Rumor Has It

by Walter Pierce

From hawking vegetables to managing big-time political campaigns, consultant Roy Fletcher has seen it all and keeps coming back for more.

From hawking vegetables to managing big-time political campaigns, consultant Roy Fletcher has seen it all and keeps coming back for more. By Jeremy Alford, LaPolitics News Service

Between visiting with state lawmakers on the side of the Senate floor recently, Gov. Bobby Jindal's chief strategist laughs when asked about Baton Rouge consultant Roy Fletcher. "If you don't hear a rumor by 10 a.m., start one," says Timmy Teepell with a guffaw. "That's one of my favorite things Roy ever told me."

During his 36-year run in politics, managing campaigns for the likes of former Gov. Mike Foster and U.S. Sen. John McCain, Fletcher has earned as much of a reputation for his nuanced tactics as what comes out of his mouth. It's no wonder part of his professional portfolio now includes anchoring a political gabfest on Talk 107.3 FM in his hometown.

With a bit of a country drawl, his conversation over lunch at Ruth's Chris in March sways from the "peace of mind" he finds on the golf course to the challenges facing the Capitol press corps to, finally, shouting across two tables to borrow a pen from an attorney when his check arrives.

Photo by Robin May

Lafayette Consolidated Government CAO Dee Stanley has retained
noted political consultant Roy Fletcher in his bid to replace his
term-limited boss, C-P President Joey Durel.

Fletcher, who just turned 63, can talk about politics endlessly. But from behind his retro wayfarer eyeglasses, his demeanor softens when discussing family, like his reflections on driving his now-grown daughter to school while listening to U2, and his clients, some of whom he seems to consider part of his extended family.

Those who have faced Fletcher on the political playing field know a more rugged veneer and enemies have been made. State Sen. Dan Claitor, who co-hosted the Fletcher-Claitor Hour before launching his campaign for the 6th Congressional District and turning his co-host into his consultant, says Fletcher can transform from suave to scrappy straightaway and without notice.

"When Mike Foster was in office, and this was before I knew Roy really well and we became close friends, I razzed him about the fence going up around the governor's mansion and how it was walling off the people," says Claitor, R-Baton Rouge. "It quickly evolved into what some people might call a pushing and shouting match. Roy is very loyal to his clients whether he's with them or not. A lot of other consultants aren't like that. He was ready to go to the mat."

Stories about Fletcher have circulated for as long as he's been in politics, but the most defining are those very few know. While his formidable years took place in Shreveport, Fletcher spent his younger years in the Caney Creek area helping his grandfather tend to his vegetable farm.

"He only had a sixth grade education. Just a poor dirt farmer. You had the peas, collard greens and stuff like that and we'd get it all and go to town with it. We'd sell it to people. My job was sort of like a barker, to get people to come over and look and buy," Fletcher recalls. "I could bark, boy. I was good."

Fletcher was in Caney Creek while his mother - "thrice divorced and in a small town in the '50s, she had it rough" - attended beauty school. She eventually graduated, created a life for Fletcher and opened a salon in Leesville with three chairs. "I sat in there many hours," he says.

It was a fitting upbringing for a man who would eventually become a high-profile flack, trader of secrets and political strategist. From hawking fresh vegetables from the side of the road to listening to the local quilting circles gossip in the salon, it was a solid training ground for a small town boy hell-bent on politics. "I don't know where that interest came from. My grandmother taught me that if I wanted to be president I could," he says.

His first taste of politics came in 1964 as a volunteer for Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign. As a young Democrat, he was also an admirer of former President Lyndon B. Johnson and Hubert Humphrey. The party label didn't last and Fletcher eventually switched to the Republican Party in 1995 while he was running Mike Foster's successful campaign for governor. "I think I actually switched the same day [Foster] did," Fletcher says. "But I was a moderate Democrat well before that. I never wanted to switch before Foster. That was the time."

"I had to always scrape and fight. I ended up with a lot of bad candidates, and I had to find ways to win. Some won and some lost. It was a learning experience."

