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B.L. "Buddy" Shaw, 1933-2018

I actually met B.L. “Buddy” Shaw, who died last week, not in the political arena, but in higher education, through his wife Mary Ann, a colleague of mine at Louisiana State University Shreveport. At that time, Buddy was wrapping up what would become his final term on the Caddo Parish School Board, preparing to launch a 12-year career in the Louisiana Legislature, serving as my representative or senator.

How he traversed that time as a legislator was interesting and unusual. From 1996 to 2004 he made his mark as one of the most fiscally and socially conservative members of the House. Not term-limited, he could have run for a third term but decided at age 70 he would enjoy his time more away from Baton Rouge.

Then, in 2007, he came out of retirement to contest for the state Senate. Former state Sen. Max Malone, elected with Buddy in 1995, had hit his term limit, and state Rep. Billy Montgomery had declared for the seat after he term limited out his House seat.

This flummoxed many local Republicans. Like Shaw, Montgomery had started his elected career as a Democrat, but whereas Buddy had switched to the GOP when he ran for the House, Montgomery had done it only the year prior in what he admitted as an obvious tactic to prepare for the upcoming Senate race.

Further, even while representing one of the most conservative districts in the state, Buddy didn’t always vote that way, particularly on education issues where he resisted school choice efforts. But Montgomery came across as much more comfortable with big government and populist redistribution, affections for which Buddy never could be accused of harboring.

In essence, even as they were just a few years apart in age and both had distinguished backgrounds as educators (although in very different ways), the pair represented a crossroads for the party and conservatives in general. Democrats statewide saw the writing on the wall and some like Montgomery scrambled to reinvent themselves as Republicans, writing the playbook that today’s Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards would use so well to gain election: talk up social conservatism and mention little their desires not only to keep inflated populist government but also to expand it.

Montgomery was considered the establishment candidate, backed especially by most political elites on the Bossier Parish side of the district (which comprised almost half, with Caddo making up the rest). A number of Caddo GOP activists also assisted his campaign, which ended up spending over half a million dollars – at that time, the most expensive in the state’s history.

Buddy spent about a fifth of that, embarking on a very different campaign model. Ironically, while Montgomery served as the ideological mossback in the race, in campaigning they reversed roles. Montgomery relied almost exclusively on media advertising while Buddy and Mary Ann undertook a vigorous walking regimen, so with their surrogates they knocked on doors covering the district. It was a superb way to show a 74-year-old was up to the task of governing and to deliver in person a reassuring message to voters they would get the real deal with him in shrinking government. That he would confirm a year later after winning, when he led the charge to individual income tax cuts, finally getting a reluctant former GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal on board.

For that campaign, I did something I seldom do and no longer will as my columns now appear in Louisiana newspapers: donate to a political candidate, and in that runoff I gave to Buddy. He sent a nice note back, saying he considered it an honor as he knew I how much I judged politicians on their adherence to good principles.

In 2011 appeared in great health for his age and likely could have won reelection. But he noted in the spirit of the three-term limit constitutionally for any one legislative office that he had spent three, if nonconsecutive, terms in Baton Rouge, and went for permanent retirement from politics.

I saw him last almost four years ago, grocery shopping in south Bossier City as he was on his way out of town. He still looked very energetic and sounded engaged in politics. I could have done far worse for a legislator to represent me for about a decade.

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