Where LSU’s coaches and administrators side politically
By JIM ENGSTER
Tiger Rag President
Louisiana has 2.9 million registered voters with about 1.4 million of its citizens registered as Democrats. About 789,000 voters in the state are registered Republicans. There are 694,000 independents or members of other parties.
Despite the numerical majority enjoyed by the Democratic Party in the Bayou State, no Democrat has carried Louisiana in a presidential election since 1996 when Bill Clinton routed Bob Dole by more than 215,000 votes. Only one U.S. House seat is held by a Democrat in Louisiana (Cedric Richmond of New Orleans) while U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu is the only elected Democratic statewide official in the state.
LSU is regarded by many politicos as a conservative campus in what is depicted as a haven for liberalism-academia. As chancellors and presidents have learned for decades, LSU has evolved into a controversial cesspool of conflicting goals and approaches. The ability to navigate the uncertain political waters is often the key to survival for administrators at the Ole War Skule.
It has never hurt those seeking office in Louisiana to brandish LSU credentials, particularly in the sporting world. Former Baton Rouge Mayor-President Pat Screen, a Democrat, served two terms at City Hall after starring as an LSU quarterback in the Sixties. Former District Attorney Doug Moreau and former Public Service Commissioner Jimmy Field, both Republicans, were standouts for the Tigers on the gridiron in the Sixties and parlayed that popularity into political offices.
LSU football’s only three-time All America performer, Tommy Casanova, served as a Louisiana Senator more than two decades after departing Death Valley in 1971. Mary Landrieu went almost directly from her sorority house to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1979 while Lieutenant Gov. Jay Dardenne was student body president at LSU in 1977. Journalism graduate Dardenne is a member of the Manship School Hall of Fame as is East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden.
Funding for the flagship university has been curtailed dramatically the last few years, much to the chagrin of former LSU president John Lombardi, former chancellor Mike Martin, and former provost Jack Hamilton. All three men are staunch Democrats, perhaps a reason why they were not in good graces with the Republican administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Acting president/chancellor William Jenkins is an independent, a status that is probably wise amid the swirling political winds that frequently envelop the Baton Rouge campus and LSU system. Information about the party affiliation of many LSU luminaries has been obtained through a public records request from Tiger Rag.
Gov. Jindal is a graduate of Brown University in Rhode Island and does not appear to have the emotional ties to LSU sports that some previous governors have exhibited. Former Gov. John McKeithen regularly recruited for the Tigers from the fourth floor of the Capitol while Huey Long was consumed with LSU football, famously muttering about the future of the university and its athletic program on his deathbed.
Jindal was born in Baton Rouge on June 10, 1971 shortly after his pregnant mother arrived in the city to accept a job at LSU. The university’s offer of employment to Raj Jindal is quite possibly the reason the governor is a native born American. But football is not Jindal’s major passion. During the Ole Miss game last November at Tiger Stadium, the governor reportedly attended Mass at his parish church than cheer the Bengals as they were squeezing out a thrilling 41-35 victory over the Rebels a few blocks away. LSU football is religious experience to many, but it’s hard to knock a man for opting to commiserate with a higher power.
Football coaches at LSU are more powerful than governors as long as they are winning at an acceptable rate. Les Miles has conquered 80 percent of his opponents in eight years and used the clout to lobby effectively the Louisiana Legislature against guns on campus. Otherwise, Miles has been more focused on his program’s budget than the tenuous budget of the state.
Miles, like his predecessor Nick Saban, is registered in Louisiana as a no party voter. On the basketball court, LSU’s Johnny Jones is a Democrat. Election records do not indicate that Trent Johnson registered to vote in his four years as men’s basketball coach.
On the women’s court, Coach Nikki Caldwell is a Democrat. Her predecessor Van Chancellor is a registered Republican while ex-coach Pokey Chatman is a Democrat. Athletic Director Joe Alleva is a Republican and previous AD Skip Bertman is a Democrat. Track and Field Coach Dennis Shaver is a Republican as was his predecessor, Pat Henry.
LSU Faculty Senate President Kevin Cope lists his party affiliation as “Monarchist” while Associate Athletic Director Verge Ausberry is a Democrat. Vice Chancellor and Associate Athletic Director Herb Vincent and Tiger Athletic Foundation President Ron Richard claim no party affiliation.
Former basketball coach Dale Brown was courted by politicos a decade ago in his native state of North Dakota to run for Congress as a Republican. Brown opted not to seek the office and is also not affiliated with a major party in Louisiana.
LSU Leaders and their Party Affiliation*
Democrats Republicans No Party Monarchist Did Not Register
Mike Martin Joe Alleva Les Miles Kevin Cope Trent Johnson
John Lombardi Paul Mainieri Nick Saban
Jack Hamilton Dennis Shaver William Jenkins
Johnny Jones Van Chancellor Dale Brown
Nikki Caldwell Pat Henry Ron Richard
Pokey Chatman Herb Vincent
*Source: The Louisiana Office of Secretary of State
LSU has possessed a healthy mix of Democrats and Republicans on campus and reflects the varied preferences of voters. President Obama, who won the national popular vote by nearly five million ballots, received just 41-percent of the votes in Louisiana. But Obama carried the state’s two largest cities, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, by decisive margins.
Jim Engster is the president of Louisiana Radio Network and Tiger Rag. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.