By Robert Mann
Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that I was not always a big fan of former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer. It began many years ago, when Roemer was in Congress and I worked on Capitol Hill for Sen. Russell Long and it extended into my time working for Long’s Senate successor, John Breaux.
Taking a leave of absence from my Senate job in 1995, I worked for the Louisiana Democratic Party as communications director. It was a position in which my primary duty was to make Roemer’s life miserable.
For a good while, we regarded Roemer — a former governor running to reclaim the office — as the Republican to beat (we were wrong, of course, as Republican state Sen. Mike Foster captured the Governor’s Mansion). Relying on reams of opposition research, I issued various press releases, attacking different portions of Roemer’s record. It was all great fun that summer, as I indulged my dislike of the man.
That all culminated on a Saturday morning at a meeting of Young Democrats in the House Chamber of the state Capitol in Baton Rouge. To a hundred or so cheering Democrats, I declared that Roemer was a racist for attacking the state’s welfare programs. I also charged that his then-crusade against crime was badly misplaced. Referring to his father and brother — both of whom had spent time in federal prison — I called him a member of the “Roemer Crime Family.”
Unknown to me, a reporter for the Baton Rouge Advocate was covering the event. My remarks, it seemed, were the most interesting of the day and made the front page of next day’s paper.
For a time, I basked in the glow of attention my harsh words about Roemer brought me. Clever as the quips might have been, they were cruel and represented what so many people hate about politics — the inability of politicians and their operatives to conduct themselves with dignity and restraint. I had succumbed to the win-at-all-cost affliction. Roemer would have made a bad governor, I believed, and so to protect the people from him, almost any tactic or insult was acceptable.
Roemer, of course, lost that election. It had little to do with my efforts, I’m sure. Mike Foster proved to be a surprisingly good candidate with a powerful message and a refreshing image.
Not long after that election, however, something happened that changed my life: I went to prison, not as an inmate, but as part of the Kairos Prison Ministry. For about five years, I went regularly to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. There, I met many inmates and became friends with quite a few of them (some of whom I continue to see every year at the Angola Prison Rodeo). Among the many lessons I learned at Angola was that prison inmates and those of us on the outside have so much more in common that we like to admit. I realized that my good fortune to be on “the street,” as inmates like to say, had as much to do with chance as choice. A few bad decisions here and there — or having been born into a different family — and I might be in prison myself.
At some point, I began to think about my cruel remarks to those Young Democrats. I had ridiculed a man whose father and brother had gone to prison. There had been heartbreak and deep pain in a family — and I had used it as a funny line in a cheap political attack.
And that’s when I began to pray for Buddy Roemer — not because I believed there was something about him that needed to change. Rather, I knew that I needed to change.
And, so, I prayed. To be honest, they weren’t long, involved prayers. Mostly, I uttered something no more lengthy than a simple, “Bless Buddy Roemer.”
But as I began to pray, my outlook began to change.
It wasn’t long after that, sometime in 2001, that I saw Roemer at a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Baton Rouge. I remember hearing someone calling my name as he approached. I looked up, surprised to see that it was a smiling Buddy Roemer. He told me how much he had enjoyed by recent book on the Vietnam War. I was touched by his kindness.
In later years we would see each other at church and at social functions and had friendly conversations. He was very gracious with his advice and goodwill when I became communications director to Gov. Kathleen Blanco.
Finally, in 2008, I invited him to speak to one of my classes at LSU’s Manship School. He instantly accepted. In front of my students, I introduced him by confessing to my shame over those hurtful words. I apologized to him. It was cathartic.
Why am I telling this story? Because I believe that we ought to pray for our leaders. It was St. Paul who wrote to his young friend Timothy, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
It seems there is also a special responsibility to pray for those we do not like and even those who might wish us harm. It was Jesus, in fact, who said in his Sermon on the Mount, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
My regular readers know well that this blog gives Louisiana’s current governor, Bobby Jindal, no quarter. I heap condemnation on him often, and for that I make no apology. I don’t believe my Christian faith forbids me from exercising my rights as a citizen.
And while my commentary may occasionally lapse into scorn for Jindal, I have no personal dislike for the man. I have met him many times over the years and we have always had civil conversations. Some of his cabinet members and former aides are personal friends. I just happen to think he is not a good governor, but rather a man mostly concerned with his national political ambitions. I do not think he puts the concerns of the poor very high on his list of priorities.
But I’m also painfully aware that I once had very little regard for Buddy Roemer.
And while Roemer and I might not agree on every political question, I personally like him and wish him only well in his personal and professional life.
And, so, when it comes to Jindal, I believe it’s possible to wish him well without wishing that he becomes president. (I need to remind myself of that fact every so often.) And I believe that, as the elected governor of my state, he needs our prayers.
For some of us who oppose Jindal, I believe prayer may be among our last hopes to persuade the man to change policies that are inflicting lasting harm on Louisiana families. For others, praying for Jindal might be a way to remind ourselves — as I once needed reminding — that none of us is perfect. We are all very flawed. We are all very much in need of mercy and redemption.
That’s why I asked a good friend — Dr. Van A. Stinson, pastor of The William B. Reily Memorial University United Methodist Church on the campus of LSU — to compose a prayer that my readers and others might consider using as they pray for our state and its leaders, particularly Jindal.
If you’re not a person of faith, if or you belong to another faith tradition, feel free to ignore the rest of this post. I know that many people are already praying for our governor in their own ways — and I celebrate that. Even if you strongly agree with Jindal’s politics and policies, I hope that this prayer might be appropriate for you.
So, if you are moved to join those already praying for Jindal, Rev. Stinson and I offer this simple prayer for your consideration, in a spirit of goodwill and humility:
God of all people, whose statutes are good and gracious and whose law is truth, we humbly ask you to guide and bless our governor, Bobby Jindal, as he leads our state in these uncertain times.
Bless his family with health and happiness. Grant him energy and space to be both husband and father, even as he meets the many demands of his office.
Guard him against those who would use him for their own political gain.
Surround him with voices that speak truth to him, even when it is hard for him to hear, and supporters who help him balance the desires of constituents and the demands of contributors with the common good of all citizens of our state.
Protect him from the sin that plagues us all, the sin of self-interest.
Remind him of the tenets of his faith as he governs and guides our state.
Give him – and us all — a heart for the poor and the weak, the widow and the orphan, the homeless and those in prison.
Direct his decisions and actions down the paths of justice, righteousness and peace.
Forgive him when he fails and strengthen him when he feels weak.
Keep his faith strong, his vision broad and his priorities pure.
Keep us all in your care as we face the future without fear and work together for the good of all.
I also commend to you the following Twitter handle which you may find useful: @Praying4_LA