He went on to earn his master's degree in political science and served as a staffer for the state House and Governmental Affairs Committee in the mid-70s. "The Legislature and that whole culture up there has lost its intimacy. People are not as quick to disclose their foibles now," Fletcher says. "In the late '70s and early '80s, there were tigers up there - brilliant people who were flawed but nonetheless fascinating."

After a couple of years Fletcher moved on and worked for a short time with unions in the Baton Rouge area. "Working in the Legislature was the same thing every day. It was like that movie Groundhog Day. I just couldn't do it," he says.

The first paid gig of Fletcher's young career came in 1978 when he teamed up with Raymond Strother and Gus Weill, who managed a shop that also saw the likes of James Carville pass through. "They were shooting a commercial up in Shreveport and told me they needed 15 to 20 people. After that, I remember asking Raymond what he did for a living and listening. Unbelievable," Fletcher recalls. "I told him it was like playing for the New York Yankees, that I'd do it for free. They hired me two weeks later."

The 1980s proved to be a watershed decade: Fletcher fell in love with the dynamics behind polling, assisted Weill in managing former Gov. Dave Treen, worked a U.S. Senate race in Texas with Carville, helped elect former Baton Rouge Mayor Pat Screen, ran former U.S. Rep. Jimmy Hayes' congressional campaign and graduated from law school (years before Mike Foster took it up as a second profession).

"I just kept chopping cotton," Fletcher says. "I had to always scrape and fight. I ended up with a lot of bad candidates, and I had to find ways to win. Some won and some lost. It was a learning experience."

Other successful congressional campaigns followed in the 1990s, including those that elected Jim McCrery and Cleo Fields. But what he's best known for from that decade is putting an unknown state senator named Mike Foster in the governor's office. Fletcher says people still bring up the iconic campaign commercial that shows a man welding, his face shielded from viewers until Foster pushes back the welding mask.

"When we were shooting that day the governor mentioned something about having to weld something on his tractor that morning," Fletcher says. "He just mentioned it offhand. I didn't push him or anything, but he agreed to do it. That's what I got back. I know he looked the part."

As 2000 neared, a friend of Fletcher's had him meet with U.S. Sen. John McCain at the LSU Alumni Center. "We talked for about an hour, just sitting in one of those rooms, and about one-third of it was me telling him about different planes," Fletcher says. "I used to really be interested in model planes."

He didn't know it at the time, but Fletcher was being interviewed and was not long after tapped as national deputy campaign manager for McCain's presidential run.

"This is when I knew I was operating in a different world. They had this show on MSNBC with Paul Begala and Ollie North called Equal Time, and they told the campaign they needed someone. I was in the war room and not paying attention and they ended up assigning me. They told me they were sending a limousine. What? A limousine. I couldn't believe it. I get down there to the studio and guess who they have for me to debate? The governor of Massachusetts," Fletcher says laughing. "Here's this redneck from Louisiana on a national show. I hadn't even spoken to a governor until I helped elect one. That's when I realized this was serious."

Fletcher says the industry is changing as the years go by. For instance, he's taking on more work for outside groups and issues advocacy, like for the Clean Water, Land and Coast organization, than he would have ever thought. "That's where the money is, and you don't even have to work for a candidate," he says.

But he's still a barker at heart. Currently he's working on campaigns for Dee Stanley, who hopes to replace his term-limited boss as Lafayette city-parish president; state Rep. Paul Hollis, a candidate for the U.S. Senate; state Sen. Dan Claitor, who's running in the 6th District; Marty Maley, who's building a bid for attorney general; and a large slate of judges and district attorneys.

Politics is in his blood, he notes, but things could have gone differently. He could have chosen a dissimilar path after leaving the family's vegetable garden in Caney Creek.

"At times I was in a place like those old biblical characters, trying to choose a road. If I hadn't gone into politics, I would have probably been a minister or priest or something. I would have been a bad one, though," he says chuckling. "So I probably saved more people by going into politics."

It's Fletcher's way ... or the highway

It was 1985 and Louis Perret was working for congressional candidate Jimmy Hayes. Perret is in the room when Hayes and his political consultant, Roy Fletcher, are having a heated argument over the phone. Hayes fires Fletcher and hangs up on him.

