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Louisiana's number one fan

Ho! Ho! Who?

Last chance, who is our Secret Santa?

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Spend five minutes with Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser, and your assumptions about his unwavering love for Louisiana will be forever affirmed. “There’s no place in the world like Louisiana,” he says. “It’s our culture, our food, music and history. We’re one big gumbo with a lot of things going on.”

Nungesser, now in his second term as 54th Lt. Governor of Louisiana, has earned a reputation for passionately caring for his state and for the people who live and work here. During his tenure in the Office of Lt. Governor, the state has seen record-breaking tourism numbers, and his team has been integral in helping the industry regain its strength during its post- pandemic recovery.

A Public Servant Emerges

Nungesser’s public service career began after Hurricane Katrina, when the successful businessman ran for Plaquemines Parish president – a decision that was born out of frustration that the area failed to receive proper disaster relief. “Riding out Hurricane Katrina in Plaquemines Parish, 14 miles from the eye of the storm, and not wanting to leave those horses, and rescuing dozens of people by airboat and hundreds of animals, all while never seeing a politician – I grew angry,” he recalls. “People started asking me to run for office, and I didn’t think it was for me. But after running for parish president, winning and getting re-elected, I realized you can do so much more to help people when you’re an elected official.”

In 2010 Nungesser continued to be the voice for his state when he became public spokesperson for the gulf coast region during the BP Deepwater Horizon Explosion crisis. “I was on CNN every night,” he says. “It was after that I decided to run for lieutenant governor to make a difference for all of Louisiana. If you enjoy helping people, public service can be very rewarding. And that’s what I love about it.”

Today Nungesser is a tireless promoter, supporter and voice piece for the state he loves. Under his management of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, he has championed food safety, quality and sustainability for the second largest seafood- producing state in the US: a $2.4 billion industry employing one out of every 70 citizens in the state. He has helped hundreds of charitable organizations, and is most passionate about the elderly, veterans and special needs citizens. For example, he’s particularly proud of a grant received from the National Endowment for the Arts to provide therapy for veterans.

As part of the program, a songwriter and a small group of veterans meet, talk about their pain and suffering, then put those feelings into song. “It was organized by a great Louisiana musician, David St. Romain, and it was so beautiful, the first song is being recorded in Nashville,” Nungesser says. “It’s programs like this one that make me proud to be in Louisiana and to be able to help those in need.” The workshop has been so successful, military personnel came to the state for an all day workshop to learn how to expand it throughout the country.

Acadiana’s Adopted Son

While Nungesser is a Plaquemines Parish native, he’s a frequent (and enthusiastic) visitor to the Acadiana area. “The culture, food and music are second to none,” he says. “The Acadiana people treat strangers like family. Where else in the world do people invite strangers into their backyards for a crawfish boil?”

Nungesser makes a point to attend as many events around Louisiana as his schedule allows. He loves all of them, but when pressed for his Acadiana favorites, he touts Festival International de Louisiane and the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival. “We are blessed to have so many fairs and festivals that represent our culture and industries across Louisiana,” he says. “And I was lucky to be the grand marshal for the Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival parade in New Iberia in 2019.”

A Voice for Louisiana Tourism

Aside from being the second ranking officer of the executive branch of Louisiana and the first officer in line to succeed the governor of Louisiana, Nungesser’s days are primarily filled with the business of promoting the vital tourism industry in the state. Citing the highly successful Louisiana Staycation program, he says, “From the first day I took office, I committed to promoting all of Louisiana, and we’ve done just that – from promoting it internationally to promoting every fair and festival, sporting event, and the more than 400 museums and Main Streets with all of those local places to eat and shop. People travel all over Louisiana and explore everything it has to offer.”

Also under his office’s direction, the Keep Louisiana Beautiful campaign received additional funding during the last legislative session. “My vision is to clean up Louisiana, put our best foot forward for visitors and our citizens,” he shares. Litter and crime, he says, are two of Louisiana’s biggest pain points.

