An anti-Bill Cassidy mailer that’s being circulated by the Patriot Majority PAC says Cassidy once “suggested turning Southern University in New Orleans and Grambling State University into prisons.” (Click here to see the mailer)
Cassidy, a Republican Congressman from Baton Rouge, is locked in a tight U.S. Senate race with incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu.
The racially-charged implication in the PAC’s mailer is clear: Cassidy wanted to shutter two of the state’s historically black universities and convert them to prisons.
But, like so often happens in political ads and mail pieces, that’s not really the full story.
Cassidy did advocate shutting down some of Louisiana’s higher education institutions — in and of itself a controversial idea that repeatedly has been proposed but failed to gain much traction here. But the letter selects and strings together only pieces of what Cassidy was advocating.
The Patriot Majority mailer cites a Letter to the Editor that Cassidy wrote to the State-Times in 1991. The State-Times was The Advocate’s sister publication that stopped printing in the 1990s. Its articles are archived behind a paywall, so this blog post is intended to bring the full letter forward for context.
In his Letter to the Editor, Cassidy argued that Louisiana had too many colleges and universities that were stretching state resources.
“Lets close some of them,” he wrote. “Spare university buildings can be used for junior colleges, minimum security prisons, research facilities for private industry, turned over to local school boards or anything else that will benefit the state.”
He specifically mentions closing SUNO because of other higher education options in the New Orleans area. Grambling is listed among five schools in the northwest part of the state, of which Cassidy says two could be shuttered (Note: he doesn’t specifically identify Grambling as one that should definitely be closed).
Cassidy’s campaign didn’t immediately respond to The Advocate’s request for comment on the letter’s contents or the characterization of it in the PAC’s mailer. [NOTE: SEE UPDATE BELOW WITH COMMENT]
A search of The Advocate archives shows one other Letter to the Editor from Cassidy, which was co-signed by his wife. In it, they stressed the need for a mandatory helmet law for motorcycles. Cassidy and his wife are both doctors.
Another letter signed only by Laura Cassidy in 1990 took a position against abortion and efforts of the “pro-choice movement.”
Here is the full text of Cassidy’s Letter to the Editor that is cited in the recent mailer (saving you that fee to search the archives):
Closing redundant schools a good idea
Publication Date: May 29, 1991 Page: 9-B Section: NEWS
State-Times: Higher education is repeatedly emphasized as key to Louisiana’s economic growth. Nonetheless, due to other pressing needs, our universities are funded 30-40 percent less than the regional average. Let’s try something else: Lets close some of them. Do we really need LSU-Eunice and LSU-Alexandria _ not to mention making one of them a four-year institution? Does northwest Louisiana require Grambling, Louisiana Tech, Northwest Louisiana University, LSU-Shreveport and Southern University-Shreveport? Make two of them junior colleges and close two more. Why stop there? Do away with Southern University-New Orleans. There are two other, predominately black, New Orleans universities, and another, much more respected state university. The money saved from these and other closures could improve the remaining schools. Without an increase in overall state expenditures,their funding could be raised towards levels needed for first-class institutions. Spare university buildings can be used for junior colleges, minimum security prisons, research facilities for private industry, turned over to local school boards or anything else that will benefit the state. By closing redundant educational facilities, Louisiana can have better universities without more taxes or state debt. The alternatives are clear. William M. Cassidy 3115 Dalrymple Drive Baton Rouge, LA 70802
UPDATE: Here’s what Cassidy says about the letter today, “If you read the letter, it’s about desiring to improve academic institutions without raising taxes or increasing the debt. Some may disagree, and it was written 25 years ago, but no one disagrees with the need for bold educational reforms.”