwin W. Edwards of Crowley sat down with a freshman state representative from Monroe in the club’s dining hall. Invitations to such meetings with Edwards were becoming commonplace. For Edwards, the Lotus Club was yet another setting for yet another conversation about “Louisiana’s future.”
Edwards, at age 43, was literally and figuratively flying high by the time the New Year and new decade came into focus. He was a licensed pilot and spent much of the first quarter of 1970 at a cruising altitude, flying from one town to the next while boosting...