By Stephen Waguespack
Well, another year has come and gone. It hasn’t necessarily been the most enjoyable year for many, but it very well may go down as one of the most memorable.
2016 began with Louisiana welcoming a new Governor for the first time in eight years after a hard-fought and ugly campaign filled with excessive name calling and character assassination. The year ended with America electing a new President after a similarly unpleasant election season following eight consecutive years of the same leader. A majority of Louisianans supported the victor in each instance, though Governor Edwards and President-elect Trump are from staunchly different ends of the political spectrum.
Through this time, the state once again battled budget deficits and government spending fights, all with the backdrop of a state economy that sank faster than Leonard Fournette’s Heisman chances. Three legislative sessions later, after raising more than $1.6 billion in new taxes, state government still faces deficits amidst mounting job losses in the private sector. Three enjoyable football seasons later, Fournette is departing Death Valley and off to make millions of dollars in the NFL.
Mother Nature wasn’t too kind to Louisiana this year. The spring saw devastating floods in North Louisiana and this summer brought with it a horrific rain event that left over twenty parishes in south Louisiana under a presidential declaration of emergency. Thousands of families and small businesses are still reeling from this unprecedented tragedy, and the hopes of a full recovery for many local communities is still very much in question.
After eleven winning seasons and one national championship, Les Miles was replaced as head football coach of LSU with Ed Orgeron. “The Hat” has not yet found his next home, but don’t be surprised if you see him entertaining viewers on television next fall. His boring offensive game plans and lack of quarterback development will not be missed in Baton Rouge, but his charm, quirkiness and support of this community will. Coach O inherits a loaded roster, high fan expectations and a new coaching staff promising to help LSU take that next step. How that all comes together will be revealed next November in Tuscaloosa, Alabama - a place that has resulted in some tough losses the last few tries. Good luck, Coach O.
Speaking of tough losses, the world lost some notable people in 2016.
Athletic icons that changed their sport forever such as Arnold Palmer, Muhammad Ali and Gordie Howe passed on. Probably one of the best coaches of this generation passed away also: Pat Summit, who won eight national championships while patrolling the sidelines for thirty-eight years for the Tennessee Lady Vols.
The world of music lost some legends this year also. Groundbreaking innovators such as Merle Haggard, Prince and David Bowie passed along with Glenn Frey, Natalie Cole and George Michael. New Orleans’ own Pete Fountain played his last iconic tune in August of this year.
Children of the 70s and 80s were sad to see some of their childhood stars pass on. The original Star Wars movie lost two of its main characters this year with the passing of Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) and Kenny Baker (R2D2). Garry Marshall, the creator of Happy Days, and the beloved mom from the Brady Bunch, Florence Henderson, also left us in 2016, joining comedians Garry Shandling and Gene Wilder.
Nancy Reagan’s grace and strength will be missed, as will the conviction and unwavering clarity of Justice Antonin Scalia. One of America’s most iconic patriots from the twentieth century, John Glenn, passed in the same year as one of freedom and democracy’s greatest international threats, Fidel Castro.
Various other difference makers moved on in 2016, including the inventor of the life-saving “Heimlich maneuver” (Dr. Henry Heimlich) and the first surgeon to successfully transplant a human heart (Dr. Denton Cooley). Gwen Ifill of PBS, John McLaughlin of the National Review and Morley Safer of 60 Minutes all passed away this year, as well as To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee.
Most of us around here will remember 2016 for a year of contentious and surprising elections, chaos in state government, natural disasters, a rough economic outlook and a changing of the guard on the sidelines at LSU. Some notable figures have passed this year and some new significant figures are stepping up in big roles both nationally and locally to try and make their mark.
We need them all to be successful. Next year will tell the story of how well they hit that mark and what other losses, if any, we incur. It is time for 2017 to begin, and just as importantly, it is time for 2016 to end.