Former Gov. Dave Treen dies

Published: Oct. 29, 2009 at 12:42 PM CDT|Updated: Nov. 4, 2009 at 2:42 PM CST
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Former Gov. Dave Treen (Source: Philip Gould c1983)
Former Gov. Dave Treen (Source: Philip Gould c1983)

By George Sells - bio | email

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Former Louisiana Gov. David C. Treen died early Thursday morning. Family said he died of complications from a respiratory illness at East Jefferson General Hospital in Kenner. He was 81 years old.

Treen's body will lie in state at the Louisiana State Capitol on Monday. The viewing will be open to the public. Funeral arrangements for Dave Treen had not been announced as of Thursday afternoon.

Treen was still entering elections at the age of 80, but would never hold the office again after the election that made him a national figure in 1979, becoming the state's first Republican governor since Reconstruction. But even in claiming victory as the first Republican governor in 103 years, Treen showed the trait that would also haunt him, slow and deliberate.

The stage for Treen had been set because Edwin Edwards had served two terms as governor and could not succeed himself. It was here the Democratic Party committed suicide. Five well known Democrats ran against Treen. Louis Lambert made the runoff against him, but then all four defeated Democrats endorsed Treen instead of Lambert.

As Dave Treen made his first official visit to the governor's mansion, he knew a storm was building from Edwin Edwards. According to political analyst Jim Engster, there was no secret Edward was going to run again in 1983, no matter who the governor was. Edwards, known for his flamboyance, brashly had a farewell rally right on the platform that was being built for the inauguration of Dave Treen.

However, the new governor had bigger problems to worry about than Edwin Edwards. The oil industry was plunging into recession, interest rates on new houses were hitting 15 percent, the legislature consisted almost exclusively of Democrats. Using outrageous dumpsites to support his case, Treen created the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. He produced several education reforms. He also boosted Louisiana's effort at bringing movie shoots to the state.

However, when it came time for re-election in 1983, Treen's reputation for being thorough was turning into a negative. Engster commented Treen really got down in the weeds by trying to read every bill. It produced from Edwin Edwards one of the most infamous insults in Louisiana political history, "Dave Treen is so slow, it takes him an hour and a half to watch 60 Minutes."

Edwards underestimated Treen's abilities in their 1983 debates and with help from a popular Reagan administration, Treen's polling numbers came closer and closer to those of Edwards, until Aug. 18, 1983. Edwards' brother, Nolan, was murdered at a Crowley law firm. Ironically, the killer was a man who then-Governor Edwards had pardoned. It didn't matter because with the sympathy votes, Edwards' polling numbers soared.

Treen lost the race by 421,000 votes, but after the election, even Edwards acknowledged that Dave Treen and his wife, Dodie, who died in 2005, were rare and dedicated servants to the state of Louisiana. Engster said he thinks Treen truly was a fine gentlemen and the people of the state really didn't appreciate that, unfortunately, until he got out of the political realm.

Gov. Bobby Jindal ordered the flags at the Louisiana Capitol be flown at half-staff in remembrance of the former governor. He along with other leaders released statement following Treen's passing.

"Louisiana has lost a visionary leader and a tireless advocate for our state, with the passing of Governor Dave Treen," Jindal said. "Governor Treen was a true statesman with a servant's heart, and his desire to improve our state was only surpassed by his kindness and humility. Our state will forever bear the mark of his decades of work and while he will be missed as a friend, a father, and a public servant, he will always live on in our history and most importantly, our hearts."

"Whether serving in Congress or as governor, or working as a private citizen, Dave Treen always put Louisiana first," Congressman Charlie Melancon said. "Dave was a bipartisan, middle-of-the-road compromiser who never forgot that there are greater principles worth fighting for beyond party and politics. Dave will be remembered fondly by all of us who knew him as a warm, wonderful person and a committed reformer. My thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time."

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