William "Billy" Nungesser

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William Aicklen "Billy" Nungesser
Chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party
In office
1988–1992
Preceded by Donald G. Bollinger
Succeeded by Dud Lastrapes
Personal details
Born (1929-09-30)September 30, 1929
New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Died January 21, 2006(2006-01-21) (aged 76)
Shreveport, Caddo Parish, Louisiana
Resting place Westlawn Memorial Park in Gretna, Louisiana
Spouse(s) Ruth Amelia Marks Nungesser
Children William Harold "Billy" Nungesser

Eric Hugh Nungesser
Nancy Ann Nungesser
Heidi Ann Nungesser Landry

Occupation Businessman
(1) Nungesser was the only state Republican chairman to have endorsed Patrick J. Buchanan for the party's 1996 nomination.

(2) Nungesser served on the Louisiana Gaming Control Board by appointment of his old partisan rival, Democratic Governor Edwin Washington Edwards.

(3) A member of the New Orleans Levee Board by appointment of Republican Governor Mike Foster, Nungesser was one of the few Louisiana officials prior to Hurricane Katrina to have warned of weak levees on the Mississippi River.

(4) Wealthy businessman Nungesser was self-educated after high school by having read the "Great Books" series.

William Aicklen Nungesser, known as Billy Nungesser (September 30, 1929—January 21, 2006), was a leader of the Republican Party in the formerly traditionally Democratic state of Louisiana during much of the latter 20th century.

A confidant of David C. Treen, Louisiana's first Republican U.S. Representative and governor since Reconstruction, Nungesser broke with his party leadership in 1992, when as the outgoing state chairman after four years of service, he endorsed conservative dissident Patrick J. Buchanan for the GOP presidential nomination, rather than President George Herbert Walker Bush, for whom Nungesser had campaigned in 1988. Bush was thereafter nominated but unseated in the general election by the Democrat Bill Clinton. Nungesser was the only state chairman in the nation to have supported Buchanan.


Background[edit]

Nungesser was born in the Carrollton section of New Orleans but lived mostly in the Algiers section until he and his wife of nearly fifty years, the former Ruth Amelia Marks (1932-2012), moved to Belle Chasse in Plaquemines Parish in the late 1990s to be nearer their two grandchildren.[1] He was a U.S. Marine during the Korean War and a member of the American Legion. He was a 32nd-degree Mason was said to have read extensively, including the "Great Books".

He was a retired executive with General Marine and Catering, a family business that serviced the offshore industry. Prior to establishing the catering firm, Nungesser and his brothers founded and operated the seafood plant Algiers Canning and Sales Company.


Nungesser and David Treen[edit]

Nungesser was a Republican well before Treen joined the GOP. The two met when Treen was waging the first of three unsuccessful campaigns for the Second District seat in the United States House of Representatives against the popular incumbent Democrat Thomas Hale Boggs, Sr., of New Orleans. After he heard Treen speak in Gretna, the seat of Jefferson Parish, Nungesser gave him a $500 check, a large donation for 1962. Mrs. Nungesser recalled that the couple did not have $500 to spare, but Nungesser said that "good government" was more important than family comfort. Nungesser's business improved to the extent that he was able to contribute $4,000 to the Barry M. Goldwater presidential campaign in 1964, when he also again worked unsuccessfully for the Treen-for-Congress committee.

Mrs. Nungesser, who prior to her marriage worked for the New Orleans Times-Picayune was a talented artist. She was also employed in the family businesses and active in the GOP as a charter member of the Republican Women of Louisiana, a former member of the Republican State Executive Committee, and a delegate to both state and national Republican conventions. Her parents were the late Alvin W. Marks and Ruth Prilleux Marks LeCourt.[1]

Nungesser supported Treen for each office that Treen contested. Treen was finally elected to Congress in 1972 in Louisiana's 3rd congressional district. Eight years later, he became governor. Nungesser joined the new administration as chief of staff and executive secretary. He contributed his entire salary to children's charities. Also working without pay in the Treen administration was John H. Cade, Jr., an Alexandria businessman whose association with Treen went nearly back as far as Nungesser's. Cade and Nungesser both served as GOP state chairman; Cade, from 1976–1978, and Nungesser, from 1988-1992.

