Former Louisiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco died on Sunday at the age of 76 following a long battle with ocular melanoma.
In 2003, Blanco was the first woman to be elected governor of Louisiana. However, Hurricane Katrina struck only 20 months into her tenure as governor, killing more than 1500 people in New Orleans, damaging more than 200,000 homes, and completely killing Blanco’s political career. She decided not to seek re-election when her term was over in 2007.
According to a statement issued by Blanco’s family, the state’s first female governor hoped to be remembered for her faith rather than her tenure during hurricanes Katrina and Rita. “It was her dying wish that she be remembered for her faith in God, commitment to family, and love of Louisiana,” the statement said.
Although conservatives applauded Blanco’s pro-life, pro-business, and pro-gun stances, as governor her policies often focused on liberal initiatives such as improving Louisiana’s education system. She presided over the largest increased investment in education in Louisiana’s history and expanded the state’s pre-k program to cover all at-risk children. She also fought to increase pay for Louisiana’s teachers.
“She understands the importance of education and investing in our children,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said of Blanco. “She knows it’s an investment, not spending.”
However, it was also Blanco who won legislative approval to take over the Orleans Parish school system and founded the Recovery School District. That opened the door for Orleans Parish to become the only school system in the country that functions as an all-charter system. That system struggles with a number of issues including inequity and prioritization of profit over student welfare and now faces an impending class-action lawsuit.
Blanco is survived by her mother, Lucille Babineaux, husband Ramond, five of her children: Karmen, Nicole, Monique, Pilar, and Ray, and 13 grandchildren.
Jenn Bentley is a freelance journalist and editor currently serving as Editor-in-Chief of Big Easy Magazine. Her work has also been featured in publications such as Wander N.O. More, The High Tech Society, FansShare, Yahoo News, Examiner.com, and others. Follow her on Twitter: @JennBentley_