‘The Last Constitution’ puts Louisiana’s rewrite onto the written page

State News

BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — A crew of young Louisiana politicos hit up a Baton Rouge bar, discussed how the state’s Prohibition-era constitution was rancid with misspellings and duplications, and mapped out their quest to rewrite the state’s most important document — all on a cocktail napkin.

“The Last Constitution: Louisiana’s Greatest Political Generation and the Document That Defined Them All” shows the flavor behind Louisiana’s 1973 constitutional convention. Author Jeremy Alford based the book on delegate interviews, convention transcripts and convention chairman E.L. “Bubba” Henry’s unpublished memoir.

“You get the story, and you get the people,” Henry, now 84, said in a recent interview. “And the people make the story.”

A total of 132 delegates joined the convention. Their backgrounds varied: Democrat and Republican; north Louisiana and south Louisiana; urban and rural; political veterans and novices. The roster included 11 African-Americans and 11 women, considered more than the usual amount at the time.

“This convention had a lot of people that participated in politics that had never been in politics before,” Henry said. “They wanted to be a part of it and make their feelings known.”
And they did. Clashes over the state’s direction left them missing deadlines, running out of money, arguing with then-Gov. Edwin Edwards, and relocating — fittingly — to a venue they shared with amateur wrestlers.

“It’s a beautiful process, but it’s awful ugly,” Henry said. “That’s what you’d expect from a group of that size doing such an undertaking.”

Yet despite the disagreements — or maybe because of them — the convention birthed a constitution still in effect today.

“We compromised and we compromised and we compromised,” Henry said. “We had people who saw the value of what we were doing. While they may not have liked it all, the part they liked they really liked.”

Louisiana voters ratified that constitution in 1974, and it became law in 1975. The state has amended it hundreds of times since then, prompting talk of whether another constitutional rewrite is due. The former convention chairman suggests “The Last Constitution” is a roadmap for the state’s future.

“It could improve your prospects of being successful and knowing, in advance, the problems you’re going to face,” said Henry, whose 19th-floor office window overlooks the Louisiana State Capitol. “To write a perfect document is impossible. Just make it as good as you can.”

“The Last Constitution” will be available Jan. 4.

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