A few days later, Hayes is back on the phone, rehiring Fletcher.

Photo by Robin May

"He is absolutely brilliant, one of the best readers of what
the public is thinking and cares about," Lafayette Parish
Clerk of Court Louis Perret says of Fletcher, his political
consultant and longtime friend.

Perret can't imagine getting that ticked off at Fletcher that he'd fire him. After all, the two were starting to forge a close relationship. Fletcher had just converted to Catholicism and made Perret find him a church nearby so he could attend daily Mass (Fletcher had promised his wife he'd do so). "He would scream, holler, raise hell over the phone, curse, then promptly just before noon, slip out and go to Mass," Perret says. "One hour later, he was right back, working the phones and steering the campaign."

A decade later, Perret is working for Mike Foster, who is running for governor. The same thing happens.

"He and Roy get into an argument, and Foster screams at him, fires him and slams the phone down," Perret recalls.

Three days later Roy is back on the campaign's payroll.

Perret still can't imagine getting that ticked off at Fletcher that he'd fire him. Besides, Fletcher had put Hayes in Congress and was closing in on a campaign to put a most unlikely candidate into the governor's mansion.

It's now 1999 and Perret is running for Lafayette Parish clerk of court. He hires Fletcher.

"You're the damn candidate, and you're going to listen to me." Not this time. Perret is pissed. It's not what he wants to do. Admitting now to having a déjà vu moment, he yells back at Fletcher and does exactly what Hayes and Foster did.

"I kind of laughed to myself," Perret recalls, "because sure enough, two days later I called him back and we made up."

The two have been the best of friends since.

"He is absolutely brilliant, one of the best readers of what the public is thinking and cares about and knows how to run a campaign," Perret says. "He has a pulse on politics like few people in the entire United States. He can read a poll, review the internal guts and actual comments made, and then present it to a candidate in a manner that they will understand. Roy is one of the most creative, talented and caring people I have ever met."

Perret still promises himself he won't let Fletcher get under his skin like that again. But he now knows it could happen. - Leslie Turk

The Acadiana Client List

While Baton Rouge consultant Roy Fletcher can trace his political roots back to the Shreveport region, and then follow them along presidential and gubernatorial campaign trails, he also has a long list of clients from the Cajun Heartland. Here are some highlights:

In the developing race for city-parish president of Lafayette Consolidated Government, Fletcher is consulting for Dee Stanley, LCG's current chief administrative officer. He also has a long-standing handshake agreement to rep Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court Louis Perret should he ever draw opposition. "My dear friend," Fletcher says of Perret. "He's been a client ever since he ran the first time in 1999."

Fletcher managed the campaign of Judge Sylvia Cooks, who in 1992 became the first African-American woman elected to serve on the Third Circuit Court of Appeal. Six years later he likewise served as the architect for Judge Marilyn Castle's bid in Division L of the 15th Judicial District.

In the 2012 contest for the Public Service Commission, Fletcher was at the helm for Scott Angelle's 57 percent voter haul that resulted in wins in all 13 parishes of District 2. With rumors continuing to mount about Angelle running for governor or lieutenant governor in 2015, we could see the two team up again.

The Louisiana Legislature has been fertile ground for Fletcher and he has helped elect a number of area legislators, including former Sens. Armand Brinkhaus, Don Cravins (now mayor of Opelousas) and Mike Michot, as well as former Rep. Ron Gomez.

Roy Fletcher (back row, right) helped Jimmy Hayes get elected to Congress in 1986. In this photograph, snapped in 1985, are (front row, left to right) Gerald Thibodeaux, Sue Kaplan, Mary Alice Ritchey
and Kami Grief. In the back row with Fletcher are Louis Perret, Leslie Hayes,
Jimmy Hayes and Rachael Evans.

One of the early races that helped put Fletcher on the map was the election of Jimmy Hayes in 1986 to replace former Sen. John Breaux in the U.S. House. Hayes had a colorful 10 years of service, from defeating his own brother in his 1992 re-election race to being among the first in a long line of high-profile Democrats in Louisiana to switch to the GOP, which he did in 1995. - JA