Ben Bagert

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Ben Bagert
Ben Bagert Jr.jpg
Ben Bagert
Louisiana State Representative from District 24, later District 98 (Orleans Parish)
In office
1970–1984
Preceded by Thomas A. Early, Jr.
Succeeded by Garey Forster
Louisiana State Senator from District 4 (Orleans Parish)
In office
1984–1992
Preceded by Michael H. O'Keefe, Jr.
Succeeded by Marc Morial
Personal details
Born Bernard John Bagert, Jr.
(1944-01-10)January 10, 1944
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
Political party Democrat-turned-Republican
Alma mater Jesuit High School
Loyola University New Orleans
Loyola University New Orleans College of Law
Occupation Lawyer
Religion Roman Catholic

Bernard John Bagert, Jr. (born January 10, 1944), known as Ben Bagert, is an American attorney based in New Orleans who was a member of both houses of the Louisiana State Legislature. Bagert's peers have consistently voted him as a “Top Lawyer” in the New Orleans area in a variety of fields.[1][2][3] He enjoys the highest possible rating conferred by Martindale-Hubbell for ethical standards and legal ability.[4]

As a legislator, he was known as a politician who did not follow structured party dogma. A cultural and economic conservative with a pro-environment orientation, he was the first Louisiana legislator to warn of "Louisiana's tragic loss of wetland habitat".[5] He consistently opposed taxes and the expansion of government programs and enacted bills to reform the "welfare laws" then in effect.[6] Bagert, who maintained an active litigation law practice while the legislature was not in session, authored Louisiana Code of Evidence in 1988, Senate Bill 155 which became Act 515 of 1988.

In 1990, Bagert mounted a Republican challenge to entrenched incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator J. Bennett Johnston, Jr., of Shreveport. The controversial former Ku Klux Klansman, David Duke, also entered the race as a Republican. Although Duke was opposed by the Louisiana Republican Party, he gathered immense media attention and significant support from traditionally Democratic and union voters, which made him a serious candidate. At the time, Republican and Democratic candidates for Congress ran simultaneously in Louisiana's nonpartisan blanket primary.

As the election drew near, it became apparent to Bagert that he would run third and that Duke might defeat Johnston in the anticipated runoff election. Asserting that the election of Duke would set back emerging conservative principles for many years, Bagert withdrew from the race two days before the election to make it less likely that Duke would enter a runoff election.

In 1991, Bagert did not seek reelection to the Louisiana State Senate and instead ran as the Republican choice for Attorney General in an unsuccessful bid to succeed the retiring William J. "Billy" Guste Jr. also of New Orleans. Oddly David Duke was again at the top of the Republican ticket in the race for governor that year against Edwin Edwards. He returned full-time to his successful law practice. He has been elected several times to Republican Party office and the Republican State Central Committee and has been a delegate to the National Republican Convention. Bagert was the lawyer for Robert Dole and Elizabeth Dole in each of their unsuccessful presidential campaigns.

Background[edit]

Bagert was educated at Jesuit High School, Loyola University New Orleans, and the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, from which he received his juris doctor in 1968. He was a "Blue Key" national honor fraternity member and the president of the student body in law school. While in college, he won boxing tournaments which led to part-time work as a longshoreman on the Mississippi River. The friendships he made during this period were an important factor in his early political success.

Bagert is admitted to the practice of law before the United States Supreme Court, the Fifth and Eleventh Circuit U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals, the Louisiana Supreme Court, and other lesser courts. Bagert has written textbooks on Louisiana succession and family law. His law firm is located at 650 Poydras Street adjacent to the federal courthouse in New Orleans. He has practiced primarily in Louisiana, but has handled cases in Texas, Mississippi, and Florida. The firm handles administrative law, business law, federal criminal defense and conspiracy, construction law, wills and estates, trusts, and insurance defense.

Bagert's younger brother, Broderick A. Bagert, Sr., is a former member of the New Orleans City Council. As young men, the Bagerts were an unbeatable team on the New Orleans political scene. They were among the first to rely on computer technology to enhance campaign operations. Brod Bagert (born 1947) retired from politics and is a poet, lecturer, and author of children's books.

