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Dave Treen Sr.

Dave Treen served as governor of Louisiana from 1980 to 1984, losing his bid for a second term to Edwin Edwards in 1983.

Dave Treen Sr.

Courtesy of State Library of Louisiana

Governor David Connor Treen. Unknown

David C. Treen was the first Republican governor of Louisiana since Reconstruction, serving from 1980 until 1984. His gubernatorial term was sandwiched between interrupted terms for Democrat Edwin W. Edwards, who still held sway with the legislature, making it difficult for Treen to accomplish his goals. A principled and deliberative man, Treen is perhaps best remembered for the remark made by Edwards in the 1983 gubernatorial race, when he called Treen a man “who takes an hour and a half to watch ‘60 Minutes.’” Nevertheless, Treen was able to enact much change during his administration, combating racism and improving education. He was also a supporter of the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition, a world’s fair in New Orleans that ended in bankruptcy.

David Connor Treen was born in Baton Rouge on July 16, 1928, to parents Joseph Paul Treen Sr. and Elizabeth Speir. He attended public schools and graduated from Fortier High School in New Orleans before attending Tulane University, where he completed his undergraduate work and graduated from the law school with honors in 1950. He married Dolores Brisbi the following year, and the couple had three children: Cynthia, David C. Treen Jr., and Jennifer.

Treen opened a law practice in Metairie before entering politics in 1960, when he ran as an elector for the Louisiana States’ Rights Party. Although there were very few registered Republicans at that time, Treen joined the Republican Party and ran for Congress three times, in 1962, 1964, and 1968. He was defeated each time, but gained support with each subsequent run—indicating the rise in popularity of the Republican Party within Louisiana. He lost his first race for governor in 1971. Finally, in 1972, Treen was elected to represent the Third Congressional District.

When Edwards was forced to step aside due to a limit on the number of consecutive terms he could serve, Treen was able to win the 1979 gubernatorial election. Ironically, it was Edwards’s restructuring of the election procedures that helped Treen win; the election was held with an open primary, instead of separate Democrat and Republican primaries. After he led the primary, the four major Democratic candidates who failed to make the runoff threw their support to Treen, who helped to pay off their campaign debts. He also later appointed them to public office.

As governor, Treen worked to improve education, raising teacher pay and establishing the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts on the campus of Northwestern State University in Natchitoches. His term also saw the formation of the Department of Environmental Quality and the resumption of capital punishment in Louisiana. In a controversial move, he signed a bill into law requiring the teaching of “creationism science,” a mandate later struck down by the US Supreme Court after Treen had left office in the 1987 case Edwards v. Aguillard. He also tried to improve the predominately black public colleges and universities, and is credited for appointing more blacks to public office than any previous governor. The economy was thriving at the beginning of his term, and Treen enacted a tax cut. Unfortunately, the oil market crashed soon afterward, and the state’s high spending resulted in debt and cuts in state services.

After his term, Treen ran again for public office but was never successful. He moved to Mandeville with his family, and publicly lobbied President George W. Bush to pardon his old political enemy Edwards, who was sentenced to ten years in federal prison for corruption related to riverboat casino licensing. Treen died in Metairie on October 29, 2009, of complications from a respiratory illness. He was the first governor to lie in state in the state capitol’s Memorial Hall since Earl K. Long in 1960.