Mardi Gras – Nation’s Capitol Style

Once in a while it becomes possible to witness something important taking place disguised as something superficial or at the very least, something devoted to fun-loving frivolity.

I was in the position to witness just such an event in Washington this week as 3000 Louisiana natives convened in and around the Washington Hilton for the Washington Mardi Gras celebration. There is a legitimate carnival organization in charge, called the Krewe of Louisianaians and it has existed since 1948, founded by the late Senator Russell Long. One or two of Long’s Senate staffers are still around to fill in the history for us, although in their 90’s. The Krewe features the traditional hierarchy of a King and Queen as well as Dukes and Duchesses and other royalty, and holds a formal Mardi Gras ball complete with elaborate attire; however, the real purpose of the event is to provide a place for Louisiana’s business leaders and its governmental leaders to meet, to collaborate, to talk through problems, and to float solutions in ways that would not be possible in-state. The Krewe is a legitimate carnival club that brings business and government together in our nation’s Capitol. There is serious dialog during the daytime meetings, but it is magnified with libations from the bars in the hotel in the late afternoons, and in the evenings, by fine wine and dining in the Capitol’s well-established restaurants. In the hotel, the sound of New Orleans music is present everywhere, and most people wear Mardi Gras beads to both daytime and evening functions.

Leading up to the ball, there are serious meetings taking place, and it is in these meetings that the Mardi Gras disguise comes off and the real purpose becomes apparent: the event is a symposium for the leaders in business to meet with the leaders in government, outside of Louisiana, in a setting that is private, where no one will be quoted, and no one needs to posture or preen. Mardi Gras is the excuse, the pretext, the cover story for perhaps the most important meeting of the year in terms of setting the future course of the state.

I have been privileged to attend this event for the last two years, and I come away from this year’s gathering with more confidence and encouragement about our state’s future than I have ever felt. The seminal event for non-Krewe members such as me is the economic development luncheon held on Friday of the week. This year’s luncheon featured 650 people including Gov. John Bel Edwards, Sen. Bill Cassidy, Sen. John Kennedy, Congressman and majority whip Steve Scalise, and Congressmen Garrett Graves, Cedric Richmond, Clay Higgins, Mike Johnson, Ralph Abraham. Joining them were State Secretary of State Tom Schedler, State Agriculture Commissioner Dr. Mike Strain, as well as two dozen parish presidents, a number of port commissioners, public service commissioners, 15 or more mayors and countless others who serve on boards and commissions.

Those public servants were dwarfed by the number of business leaders present including the CEOs of the largest employers in the state right down to small business owners, bankers, lobbyists, college presidents, and a host of representatives of economic development organizations, economic development districts, chambers of commerce, and the like.

The economic development luncheon began with presentations, first from Gov. Edwards, followed by Congressman Steve Scalise, who was also King of Carnival this year. Other members of the Congressional delegation spoke briefly, and then the keynote speaker was introduced. He was Stephen Moore, a well-respected economist and the founder of the Club For Growth. He is now the chief economist for the Heritage Foundation and is a former member of the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal.

But Moore is famous now as the principal economic advisor to President Donald Trump and the man who helped shape Trump’s economic policy during the campaign. His presentation to these 650 Louisiana leaders was filled with optimism about the coming economic boom for America. Moore believes that higher oil prices will buoy the economy for Louisiana, expanding drilling, refining, pipelining, and increasing employment rather dramatically. He also believes that there will be significant tax cuts to both personal and corporate rates, and these cuts will stimulate business investments in Louisiana and around the country. That growth will be augmented by an infrastructure program the President will launch which will support upgrading Louisiana’s roads, bridges and ports.

His message was well received by the business leaders and public officials at the function who have been pre-occupied by the significant difficulties Louisiana has faced over the last few years, with insufficient revenues to operate government and declining business activity in some sectors of Louisiana’s workforce.

During the three-day period leading up to Friday’s economic development luncheon, there were numerous meetings of groups like the Committee of 100 where Louisiana’s short-term needs were discussed in relation to the budget deficit, the need for fiscal reform, and the importance of correcting unwise budget cuts to higher education which have occurred in recent legislative sessions. Perhaps to a greater degree than would have been expected, there seemed to be a simpatico developing between Republicans and Democrats on the importance of bridging the divides and unifying around workable plans. There was a palpable optimism in the air, not just in the evening celebrations and the hotel bars, but remaining in the cool light of the mornings as well.

After the ball Saturday night, and after the celebratory breakfast on Sunday, the Krewe of Louisianaians de-camp and return home, disappearing into the population and keeping quiet about the merriment they enjoyed in Washington, but still celebrating and advancing the “good government” discussions which occurred. And for those of us who came only for those discussions, we will take home some quiet respect and reverence for very high quality of leadership in the public and private spheres who came together a thousand miles from home–sharing Governor Edwards’ admonition to Put Louisiana First.

About the Author: I began the practice of law in Hammond in 1973 as a solo practitioner. Over time I took in partners, hired associates and built what is now the largest law firm on the North Shore of Southeast Louisiana, comprised of eighteen lawyers whose skills are spread into many different practice areas, including general business representation, litigation in state and federal courts as well as ADR (Alternate Dispute Resolution such as arbitration and mediation of business disputes), and corporate consultation on business formations, mergers and acquisitions, and intellectual property. The firm also has three Board Certified tax and estate planning specialists. Ours is a full service law firm combining the legal expertise of larger firms in urban markets with the community values and virtues of a smaller, more personal practice.