Ron Gomez, then a Democratic member of the Louisiana House of Representatives from Lafayette and much later a Republican convert, recalls Nungesser as "gregarious, red-haired, and florid-faced", in contrast to Cade, whome Gomez dubbed "quiet, ascerbic, and impersonal."[2]

Gomez recalled Nungesser having approved an arrangement proposed by Gomez by which the state did its own inventory on the purchase of $200,000 annually in light bulbs: We "converted the commission procedure to a discount for the state. . . . I believe that lasted until Edwin Edwards came back into office in 1984."[3]

In 1989, as the state Republican chairman, Nungesser began courting Louisiana Secretary of State W. Fox McKeithen, the son of Democratic Governor John J. McKeithen, to switch parties to contest in 1990 the U.S. Senate seat held by J. Bennett Johnston, Jr., of Shreveport. John McKeithen had lost the race to Johnston in 1972, when McKeithen ran as an Independent. Fox McKeithen did finally switch parties and declared his candidacy for the Senate, but he withdrew after the Republican state convention endorsed another choice, Ben Bagert, a state senator from New Orleans. In urging McKeithen to challenge the incumbent Democrat, Nungesser called Johnston "a liberal, communist-leaning person."[4] Ultimately, Johnston won his fourth and final term in the Senate.


Serving on the gaming and levee boards[edit]

Nungesser was appointed to the Louisiana Gaming Control Board by Democratic Governor Edwin Washington Edwards, a position that he held from 1992 to 1994. Treen had opposed Edwards in two hard-fought gubernatorial campaigns in 1972 and 1983. In 1991, however, Treen endorsed Edwards, who was running for a fourth nonconsecutive term over the unendorsed Republican candidate, State Representative David Duke. Edwards repaid the favor to Treen by naming Nungesser to the gaming board, which monitors land-based and riverboat casinos and video poker. During his tenure, Nungesser was critical of the Harrah Jazz Company's plan to open a casino in New Orleans.

Though Nungesser had opposed Duke's gubernatorial candidacy, he also quarreled with Duke's intraparty rival, then Governor Buddy Roemer, whom Duke prevented from obtaining a spot in the general election against Edwards held on November 16, 1991. Tensions developed between Roemer and Nungesser when Roemer arranged his celebrated party switch from Democrat to Republican[5] through the Bush White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu, rather than the Louisiana state party headed by Chairman Nungesser. Anti-Duke elements in the Louisiana GOP, including Beth Rickey, a moderate member of the Republican State Central Committee from New Orleans, claimed that Nungesser was too hesitant to attack Duke for his presumed neo-Nazi and Klan ties out of fear that such a posture might discourage pro-Duke voters from blue collar backgrounds from switching to the Republican Party. The presence of a third Republican gubernatorial candidate in 1991, U.S. Representative Clyde C. Holloway of Rapides Parish, known for his firm antiabortion position, further complicated the picture. The result was the Edwards-Duke confrontation which Edwards won easily. Signs on Edwards' behalf even said: "Vote for the Crook. It's Important."

When Treen asked Nungesser to seek a censure resolution against Duke, Nungesser found that the GOP by-laws have no provision for censure. Nevertheless, Nungesser said that the party could repudiate Duke if he did not follow the recommendation of the state party convention to back the party's endorsed Senate candidate,[6] which turned out a few weeks later to be Bagert.

Murphy J. "Mike" Foster, Jr., only the second elected Republican governor in modern Louisiana history, appointed Nungesser to the New Orleans Levee Board. He was board chairman from February to June 1996, but the state Senate refused to confirm him because his brusque management style angered other board members. Foster did not defend Nungesser from the attacks and instead chose a replacement. Foster in fact once said that the levee board in New Orleans gave him more headaches than any other aspect of the job as governor. On the levee board, Nungesser argued for expenditures only on the levee system, which he said, correctly as it turned out in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, was not strong enough to withstand a large storm. Instead, board members were promoting many related projects, such as questionable road building and fiber optics.


As political and civic leader[edit]

A delegate to five Republican national conventions, Nungesser served numerous terms on the Republican State Central Committee before he was elected chairman in 1988 to succeed Donald G. Bollinger of Lockport in Lafourche Parish. Family members recalled that Nungesser began his political career as a precinct leader for the Eisenhower presidential campaign and was active in every subsequent presidential race, having served as state chairman in the campaigns of Presidents Ronald W. Reagan and the first Bush.

