You can tell a lot about people — especially public officials — by how they behave around children. I’m thinking about the baby-kissing politicians who pretend to care but lose all concern for the kids when the TV lights go dark. There are those, however, who know tenderly cradling a baby or kneeling down to look a 5-year-old in the eyes for a quiet conversation is how you establish a true connection with a young person.
If you’re a parent, it’s easy to perceive who cares about young people. If you’re a close watcher of politicians, it’s also easy. And that is one reason I will always love former Gov. Kathleen Blanco. She didn’t snatch babies from their mothers, toss them in the air and make a show of kissing them. Her concern for children was deeper, lasting and sincere.
As most readers know, Blanco is struggling with cancer and has asked for our prayers. I’ve prayed for her, as I know many of you have, too.
History will judge her more kindly than did some journalists and her political opponents in the months and years after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. She kept fighting for Louisiana to her last day in office, and the recovery money the state received from Washington was partly a result of her fierce determination to fight for the state she loves.
When I think about my time on her staff, what stands out most is how much she cared for children and all that she did for them.
First, a personal story: One day in November 2004, my 5-year-old son was mildly sick. My wife was out of town. We had a press conference that morning, and I had several meetings with the governor. In too many workplaces, children are unwelcome, especially if they are not well. But I worked for Kathleen Blanco, so I brought my son to work.
I will never forget lugging this sniffly kid into the governor’s office for an hour-long meeting with her and other members of our senior staff. When the governor saw my son, she welcomed him warmly and hurried off to find a coloring book and crayons. She set him up at her conference table and made certain he was comfortable. And then we began our meeting.
Not for a second did she make me feel uneasy about having brought my son to work. It seemed like the most natural thing for a staff member of hers to do because, of course, it was.
That loving care for a sick child was and is typical of Kathleen Blanco. This mother, grandmother and former school teacher did not mouth concern for Louisiana’s children; she made it her policy priority.
She pushed through the largest new investments in education in Louisiana’s history. That included: expanding the state’s LA-4 Pre-K program to all at-risk children, turning it into a national model; reforms in standards and accountability for public schools; increases in student test scores, teacher quality, and math and science ratings; a program putting laptops in sixth-grade classrooms; and enacting a futuristic high-school redesign plan.
She also delivered two teacher pay raises, which…