David C. Treen

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David Conner Treen, Sr., usually known as Dave Treen (1928-2009), was the first Republican since Reconstruction to represent his native Louisiana in the United States House of Representatives and the first member of the GOP since 1876 to serve as governor of his state. Treen was a congressman from Louisiana's Third Congressional District from 1973 to 1980 and governor for a single term from 1980 to 1984.

A native of Baton Rouge, Treen was a law graduate of Tulane University in New Orleans. He served in the United States Air Force during the Korean War. Originally a Democrat, he switched to the States' Rights Pary in 1960 and was a losing presidential elector candidate that year, when John F. Kennedy easily won the plurality in Louisiana. In 1962, 1964, and 1968, Treen ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for his state's Second Congressional District against the powerful Democrat Hale Boggs. In the 1968 campaign, he nearly unseated Boggs, who later perished in a place crash over Alaska.

In 1972, Treen carried his party's gubernatorial banner, having overwhelmingly defeated Robert Max Ross of Richland Parish in a closed primary for the Republican nomination. A division among Treen supporters in the general election was avoided when Hall M. Lyons, son of Republican patriarch Charlton Lyons of Shreveport, withdrew from the contest as the candidate of George Wallace's then American Independent Party. Treen then polled 43 percent of the general election ballots, a record at that time for a GOP candidate in Louisiana, against the Democrat U.S. Representative Edwin Edwards of Crowley in Acadia Parish in south Louisiana.

In 1979, he narrowly won the gubernatorial race against Democrat Louis Lambert, then a member of the Louisiana Public Service Commission. Treen was unseated in 1983 by Edwards, who staged any easy comeback against his former rival, whom he had accused of having become a Republican because Treen could not win a Democtratic nomination in Louisiana.

In 1991, Treen endorsed Edwards for a fourth term when the Democrat entered a gubernatorial runoff with then State Representative David Duke, then of Jefferson Parish, a Republican former member of the Ku Klux Klan who ran without the support of the party hierarchy. Oddly, Duke had been elected to the legislature in 1989 by defeating Treen's brother, John Treen. In 1999, Treen tried to return to Congress to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Bob Livingston, but he was narrowly defeated by fellow Republican David Vitter, now his state's junior U.S. senator. David Duke also ran in the 1999 congressional race and endorsed Treen in the runoff with Vitter, some thought in what was a move to irritate Treen.

In 2008, Treen angered his party's grassroots when he endorsed the reelection of Democratic U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu of New Orleans. Landrieu defeated state Treasurer John N. Kennedy to win her third term in the Senate. Some intraparty critics at the time reportedly sent Treen "change of registration" forms.

Treen died at East Jefferson General Hospital in Metairie in Jefferson Parish from a respiratory illness. His wife, the former Dolores "Dodi" Brisbi, had died in 2005. The Treens are interred at an undisclosed site in Mandeville in St. Tammany Parish outside New Orleans. Treen was a Methodist.

Louisiana Republican State Chairman Roger F. Villere, Jr., of Metairie called Treen "a courageous man who loved our country and our state. He fought the political establishment in the 1960s and 1970s when it was very difficult to elect a Republican in our state, and his career in political office was marked with integrity and fiscal discipline. It is important for younger voters to understand that Louisiana's commitment to high ethical standards and the existence of a viable two-party system in our state are relatively new developments. Just a quarter century ago, neither existed in a significant way. Dave Treen laid the foundation to change all that, and for that, millions of Louisiana citizens owe him a profound debt of gratitude."[1]

References

  1. Statement of Chairman Roger Villerie on the Death of Dave Treen, lagop.com, retrieved November 2009
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