Former Gov. Buddy Roemer dies at 77; condolences pour in

Published: May. 17, 2021 at 6:43 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Former Louisiana Governor Charles “Buddy” Roemer died at the age of 77. Roemer was the state’s 52nd governor.

Roemer’s son Chas said his father died peacefully at his home in Baton Rouge after a long battle with diabetes.

In 1988, Roemer who was Harvard-educated was sworn in as governor after getting more votes than fellow Democrat and then populist Governor Edwin Edwards.

“No two politicians could be more different than Edwin Edwards and me,” Roemer said.

Roemer campaigned as a reformer and tried to govern as such.

John Alario was called the dean of the legislature before his retirement at the end of 2019. Alario served both as Senate President and House Speaker and was in the legislature when Roemer was governor.

“Very saddened to hear of his passing. I had the pleasure of serving with seven different governors and I had the highest regard for each and every one of them including Buddy. He and I didn’t necessarily get along politically but we were still friends,” said Alario.

Alario also recalled Roemer’s efforts to make reforms in a number of areas.

“He came in under the Roemer revolution, he was going to clean house and did a suitable job. With that, when he got there, he had a fiscal problem, one of the biggest at that time that compared [fiscal] numbers but he tackled that and ended up balancing the budget but had to borrow some money to make that work,” said Alario.

Political analyst Dr. Silas Lee remembers Roemer’s governorship.

“He came in under strong reforms, teacher pay raise, environmental protections, but went quickly from being highly praised to strongly criticized,” said Lee.

Roemer was governor for one term from 1988 to 1992.

Alario says Roemer worked to help New Orleans.

“He was strong about helping the Saints stay here, he made sure that New Orleans had what aid they needed for the port or for Audubon Zoo,” said Alario.

While governor Roemer switched to the Republican Party, Lee said he was not always in line with GOP policies.

“He wasn’t in lock-step with any political party,” said Lee. “Keep in mind from Democrat to Republican but that did not exclude him from criticizing the peers in his party.”

“He was a sitting governor as a Democrat and I think when he was reading the tea leaves, he saw that things were swinging more towards the Republican side,” said Alario.

Roemer lost his 1991 re-election bid. In that race, Edwin Edwards won a fourth term as governor after a runoff with David Duke, the ex-KKK leader.

In 2012, Roemer ran for president.

“Well, he could not get on the state ballots, he was polling very low,” said Lee.

Lee summed up Roemer’s legacy.

“He was a maverick in many ways, a man before his time. It was not always a smooth path for governing, but he did establish a legacy in reference to trying to implement reforms and managing the state when we were in severe financial crisis,” said Lee.

Roemer served in Congress before becoming governor.

Current Governor John Bel Edwards issued the following statement on Roemer’s legacy.

“From the fields of Scopena to the halls of Congress and then the Governor’s Mansion, Buddy Roemer proudly represented the state he so dearly loved. His astute intellect led him to enter Harvard at the young age of 16, but he still returned to Louisiana, driven by a desire to serve. I am especially grateful for the balanced, pragmatic approach he took as governor during a turbulent time for our state’s budget. I hope that we will all carry on his legacy by espousing his positive, passionate approach to public service. Donna and I ask that you join your prayers to ours in praying for Gov. Roemer’s family and friends during this difficult time.”

Gov. Edwards has ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff in honor of Gov. Roemer’s life and legacy on May 17, 2021, the day of his interment.

Members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation also issued statements.

Senator John Kennedy wrote:

“Louisiana weeps. Buddy was one of the most interesting people I have ever met. He was immeasurably talented. All he ever wanted to do was make Louisiana better, and he did. That meant making the right people mad, but he understood that. When I count my blessings, I count Buddy twice.

“More than anything, Buddy loved his family. Becky and I are honored to count his family and loved ones as our friends. We are so sad to lose this Louisiana warrior, and we are praying for everyone who was blessed to know and love him.”

Sen. Bill Cassidy’s statement said:

“Buddy’s election as governor signaled a turning point in Louisiana’s history. He loved Louisiana, contributing to it through the public and private sector. He leaves a great legacy. My condolences to his family.”

And U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise’s statement said:

“Buddy Roemer worked hard to improve the lives of all Louisiana families during his time in Congress and throughout his tenure as Governor of our great state. Buddy wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, and his education reforms helped increase teacher pay and improve standards in the classroom. Jennifer and I mourn his passing, and our prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”

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