Kathleen Babineaux Blanco concluded her term as governor in 2008. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette is ensuring her legacy of service continues.
The planned Kathleen Babineaux Blanco Public Policy Center will house the former governor’s papers. It also will contribute interdisciplinary, independent research to public policy areas such as criminal justice reform, poverty and economic opportunity, governmental ethics, and education.
“Gov. Blanco championed these issues throughout her career,” said Dr. Jordan Kellman, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, which will oversee the policy center in partnership with Edith Garland Dupré Library.
“The center will draw on expertise from UL Lafayette faculty and other scholars from across the country who will gather data and offer nonpartisan analysis to confront challenges facing our state and nation.”
The center will issue policy papers that inform public discussions and host lectures and symposiums.
Blanco graduated from the University in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in business education. During her 25-year political career, she was elected twice to the state House of Representatives, twice to the Public Service Commission and twice as lieutenant governor.
She was governor from 2004 to 2008 and remains the only woman to have served as the state’s chief executive.
Blanco said the center will do more than gather information for academic purposes. “I see it also as a voice of balance, a voice of honesty so that the people can trust in the information delivered from the center. I envision it as the voice of reason.”
As governor, she led economic trade missions to Cuba, Taiwan, China and Japan. She also directed the single-largest increase in education funding in Louisiana history. Blanco expanded the state’s pre-kindergarten program and fully funded colleges and universities for the first time in a quarter of a century.
In August and September 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck Louisiana. At the time, they were the largest natural disasters in U.S. history.
Blanco’s gubernatorial papers detail her direction of storm recovery efforts as well as her administration’s other priorities. The 90 boxes of material she donated to UL Lafayette will be transferred to the policy center and made available to researchers once University archivists process the collection.
Gubernatorial collections are rare in Louisiana. Prior to 2015, state law permitted former governors to retain ownership of their papers. Most chose not to make the materials publicly available. However, Blanco hired an archivist and “ensured that future generations would have an unparalleled vantage point from which to view an extraordinary period in Louisiana’s recent past,” Kellman said.
Most of the funding for the $2.7 million center will come from private gifts.
The center’s founding director is expected to be hired by the end of the year. There are plans to open the center in 2019 in Dupré Library.
This article first appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of La Louisiane, The Magazine of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Main photo by Philip Gould. Article photo courtesy of the Blanco family.