Melinda Schwegmann

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Melinda Schwegmann
49th Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana
In office
January 13, 1992 – January 8, 1996
Governor Edwin Edwards
Preceded by Paul Hardy
Succeeded by Kathleen Babineaux Blanco
Personal details
Born (1946-10-25) October 25, 1946 (age 67)
Austin, Texas
Nationality United States
Political party Republican (2003–present) Democratic (1982–2003)
Spouse(s) John F. Schwegmann
Relations John G. Schwegmann (father-in-law)
Children Three children
Religion Roman Catholic

Melinda B. Schwegmann (born October 25, 1946) was the lieutenant governor of Louisiana from 1992–1996 – the first woman to hold the position. She made an unsuccessful run for governor of Louisiana in 1995. In 1997, she won a special election to the Louisiana State House of Representatives, District 98, from the Orleans Parish Lakefront, a predominantly African American area, previously represented for fifteen years by a conservative Republican Garey Forster. Schwegmann was elected to a full House term in 1999. In 2003, she relinquished the House seat, which was dismembered by reapportionment. Formerly a member of the Democratic Party, that same year she switched affiliation to the Republican Party in a fruitless effort to regain the lieutenant governor's position.

Biography[edit]

Melinda Schwegmann was born in Austin, Texas. Prior to her entry into politics, she was a teacher and a real estate developer. She attended Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, but her bachelor's degree in education is from the University of New Orleans. She is an alumna of Phi Mu Fraternity. She is married to former Public Service Commissioner John F. Schwegmann (born 1945) of Metairie in Jefferson Parish. She is the mother of three children and, as of 2006, the grandmother of two. Mrs. Schwegmann is a past president of the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She was also a board member of the defunct Schwegmann Giant Supermarket chain, which was started by her late father-in-law John G. Schwegmann (1911–1995) of Metairie. John G. Schwegmann was a former state representative, state senator, and public service commissioner. John F. Schwegmann succeeded his father as chairman of the supermarket board and as a member of the PSC. The junior Schwegmann was elected to the PSC in 1981 and served until his defeat in 1996. John F. Schwegmann began his political career as a Democrat but switched to Independent designation in 2002.

Unseating Republican Paul Hardy, 1991[edit]

Mrs. Schwegmann, as a Democrat without any previous political experience—she called herself "a housewife and a nonprofit volunteer" – upset incumbent Republican Lieutenant Governor Paul Hardy, originally from St. Martinville, in the 1991 general election.

In the 1991 jungle primary, Hardy and Schwegmann virtually tied, 624,371 (43 percent) for Schwegmann and 620,199 (also 43 percent) for Hardy. In the general election, Schwegmann scored a large victory, 1,009,026 (59 percent) to Hardy's 693,412 (41 percent). There was speculation that Schwegmann benefited from coattails of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Edwin Washington Edwards, who won his fourth nonconsecutive term as governor in that same election over David Duke, a former member of the KKK who was opposed by the GOP leadership. Hardy had opposed Duke and was unable to conduct an independent campaign that would have enabled him to compete effectively with Schwegmann.

As lieutenant governor, her primary responsibility was to manage the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism. Schwegmann also sought to address the concerns of seniors citizens, children, and the disabled. She promoted an anti-littering campaign to clean up areas along highways and on state lands. Litter, she contended, distracts from tourism, economic development, and pride in the state. She proposed that penalties for littering be lowered on the theory that law-enforcement officers would be more willing to issue tickets for violations. She determined that state police were not issuing many citations for littering because the fines were considered excessive.[1]


A weak gubernatorial showing, 1995[edit]

Melinda Schwegmann interpreted her big victory at the age of 45 in 1991—she exceeded 1 million raw votes—as a sign that she should run for governor in 1995. She may have thought that voters would elevate her to the governorship based on her stewardship of the second office, sometimes called "light governor" in Louisiana.

Yet, another Democrat woman also entered the governor's race, state Treasurer (and later U.S. senator) Mary Landrieu. Neither woman gained a general election spot. Landrieu's father, Maurice "Moon" Landrieu had been a sharp critic of John G. Schwegmann in the 1960s and 1970s. The 1995 race hence featured Schwegmann-Landrieu competition that resulted in a third-place finish for Landrieu, with Schwegmann in an embarrassing sixth place.

