After 16 years in public office, state Sen. Butch Gautreaux is saying goodbye to politics, but not to public service.
“I met my responsibilities as a legislator,” he said. “My critics would say I should have shaken more hands, gone to more funerals, attended more council meetings. But that’s not what makes a good legislator; that’s what makes a good politician.”
Gautreaux was a managing partner and owner of Today’s TV Furniture and Appliances and, later, Rent-to-Own, in Morgan City for 30 years before entering politics.
He ran at the urging of friends and business owners, and won a successful campaign in 1995. The Democrat became state representative for District 51. The seat was vacated by former Sen. John Siracusa.
Four years later, Gautreaux campaigned and won the state Senate District 21 seat, which he relinquishes Jan. 9 to Sen.-elect Brett Allain. Because of term limits, Gautreaux was unable to run for re-election.
“A good legislator looks out for all of his constituents all of the time. I believe I have represented everyone – from the poor, the working middle class and the wealthy – equally,” he said. “However, I am a rare breed in Louisiana. I’m a Democrat. Because I believe in the Democratic principles, I expect some people to be critical of me.”
While in the state Senate, Gautreaux served as a member of the Committee on Retirement, serving as chairman seven of his eight years. The committee oversees retirement systems for state school employees, state police firefighters and state staffers.
“I’d say that’s where I did my best work,” he said, noting savings during the 2009 legislative session in which he said the committee saved the state “in excess of $1.5 billion by a re-amortization of retirement debt at a lower rate of interest.”
“Again, our focus was to make sure that every bill had to make good fiscal sense and not put a burden on the retirement system, municipalities or the state,” Gautreaux said.
In exchange for his efforts, Gautreaux was awarded for staying true to his fiscal responsible stance. And, although he’s walking away from the state Senate, he’s agreed to continue serving on two commissions tasked with overseeing public retirement and benefits.
As for Louisiana’s future, Gautreaux said much work still needs to be done.
“We really have a poor Department of Economic Development in Baton Rouge,” he said. “They go after the really big projects, but do not concentrate on the things we can do.”
He said the department has, “speech makers,” who make announcements of projects, “many of which never come to fruition.”
Gautreaux feels the state dishes out millions of dollars to big businesses, only to find out two years down the road that they decided to relocate or not come to Louisiana.
He said the state needs to market itself to projects that can work with the state’s current educational system, because their big excuse is that, “we have limitations because of our educational system.”
“But that doesn’t mean we can’t put our people to work,” he said. “Why can’t we find jobs that match the education level of our citizens while we build up our junior college system?”
Citing one example, he said Maytag recently announced they would open a washer and dryer factory in Memphis. “There are lots of small manufacturing companies that look for places to go. I know we didn’t go after that plant that is now providing great jobs to people with limited education.”
Gautreaux believes that during his tenure, he cast votes that “were the most sound and prudent thing to do.”
That statement was questioned in 2010 by some of his constituents, when Gautreaux stood on the Senate Floor and spoke on the subject of President Barack Obama’s moratorium against drilling.
Gautreaux said he was speaking against a resolution supported by State Rep. Gordon Dove and Senator Norby Chabert, both Houma Republicans, in opposition of the moratorium.
“I was against this resolution because I thought it was egregious, down to almost being x-rated, speaking only to the losses of the energy sector, not even mentioning the loss of lives, the severe damage to the environment, the loss of income to fishermen and tourism. There was no humanity in that original resolution.
“Nonetheless, I met with the two legislators who authored the resolution later that evening, and told them my objections. The names of the 11 were added, along with damages to the environment, and then I voted.”
Gautreaux decided to seek the lieutenant governorship of Louisiana in a 2010 special election to replace Incumbent Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu after he became Mayor of New Orleans.
But in a field of eight candidates, with the official endorsement of the Louisiana AFL-CIO, Gautreaux pulled only four percent of the vote. Republican Jay Dardenne eventually was elected after facing off against Democrat Caroline Fayard.
“Democrats for some reason, other than the Presidential election of 2008, are not voting,” Gautreaux said. “However, voter turn-out for some time now, in general among both parties, has been very low.
“A large group of people have no idea what’s going on. Some people are still replacing the campaign yard signs after cutting their grass. It certainly strengthens the point that signs don’t vote. After 16 years in Baton Rouge I still get asked why I’m not at work in D.C.”
Gautreaux also said he believes the Democratic Party has fallen apart in Louisiana because people in general believe that the Republican Party is the Conservative Party.
“Then, there are the people who go to church and have their preachers tell them that if they’re not voting Republican, they’re sinning. And, if they want to be God fearing, they need to change to Republican.
“Meanwhile, Democrats at heart, can’t speak out, because of (either) their jobs, they just don’t want to be in an argument, they fear a loss of business, they fear they will lose their job, or they fear they will be criticized by the people they go to church with, so they keep their mouths shut.”
Gautreaux will be succeeded by Republican R. L. “Bret” Allain, II, of Adeline (near Franklin), who Gautreaux said “will be a lot like me, not for sale.”
The term-limited state senator said he was proud of the work he had done and that he believes Louisiana has a bright future. The path to a bright future starts with education reform and the economic benefits of the state’s natural resources..
“People need to be paid properly, and we here in Louisiana need to get paid for our natural resources. And we need to have real education reform”
Local politician Butch Gautreaux (pictured) said good bye to his
office this week after a long run helping the people of Southern
Louisiana. the politician said he’s looking forward to a “normal”
life, but will continue to seek the best interests of our area’s