Dec 12, 2012 6:46 PM by AP
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana's four living former governors traded stories Wednesday about their combined 30 years in the state's top leadership post, defended their performances and offered political suggestions at a rare public gathering together.
Former Govs. Edwin Edwards, Buddy Roemer, Mike Foster and Kathleen Blanco spoke to a packed house at the annual meeting of the nonpartisan Council for a Better Louisiana, which was celebrating its 50th anniversary.
They talked about the power of the governor in Louisiana, with lawmakers who defer to the governor about legislation to pass and the leaders of their chambers.
"In this state, the governor is the central focus of power," said Edwards, a Democrat who served four terms before going to federal prison on corruption charges. "It doesn't matter what you propose, if the governor's not behind it, it's never going to happen."
Roemer, a Republican, pushed for more legislative independence in a state where the governor has a heavy hand in selecting the House speaker and Senate president.
"You need debate, and you need transparency, and you need the branches to be independent. It's slower that way," said Roemer, in office from 1988 to 1992.
Blanco, a Democrat who served one term from 2004-08, said while governors "love to control the Legislature," the state benefits from the legislative debate over issues. She said the give-and-take of the debate can improve laws and policies.
Foster, Blanco and Edwards worried about the encroachment of partisanship into state politics.
"I'm beginning to see a change in Louisiana that bothers me," said Foster, a two-term governor from 1996 to 2004.
Edwards said, "The important thing to me is the attitude and the spirit of people who serve us in this state."
The group largely steered clear of any direct commentary on the state's current leader, Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, except for a few mentions by Blanco criticizing Jindal's budget cuts, without naming him.
Each former governor described tumultuous times in office, from financial meltdowns during Roemer's tenure to hurricanes Katrina and Rita for Blanco.
Roemer said he inherited a state on the threshold of collapse, teetering near bankruptcy, with high unemployment rates and a bond rating that was the lowest in the nation.
"I would go home at night - and I've never said this publicly - and I would sit on the edge of my bed crying, after another 17-hour day," he said.
Then, he joked that when he lost his re-election bid to Edwards, "I got back in that same bed and smiled."
Foster talked of his worries about a near-flooding of the Mississippi River.
"They had amateur crises," said Blanco, whose re-election hopes ended amid criticism of her response to Katrina, a recovery effort she defended Wednesday.
As they talked about their tenures, the governors also shared lighthearted moments and some quips. Edwards said he'd like to be governor again - but joked about he can't run for years because of his federal conviction.
Asked what he missed most about being in office, Foster replied, "The helicopter. I learned to fly when I was governor and I went and bought one for myself. That's what I miss and that's what I did."