Six legislative elections as a Democrat[edit]

At age 25, Bagert won a special election for the Louisiana House of Representatives. He won full terms to the state House in 1972, 1975, and 1979. He was a member of the "Young Turks" reformers led by future Speaker E.L. "Bubba" Henry of Jonesboro in Jackson Parish and Robert G. "Bob" Jones of Lake Charles, Louisiana, the son of former Governor Sam Houston Jones. Bagert often questioned certain state expenditures. In the spring of 1972, for instance, he asked why the state continued to spend $214,488 per year to maintain the Louisiana Livestock Brand Commission, which he described as a useless entity whose members "ride around looking for stolen cows and checking brands on cows."[7]

In the House, Bagert held leadership positions including the chairmanships of the Criminal Justice Committee and the Commerce, Insurance, and Banking Committee. In 1983, he was elected to the first of two terms to the state Senate. In his last election victory, in the 1987 nonpartisan blanket primary, Bagert defeated his opponent by a huge margin: 23,953 (89%) to 3,043 (11%).

During his legislative service, Bagert received accolades from a variety of good government, environmental, and conservative organizations. The Alliance for Good Government named him Legislator of the Year in 1973, 1983, and 1985.[citation needed]

Friends of the Environment and Citizens for Clean Environment honored him with the Brown Pelican Award in 1991, as he was the first state official in Louisiana to address the near extinction of the brown pelican, the state bird that appears on the state seal, in 1971, when he authored measures to prevent programs that expended public funds for the aerial application of the pesticide Mirex, a chlorinated hydrocarbon that is similar to DDT. He was named Conservationist of the Year by the National and Louisiana Wildlife Federation in 1986 for his work to salvage depleted redfish and speckled trout stocks and in 1988 for his work to abate wetlands loss.[citation needed]

In 1989, after voters rejected a $700 million tax reform package submitted by then Governor Buddy Roemer, Bagert replied:

Let's do some major budget cutting before we even think about more taxes.... People voted for a revolution in state government in 1987 [when Roemer was elected].... They are still waiting.[8]

The aborted campaign against J. Bennett Johnston, Jr.[edit]

Bagert was the official Republican Party choice to challenge Democratic Senator J. Bennett Johnston in the 1990 primary. At the state convention held in New Orleans on January 13, 1990, Bagert received 451 of the 792 delegate votes cast. Far behind were state Representative Quentin Dastugue and Louisiana Secretary of State W. Fox McKeithen, whose father, former Governor John McKeithen had unsuccessfully challenged Johnston in 1972 as an Independent. Dastugue and McKeithen did not proceed to the primary, but a third candidate who failed at the convention continued forward.[9]

In fact, State Representative David Duke, a former figure in the KKK, ran far better than Bagert in the primary process, having procured the support of many traditionally Democratic blue collar voters. Virginia Republican and Iran-Contra figure Oliver North campaigned for Bagert, four years before North would make his own failed race against Senator Charles Robb, a son-in-law of Lyndon B. Johnson.

In his campaign Bagert called Johnston "a bungling, milquetoast liberal"[10] and "aloof and out of touch" with Louisiana voters. Bagert accused Johnston of having had little interest in the state's oil and gas industries but partial to large utility holdings and nuclear energy developers. Johnston's vote for the windfall profits tax "hurt the independent oil producers in our state," declared Bagert.[11]

Bagert's contributors included Governor David C. Treen, the state's first Republican congressman and governor since Reconstruction; Bryan Wagner, the first GOP member elected in the 20th century to the New Orleans City Council; John Hainkel, a Democrat and later Republican member of the state Senate from an Orleans-area district; party chairmen James H. Boyce (shortly before his death) of Baton Rouge, George Despot of Shreveport, Donald G. Bollinger of Lockport, and William "Billy" Nungesser of New Orleans; Louis J. Roussel, Jr., a businessman and financier who had bankrolled campaigns of earlier Democrats, including Edwin Edwards and William J. "Bill" Dodd; future U.S. Senator David Vitter of Metairie; the late "Cajun" humorist, chef, and former Democrat Justin Wilson; Dalton Woods, a Shreveport oilman and friend of President George Herbert Walker Bush; state Representative Clark Gaudin of Baton Rouge, New Orleans businessman James A. Noe, Jr., son of a former Democratic governor; future U.S. Senate candidate Suzanne Haik Terrell, another former member of the New Orleans City Council; former state Senator Robert G. "Bob" Jones, the Lake Charles stockbroker; and even a Texas-Louisiana businessman, Albert Bel Fay, who had once been the Republican national committeeman from Texas.[citation needed]