Melinda Schwegmann polled 71,288 ballots (only 5 percent) in the gubernatorial primary; even her father-in-law John G. Schwegmann had run better in the 1971 Democratic primary for governor, eventually won by Edwin Edwards. Mary Landrieu drew 271,938 votes (18 percent); she was approximately 1 percentage point short of winning a second place position, which would have placed her in the general election. Former Democratic State Senator Murphy J. "Mike" Foster of St. Mary Parish converted to Republican allegiance during the early portion of the primary campaign. He entered the general election, popularly called the "runoff" in Louisiana, with young black Democratic Congressman Cleo Fields of Baton Rouge. Foster defeated Fields by a margin of 64–36 percent. Schwegmann was succeeded as lieutenant governor by another Democratic woman, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Lafayette, who served two terms in the second-position.

Election to the state legislature, 1997[edit]

On October 25, 1997, Melinda Schwegmann, in a special election won a seat from the New Orleans Lakefront in the state House of Representatives. She defeated the Republican George Simno, 4,479 (63.3 percent) to 2,599 (36.7 percent). She was elected to a full term in 1999 but surrendered her position, District 98, in 2003 in order to run once again for lieutenant governor. Schwegmann had to rent an apartment in New Orleans, away from the family home in Metairie, to meet the residency qualification for being state representative.

A second campaign for lieutenant governor, 2003[edit]

The longstanding competition between the Landrieu and Schwegmann families cropped up again in the 2003 lieutenant governor's race. The big primary winner (no general election contest was required) was Democratic State Representative Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans, the brother of Senator Mary Landrieu. Mitch Landrieu defeated five Republican rivals to win the right to succeed Blanco as lieutenant governor. Blanco was instead elected governor—the first woman to hold the position in Louisiana.

Melinda Schwegmann "pulled a Foster" in this race in that she switched to Republican affiliation to make the lieutenant governor's race. On June 24, 2003, she became the then 50th Republican member of the 105-member Louisiana House. Schwegmann said that she had received more encouragement from Republicans than she had from Democrats in whether she should run again for lieutenant governor. However, another Republican who announced his candidacy thereafter, former Eighth District Congressman Clyde C. Holloway of tiny Forest Hill in Rapides Parish received most of the pro-life and conservative vote. Neither Schwegmann, Holloway, nor an African American Republican, Kirt Bennett of Baton Rouge, was competitive against Mitch Landrieu. Official results from the October 4, 2003, contest showed Landrieu with 674,803 votes (53 percent), compared to Holloway's 249,668 ballots (19 percent), and Schwegmann's 215,402 votes (17 percent). Three other Republicans shared another 10 percent of the vote.

Schwegmann's support for gay rights[edit]

Republicans did not coalesce behind Schwegmann in part because most of the focus was on the governorship. Her "gay rights" position also was unpopular with many within the GOP rank-and-file. Schwegmann in fact polled a considerable Republican vote considering that she had supported homosexual rights while in the legislature. A gay rights publication, Southern Voice, called both Schwegmann (and Landrieu as well) "gay-friendly." The magazine noted that Mrs. Schwegmann in the legislature had opposed Louisiana's anti-sodomy laws.

On May 13, 1999, the Louisiana House Labor Committee killed Mrs. Schwegmann's bill to prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation by a vote of three for and eight against. All who supported the bill were Democrats at a time, when Schwegmann was herself a Democrat. Religious groups lobbied against Schwegmann's measure.

In 1997, Mrs. Schwegmann was inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.[2]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Lieutenant Governor slams litter", Minden Press-Herald, November 12, 1992, p. 1
  2. ^ "Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame". cityofwinnfield.com. Retrieved August 22, 2009. 

References[edit]

Louisiana House of Representatives
Preceded by
Garey Forster
Louisiana State Representative for the 98th District, Lakefront New Orleans

Melinda B. Schwegmann (D)
1997–2004

Succeeded by
Cheryl A. Gray (D)
Political offices
Preceded by
Paul J. Hardy (R)
Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana

Melinda B. Schwegmann (D)
1992–1996

Succeeded by
Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D)