William "Billy" Nungesser
|William Aicklen "Billy" Nungesser|
|William A. "Billy" Nungesser|
|Chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party|
|Preceded by||Donald Bollinger|
|Succeeded by||William Dudley "Dud" Lastrapes, Jr.|
October 6, 1924|
New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
|Died||January 21, 2006
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
|(1) Nungesser was the only state Republican chairman to have endorsed Patrick J. Buchanan for the party's 1996 nomination.
(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.
William A. "Billy" Nungesser (September 30, 1929—January 21, 2006), was a gravelly-voiced, chain-smoking, and often combative 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.
Early years, military, occupation 
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 four grandchildren. He was a U.S. Marine during the Korean War and a member of the American Legion. He was a 32nd-degree Mason. He did not attend college but 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 
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.
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."
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."
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 but did not run for the Senate. Instead David Duke entered the race and overshadowed the preferred Republican 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." Ultimately, Johnston won his fourth and final term in the Senate.
Serving on the gaming and levee boards 
Nungesser was appointed to the Louisiana Gaming Control Board by Democratic Governor Edwin Washington Edwards. He served from 1992-1994. 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 Charles Elson "Buddy" Roemer, III, whom Duke prevented from obtaining a November 1991 general election berth against Edwards. Tensions developed between Roemer and Nungesser when Roemer arranged his celebrated party switch from Democrat to Republican through the Bush White House and 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 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."
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. 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 
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 was among the few Louisiana delegates to the GOP convention in 1996, which met in San Diego to nominate former Senator Robert J. "Bob" Dole of Kansas, who opposed the party's anti-abortion plank. He took the minority view in the GOP, which holds that abortion has no place in party politics.
Besides politics, Nungesser was active in United Way, 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 
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 and grandchildren, Nungesser was survived by two sons, William Harold "Billy" Nungesser (born 1959) 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); 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.)
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.
See also 
- "Ruth Amelia Marks Nungesser". New Orleans Times-Picayune. Retrieved September 5, 2012.
- 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
- Ron Gomez, p. 83
- Republican Courting McKeithen," Minden Press-Herald, July 14, 1989, p. 1
- In 2012, Roemer declared himself a political Independent.
- "Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame". lapoliticalmuseum.com. Retrieved January 14, 2010.
Donald G. "Boysie" Bollinger of Lockport
|Louisiana Republican Party State Chairman
William A. "Billy" Nungesser of New Orleans
William Dudley "Dud" Lastrapes, Jr., of Lafayette