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Leach wants to clean up state budget Mike Hasten
/ Louisiana Gannett News/Baton Rouge
Posted on September 8, 2003
BATON ROUGE - Claude "Buddy" Leach believes setbacks beginning his career have served to temper his determination.
Leach, one of the four major Democrats with a chance of getting into a gubernatorial runoff, is using his business savvy, 17 years of governmental experience and community volunteerism as a base for his campaign. "This election is about fundamentally changing our state," he said, adding that he wants to take "a Brillo pad and Purex bleach and scrub the budget."
Leach's primary goal is improving education and health care, both of which affected his early life.
As he was pursuing a degree in pre-medicine at LSU in 1954, Leach was struck by polio, a disease that crippled thousands in the pre-Salk-vaccine days. "I was very fortunate. I had temporary paralysis but never had to be put into an iron lung."
Leach still recalls the sound of the iron lung machines running for other patients and the smells of the Baton Rouge General Hospital, where he was treated. "They wrapped me in steaming wool blankets. When I'm wearing a wool suit and it gets wet, the smell makes it all come back to me."
Nine years later while preparing to establish a law practice, Leach's father died. Since he had worked with his father since he was 12 and was a licensed plumber, Leach ran the family plumbing business until he could find a buyer and jobs for the employees.
Then decked out in a new suit for his first appearance in court in July 1963, Leach was approached by a woman he expected to become a client. "She didn't need a lawyer. She said she needed me to unclog her sewer lines."
At 68, Leach today is the oldest candidate in the gubernatorial race. But he has a force of young people, called Louisiana's Potential, working for him to "rock the state." They will be distributing CDs featuring music by young Louisiana musicians interspersed with campaign messages.
John Forrest Ales, chairman of Louisiana's Potential, said he and other young people are attracted to the Leach campaign because of its emphasis on education and Buddy and Laura Leach's contribution of time and money to improve state universities.
"We've got a couple hundred members statewide, mostly in Shreveport, Baton Rouge and New Orleans. And the momentum is growing," Ales said. "It's interesting that young people know them from what they've done in their private lives."
Laura Leach is a member of the LSU Board of Supervisors and has aided schools in the University of Louisiana System. The Leaches are big-time supporters of the arts, with Laura being honored as the largest contributor in Southwest Louisiana several years running. They're also personally funding restoration of 5,000 acres of marshland which Leach said was "damaged by environmental neglect."
During his final term in the state Legislature, Leach was chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which handles tax measures. He says a tax on foreign oil processed in the state is the only new one needed and would fund education and coastal restoration. Currently, pipelines that cut through the coastline transport millions of barrels of oil but the oil companies pay no taxes.
About the candidate
NAME: Claude "Buddy" Leach
AGE: 68; born March 30, 1935.
HOMETOWN: Leesville (also has residences in Lake Charles and New Orleans).
PARTY AFFILIATION: Democrat.
PREVIOUS GOVERNMENTAL EXPERIENCE: state representative, 1968-79; U.S. House of Representatives, 1979-80; state representative, 1984-88.
PROFESSION: lawyer, president and CEO of Sweet Lake Land and Oil Co. and North American Land Co. in Lake Charles.
EDUCATION: Leesville High School, 1951; bachelor of science degree in pre-med, LSU, 1956; juris doctorate, LSU Law School, 1963.
FAMILY: married 37 years to Laura Alexander Leach; three children: Mary Leach Warner, 34, (mother of three), Lucy Leach Davenport, 32, (mother of three) and Claude A. Leach, 28, (father of one).