Although Bagert campaigned hard, he continued to trail Duke and Johnston in the public opinion polls. Days before the primary, U.S. Senators John C. Danforth of Missouri, Ted Stevens of Alaska, and Nancy Kassebaum Baker of Kansas announced that they were "supporting" their Democratic colleague Johnston. At first, Bagert denounced Republicans who questioned his ability to win the race: "I wasn't [politically] dead; it's a mistake they made."[12] But when it became clear to Bagert that by continuing the battle he would improve Duke's chances, he withdrew so that a runoff election between Duke and Johnston could have been avoided. Many of Bagert's campaign advisers urged him to remain in the race to protect his political viability. Of his withdrawal, Bagert said, "I do not want my footnote in history to read: 'His persistence led to the election of a man who tarnished American conservatism for many years.'"

Johnston won reelection to his fourth and final term with 753,198 votes (54 percent) to Duke's 607,091 (43 percent). Another 3 percent was shared by two minor Democratic candidates. Votes cast for Bagert were not tabulated because of his withdrawal. Many in the Republican establishment voted for Johnston even though they had recruited Bagert to try to unseat Johnston. It was not to be the last time that state party leaders would also vote for a Democrat to block Duke. A year later, many Republicans supported discredited Governor Edwin Edwards in order to thwart Duke's ill-fated gubernatorial candidacy.

1990s[edit]

In 1991, Bagert ran for Attorney General but was defeated by the Democrat Richard Ieyoub, a lawyer from Lake Charles. This was the last campaign that Bagert waged. He has since concentrated on his successful law practice. Bagert was a delegate to the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego, which nominated the unsuccessful Dole-Kemp ticket.

Accolades[edit]

In 1986 and 1988, state Senator Bagert was named "Conservationist of the Year" among the elected official category by the Louisiana Wildlife Federation.[13]

In 2014, Bagert was named a "Top Lawyer" in several fields – Criminal Defense, Criminal Defense – White Collar, Construction Law, Insurance Law, Real Estate Law, Trusts and Estates Law.[14]

Personal life[edit]

His home in the Lakeview area of New Orleans was flooded in Hurricane Katrina. The damage occurred when the nearby 17th Street Canal broke during the storm.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Profile: Top Lawyers 2014, myneworleans.com; accessed June 28, 2015.
  2. ^ Profile: Top Lawyers 2013, myneworleans.com; accessed June 28, 2015.
  3. ^ https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=new+orleans+magazine+top+lawyers+2012
  4. ^ Martindale-Hubbell rating, martindale.com; accessed June 28, 2015.
  5. ^ Profile, theneworleansadvocate.com, October 7, 2014.
  6. ^ Senate Bill 512 1990 act 604 also Times Picayune 6-21-1990
  7. ^ Charles Leyton, United Press International, "Bagert Says Commission Wastes Taxpayers' Funds," June 2, 1972
  8. ^ "'So, Where's the Revolution?', Sen. Ben Bagert says people still waiting", Minden Press-Herald, May 17, 1989, pg. 5A
  9. ^ "GOP selects Bagert to challenge Johnston", Minden Press-Herald, January 16, 1990, p. 4
  10. ^ "Can Johnston be beaten?", Minden Press-Herald, November 19, 1989, p. 1
  11. ^ Joey White, "Bagert 'pulls no punches' on campaign trail, Minden Press-Herald, February 22, 1990, p. 1
  12. ^ "Johnston wins GOP endorsements", Minden Press-Herald, October 4, 1990, p. 1
  13. ^ "Louisiana Wildlife Federation Conservation Award Winners" (PDF). lawildlifefed.org. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 9, 2015. Retrieved January 8, 2015. 
  14. ^ http://www.myneworleans.com/My-New-Orleans/September-2014/Top-Lawyers-2014/

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Thomas A. Early, Jr.
Louisiana State Representative from District 24 (later 98) (Orleans Parish)

Bernard John "Ben" Bagert, Jr.
1970–1984

Succeeded by
Garey Forster
Preceded by
Michael H. O'Keefe, Jr.
Louisiana State Senator from District 4 (Orleans Parish)

Bernard John "Ben" Bagert, Jr.
1984–1992

Succeeded by
Marc Morial