Brian McNicoll

Look, I know you’re probably not going to vote for Buddy Roemer for president, even if he somehow wrangles his way onto the primary ballot in your state. And I’m not even trying to talk you into it here.

He’s a fair trader when the conservative political weathervane clearly reads free trade. He’s broken bread with the Occupy people not at the height of their popularity but after they’d begun to slide. He hasn’t registered on the impact scale enough to evaluate his fiscal policies.

But know this: In Washington, we’re always looking for the political person with actual courage, for someone whose principles more or less match ours and commitment to those principles is such that they would rather lose an election that sell out. Buddy Roemer is that person.

Whatever else you can say about him, he is that rare politician so committed to doing the right thing that he will do it even if he knows it will cost him an election.

I first met Roemer in 1980. There is no chance he remembers me. I was editor of the school newspaper at LSU-Shreveport, and he was running for Congress from Louisiana’s Fourth District, which includes Shreveport. He had run in 1978 and lost in a jungle primary to Claude ‘Buddy’ Leach of Leesville.

Roemer had been seen as the clear leader to replace the retiring Joe D. Waggoner. But one day, at a debate, the gaggle of candidates were asked whether they support the project to build a barge port on the Red River just below Shreveport.

Shreveport is named for Henry Miller Shreve, a riverboat captain who led an effort in the 1820s to clear a 60-mile-long dam of debris from the river. The Red River, which forms much of the border between Oklahoma and Texas, doesn’t always deliver enough water to wash away debris. Sand bars were common in the stretch that flows through Shreveport, which meant more than 100 miles of the river would have to be dredged for the port project then under consideration.

All the other candidates mouthed the usual platitudes about bringing home the bacon, creating jobs, returning the river to its former glory. But Roemer said he’d looked at the numbers, determined the project never would generate enough dollars and jobs to make it worth the massive federal expense, and came out against it. Frugality, he said, wasn’t just for the next guy. It had to begin at home.

This is even more impressive when one considers Roemer grew up on a plantation across the river from Shreveport in Bossier Parish that abutted the river. His family stood to make millions more than they’d ever made selling cotton by selling access to the river.

Brian McNicoll

Brian McNicoll is a conservative columnist and freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va.