An area that was once a huge challenge for the Office of the Lt. Governor was the state parks system. When Nungesser took office, he was told by his predecessor that seven parks would need to be closed. “That wasn’t an option,” he says. “Working with our team and eliminating wasteful spending and unnecessary contracts, we were able to keep all of our parks open. With the help of our sheriffs across Louisiana, we made improvements quickly, and now some of them are starting to make money for our state.” It is his hope that, through private- public partnerships which are allowed by the legislature, the state parks can be profitable without using tax dollars.

Nungesser cites the improvements at Cypremort Point (a new kayak launch, additional RV pads, and renovated cabins) and innovative partnerships (like the glamping company that provides upscale camping at several parks) as good signs that we are continuing to move in the right direction with our parks. Bogue Chitto is a particularly successful location and one that Nungesser hopes will influence other parks, as well. “The horseback riding private-public partnership and the mountain bike trail have brought in thousands of people to Washington Parish every weekend, with bikes on top of their cars, eating and shopping in that community. It has been a tourism draw for that whole region. We want to mirror that all over Louisiana.”

All Santa-related duties aside, Nungesser is a serious politician who sees the potential in Louisiana – with the right changes. “We need Louisiana elected officials to come together for the greater good of our state, putting political differences aside and involving more local people in making decisions as to what’s best for our state,” he says. “We’ve got the river, oil and gas, agriculture and forestry, seafood. We have more great natural assets than most states. If we all start pulling in the same direction, this state can lead the nation. I have no doubt. We just need to work together.”

As for what’s next for this Louisiana man, he is laser-focused on the job at hand and on the state he adores. “Every day as I travel the state, I find new things to love about Louisiana,” he says. “Every town, city and village has a love for their culture, heritage and their local way of life, and that’s unique and special in every corner of the state. You gotta love that.”

Nungesser: A Deeper Dive

Who is the most dynamic person you’ve ever met? 

The Reagan family were friends with my family, so I met Ronald Reagan as a young man. He treated everyone like they were special – even a young boy like me. He sat next to me and wrote a note of encouragement that I kept for years. He truly cared about America and its people. One day I was with his wife Nancy Reagan at a benefit where children were raising money to save the pandas. They tapped her on the shoulder and told her it was time for her to go because she had to speak to teachers at the convention center. She turned to them and said, ‘Those teachers can wait. These kids will remember this the rest of their lives. Give me 20 more minutes.’ That’s the kind of people the Reagans were. It wasn’t about politics. It was about helping people. We need a little bit more of that today.

What was the first time you knew public service was your calling?

At a young age, I was determined to make a business out of a used shipping container and a $7,500 loan from my mother. I took that shipping container and, in a small yard in Broussard, we built living quarters for the oil field workers here in Louisiana. I was focused on making it work, as people laughed at me, saying no one would live in a shipping container. After being successful in business and wanting to give back to charities, I guess that’s when I knew I was called to serve the people in Louisiana.

Was there an instance when you gave back to your community that was particularly impactful?

After selling my company, my wife and I opened a riding center for special needs children. I volunteered for the riding center and saw a little girl get out of her wheelchair and forget she was handicapped. One day, they cancelled class due to rain. I made a commitment that, if I could ever afford it, I’d build a covered arena where they would never cancel class. After selling my company and retiring in Plaquemines Parish, I did just that.

What is your fondest Christmas memory?

My daddy had a shrimp factory and a machine that made crushed ice to keep the shrimp cool after they were cooked. We would load up the truck every Christmas Eve and, when the sun set, we would unload that ice (or “snow”) and we would build a snowman. People came from all over to see the “snow” in Algiers. It became a tradition every year. After selling my business, my father kept wanting to put that snow out for his grandkids – many years after being out of the business. So one day when we left his house in Belle Chase to go Christmas shopping, I arranged four trailer trucks with ice blocks and a machine to blow snow in his yard, so we could take a picture exactly how we did in front of our house in Algiers. That was a special moment for me – being able to give my father the snow to enjoy with his grandkids, just as we enjoyed it growing up in Algiers. I think about that special moment every Christmas Eve.

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