James Carville Beholds Governor Earl Long

ImageJames Carville: “Politicians, to me, were larger than life. If a kid grows up in New York City and sees some big star on the street, maybe he gets fascinated with the theater and gets a ticket to a show or sneaks in to see a rehearsal. It was that way with me and politics. These were all big stars and the legislature was a big theater and there was a big drama being played out.

Carville [Louisiana] was about a half-hour ride from Baton Rouge and I commuted to parochial school for the sixth and seventh grades. The state capitol was about tow blocks away. Then I went to Catholic high school in Donaldsonville. One summer I had a job as a runner for one of the local Baton Rouge banks, picking up and dropping off checks from the state treasury. Whenever the legislature was in session I would always go sit in the gallery and watch it for ten or fifteen minutes, much like a kid would go and look through a knot hole to see a baseball game. .

There was a great clamor to the Louisiana legislature. Bells would ring. The combination of state cigar smoke and the fresh ink used to print up the bills gave the place a very specific odor that meant power and action.

Earl Long, a progressive by Louisiana standards, was governor when I was growing up. I saw him one time only. There was a commotion in the capitol halls, hard shoe leather on marble, echoing, and it was coming right at me. The governor was walking through the capitol, kicking up a wake, cops around him, a couple of reporters. I just looked up and he was there. To be governor was such a big thing. It was unimaginable that you would ever see one. It took my breath away. Am I supposed to be here? Should I look? What does he really look like? I was fifteen, and it was like I was staring at a naked woman.”

All’s Fair: Love, War, and Running for President, Mary Matalin and James Carville with Peter Knobler, Touchstone and Random House, 1994.