Nungesser broke with the first Bush to endorse Pat Buchanan in the 1996 presidential primary: "If we don't stand behind Pat Buchanan, we will lose the true conservative legacy of Ronald Reagan." After Nungesser's endorsement, President Bush apologized in a newspaper interview for the 1990 tax increase which he had taken off the table at the 1988 Republican National Convention with his "Read my lips: no new taxes" pledge.[7]

Nungesser was widely criticized by leaders within his own party. Steven Lewis Schoonover (born 1945), then an industrialist from Minden and the Bush manager for Louisiana's 4th congressional district, questioned Nungesser's judgment and declared Bush "conservative" and the clear choice of Republican voters statewide.[8] Nungesser was among the few Louisiana delegates to the GOP convention in 1996 who opposed the party's anti-abortion plank. He took the minority view in the GOP, which holds that abortion is not a political issue.

Besides politics, Nungesser was active in United Way of America, the International House, the Metropolitan Crime Commission, the New Orleans Tourist Commission, and the New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority. He also served on the National Oceanic Marine Advisory Committee and the Small Business Administration Board. He was a former president of the Westbank Petroleum Club and a one-time chairman of the Governor's Commission on Education.

Nungesser's death[edit]

Nungesser died after a three-month stay in Promise Hospital in Shreveport. Mrs. Nungesser said that her husband had been hospitalized for a cancer operation but died from the last of a series of deadly infections caught in the hospital. She said that he was also weakened, having lost nearly twenty pounds, because he "worried" about the turmoil created by Katrina in the New Orleans area. In addition to his wife, Nungesser was survived by two sons, William Harold "Billy" Nungesser (born 1959), subsequently the president of Plaquemines Parish, and Eric Hugh Nungesser (born 1963); two daughters, Nancy Ann Nungesser (born 1957), and Heidi Ann Nungesser Landry (born 1964); two brothers, Hugh Lester Nungesser (born 1934) and Gary George Nungesser (born 1939); five grandchildren, Alex and Olivia Landry, and Matthew, Brett, and Grace Nungesser; and a niece, Sally Nungesser (born 1956), who was press secretary in the Treen administration. (Sally Nungesser was also an unsuccessful candidate for Louisiana insurance commissioner in 1995 against incumbent James Harvey "Jim" Brown, Jr. She is a former member of the Republican State Central Committee from Representative District No. 69.)

Services were held on January 26, 2006, at Mothe Funeral Home in Harvey in Jefferson Parish. Billy and Ruth Nungesser are interred at Westlawn Memorial Park in Gretna.

Louisiana GOP Chairman Roger F. Villere, Jr., called Nungesser a "Republican pioneer who fought for reform in Louisiana when it was unpopular to be a Republican. Our state is much better off because of his life's work." Villere, a businessman from Jefferson Parish, urged his state's Republicans to observe January 24, 2006, as a day of mourning and remembrance of Nungesser.

On January 30, 2010, Nungesser was posthumously inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield, along with the 1964 Republican gubernatorial nominee Charlton Lyons as well as sitting U.S. Representative Rodney Alexander and former State Senator Randy Ewing.[9]

See also[edit]


References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Ruth Amelia Marks Nungesser". New Orleans Times-Picayune. Retrieved September 5, 2012. 
  2. ^ Ron Gomez, My Name Is Ron And I'm a Recovering Legislator: Memoirs of a Louisiana State Representative, Lafayette, Louisiana: Zemog Publishing, 2000, pp. 65, ISBN=0-9700156-0-7
  3. ^ Ron Gomez, p. 83
  4. ^ Republican Courting McKeithen," Minden Press-Herald, July 14, 1989, p. 1
  5. ^ In 2012, Roemer declared himself a political Independent but in 2013 was still registered as a Republican in East Baton Rouge Parish.
  6. ^ "Treen: Renounce David Duke's 'garbage'", Minden Press-Herald, December 22, 1989, p. 7A
  7. ^ Timothy Stanley, The Crusader: The Life and Tumultuous Times of Pat Buchanan (New York City: St. Martin's Press, 2012), p. 178;ISBN: 978-0-312-58174-9
  8. ^ "Local support shown for Bush", Minden Press-Herald, March 4, 1992, p. 1
  9. ^ "Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame". lapoliticalmuseum.com. Retrieved January 14, 2010. 

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Preceded by
Donald G. Bollinger of Lockport
Louisiana Republican Party State Chairman

William A. "Billy" Nungesser of New Orleans
1988–1992

Succeeded by
Dud Lastrapes of Lafayette