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Elizabeth Rickey, 1956-2009

I knew Elizabeth “Beth” Rickey before she became more widely known in the political world as a researcher into the nefarious life of David Duke, and join in the sadness of her death a few days ago.

In 1987, she started graduate studies in political science at the University of New Orleans, where I was approaching the conclusion of my degree program. Few on the faculty or among the other graduate students were conservatives or Republicans, so it was natural that we fell in with each other (regardless, I enjoyed my time with many of the department’s other graduate students, a fair number of which now teach at universities in Louisiana).

In fact, I like to argue that I was responsible for her getting elected in 1988 as the GOP State Central Committee member from which she launched her investigations into Duke. In those days, the 93rd House District extended from the lower French Quarter, where I lived, down to the eastern-most part of the Garden District where she lived. I did some minor campaigning for her and certainly voted for her, along with getting my building manager to do the same. She won by three votes, so it would have been uncomfortably close without my efforts. In fact, it was only a one vote margin before the machines were officially opened and their tallies counted so I trooped with her a few days after the election to where Orleans then kept (as I recall I hope accurately) its voting machines off the Earhart Expressway when they were opened to make sure the result held.

Later that year, she asked whether I wanted to act as a local host for a state delegation to the Republican national convention that was held in New Orleans. I consented, and drew the Indiana delegation. The key figure in it, of course, was then-Sen. Dan Quayle, whom the day after I met was named as the ticket’s vice presidential candidate and the rest was history. She got us some good seats to watch the proceedings when I wasn’t with the Indiana crowd.

I headed off to my first full-time teaching job at the beginning of 1989, right when the open seat in the 81st House District came up and she began to find out more about that creep Duke. I say that about the idiot because one of the times we talked years later she told me about this weird dynamic he established with her, like he was trying to seduce her (which she recounted in published material eventually). Years later, everything she said was confirmed to me when a former student and friend of mine (who shall remain nameless to protect his solid reputation) worked as a volunteer on the Duke gubernatorial campaign. Eventually, Duke came to trust him and told him some stories which were rather X-rated, so Beth’s vibe about the hooded one was spot on.

A couple of years ago I last heard from her. I don’t know whether she was the most important person in exposing Duke as an opportunist and not a real conservative, but she was one of them. Nor am I sure she would have been happy that many on the left used her efforts disingenuously to try to equate Republicans and conservatives with Duke. But I do know that she was a dignified, unassuming person who had a good sense of moral rights and wrongs, and, while assertive, public displays did not come naturally to her, felt compelled to act when few others were aware or seemed interested. Even if her efforts to unmask Duke had not succeeded, this aspect alone about her should merit admiration.

1 comment:

Susan said...

Below is my letter to the editor which I have submitted to the Jena Times.

To the Editor:

Beth Rickey was hired by the Town of Jena as a consultant to help the town deal with the "Jena 6" furor.

Those of us who knew Beth Rickey knew of her flaws as well as her
gifted intelligence and passion for truth.

It is a macabre irony that she died penniless as a result of lack of health insurance. She and her family helped promote the Republican Party in Louisiana, the party that has impeded any progress for health reform.

According to the Institute of Medicine, it is estimated that 18,000 Americans die each year due to lack of health insurance. That's 6 times per year the number that died on the singular event of 9/11.

Beth was one of them.

These statistics have made us the laughing stock of other industrialized nations as it reveals us as a contradiction to the very model of a Christian
nation which we so dearly cling to. We congratulate ourselves for bringing casseroles to the sick, as we denigrate those who advocate for real change for our uninsured and the life-threatening inadequacies of our present health care system.

Some of us tried to help Beth while she was in Jena, but we all can rest easy that none of our taxes went to keep her alive.

We continue to shout rhetoric about the fictional Palinist "death
panels," while the reality of our private health care insurance system is actually quietly doing that job for us as we continue to project our own inhumane advocacy onto the opposition.

Beth’s death was her last statement of truth, a truth we work very hard to ignore.