Charles E. "Buddy" Roemer, III Biography

Claim to Fame: Former Governor of Louisiana
DOB: 1943
Diabetes Type: 1

Buddy Roemer was born in Shreveport, LA October 4, 1943. He attended the public schools in the area, graduating from Bossier High School in 1960. He went on to Harvard University where he received his B.S. in 1964 and then his M.A. in 1967. Throughout the years, Roemer has been a businessman, farmer, and banker but the bulk of his career has been spent in politics, first as delegate to various conventions, then four terms as Congressman and finally as Governor of Louisiana from March 14, 1988, until January 13, 1992. He changed party affiliation to Republican on March 11, 1991, becoming the first sitting governor to switch parties in modern history.

Roemer won the governorship without a majority vote, a point which somewhat weakened his administration. Roemer led in the primary with 33 percent to Edwin Edwards' 28 percent. Edwards withdrew from the election and Roemer, another in a long, but frequently interrupted line of Louisiana reform governors, took office.

Roemer increased teacher pay, strengthened the Department of Environmental Quality to enforce environmental laws, and toughened the laws on campaign finance. The legislature, however, defeated his efforts to revamp the tax system by opposing his attempt to revise property tax exemption, preferring instead to renew "temporary" sales taxes. Furthermore, Roemer's education reform program was bitterly opposed by certain organizations.

Late in his term Roemer switched parties and joined the Republicans, but never won the full allegiance of long-term members of the state G0P. Despite a scandal-free administration, he failed to increase the support he received in the 1987 election. Governor Roemer came in third in the '91 campaign losing to a controversial pair of politicians who incited strong feelings – Edwin Edwards and David Duke.

It was during his time as a delegate to the 1973 Louisiana Constitutional Convention that Roemer was diagnosed with diabetes. In a 2001 interview in the Gambit Weekly, Roemer recalled his early symptoms as classic signs of diabetes – constant thirst and weight loss. "I lost about a pound a day for a week until I finally went to the doctor."

He suffered glycemic highs and lows as he learned to manage his diabetes but it was an unfortunate driving episode that made him reassess how he was handling the disease:

Driving alone to the airport, Roemer apparently suffered an attack of hypoglycemia… "He drove onto the interstate at a high rate of speed going the wrong way ... and into oncoming traffic," John Hill, capitol bureau chief for Gannett News remembers. Roemer eventually stopped his car, safe and unhurt. Hill's newspaper editors called him saying that Roemer had been stopped on suspicion of drunk driving. "I said, 'That's impossible -- I was just with him,'" Hill recalls. "'There's no way he got drunk. I was with him drinking coffee.'" Roemer's friends argued that the incident was related to his diabetes. Skeptics cried cover-up, but Hill's account supported the diabetes version.

Roemer confirms the incident and says afterwards he worked harder to manage his glucose levels, watch his diet and get adequate exercise. "The trick is to balance the blood chemistry with your activity," he says. "It is an ongoing disease and ongoing balancing act. You never say, 'Well, I got that behind me.' There's always the next meal. The next [insulin] shot. The next day."

Today, Roemer is a Baton Rouge-based developer of retirement communities statewide. "I think being a diabetic made me a better political leader, more sensitive, more understanding and, yes, more brittle," Roemer says. "I was more brittle."

Portions of this bio were taken from a November 6, 2001 article from The Gambit Weekly, a publication of Gambit Communications.

Last Modified Date: March 27, 2014

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by Brenda Bell
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