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Capitol Corruption: Exploring Louisiana's colorful political landscape

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MONROE, La. (KNOE 8 News) - Studies consistently rank Louisiana as one of the most corrupt states in the country. In the last of our three special "Corruption Capitol" reports we explore the trends of political wrongdoing and what is being done to curb the problem.

Louisianians like their food spicy and their politicians colorful. The race for governor in 1991, perpetuated the state's reputation.  The candidates: Edwin Edwards versus klansman David Duke.  During that campaign, bumper stickers favoring Edwards read "Vote for the crook. It's important". Edwards won that election, but ironically years later, both candidates ended up behind bars for separate fraud and bribery related charges, among others.

Larry Foreman, a historian says power can corrupt individuals. "Folks that want to run government, that are elected to run government, inherit a certain amount of power that allows them to do things the way they want to do them; but also handle our money the way they want to handle it," said Foreman.

Over the past century, countless numbers of public servants on every level of government have been at the center of corruption scandals. So much so, the state is ranked number 2, per capita, for corruption convictions in the nation. Foreman says Northeast Louisiana isn't exempt from the state's reputation. "I know in this part of the state we have, I don't want to call it a rich history, but it's a colorful history," said the historian.

But why Louisiana? Political analyst Joshua Stockley says it could have something to do with socio-economic status. "I think one of the largest reasons you have to point to Louisiana being at the top of the corruption cases is our overall poverty," said Stockley.

He says politicians from impoverished backgrounds are more likely to be tempted with bribes and conditional voting. "When you are dealing with individuals who probably have not had a significant exposure to wealth and power, both the wealth and power become intoxicating," said Stockley.

But since the mid 20th century, progressive movements have aimed to clean up Louisiana politics. Most recently, voters approved of a state constitutional amendment allowing courts to strip retirement benefits from politicians and public employees who commit a felony relating to their job. Democratic State Representative Katrina Jackson feels the amendment could discourage wrongdoing, "We're very hopeful that public officials, public employees will think twice before committing a crime".

But it may take years for the state to see results.  The measure only applies to those taking jobs after January first, exempting current employees. Foreman recognizes the strides the state has made, but like many Louisianians, is skeptical the problem will ever be completely kicked to the curb.

"To be honest I think it has changed for the better, but I certainly don't see it going away anytime soon" said Foreman.

"Wherever you have power, wherever you have decision making, wherever you have money, you will always have the temptation of corruption," added Stockley.

To Louisiana's credit, the bayou state has survived several years without a major scandal on the state level. Though local governments cannot say the same. Experts say passing legislation can only do so much to stop corruption. As long as Louisianians are willing to turn a blind eye and give dirty politicians votes, the problem of corruption will never go away.

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