Mary Tutwiler

Bourque removed from position as state Poet Laureate

by Mary Tutwiler

Louisiana Poet Laureate Darrell Bourque will no longer be reading verse and teaching literary arts. At least not in his official capacity. Last week, as the Legislative session wrapped up, Bourque received two form letters from Baton Rouge informing him that he had not been confirmed by the Senate, and thus by law, the position he held had become vacant.

Here are the complete texts of the two letters:

From James Quinn, Director of Board and Commissions, June 24, 2008

The Governor’s office understands that our state’s progress would not be possible if not for the thousands of people who volunteer to serve on a board or a commission. We want to sincerely thank you for your service on the State Poet Laureate.

The people of Louisiana appreciate your effort and understand the time commitment you made to help to make our state better.

This letter is to inform you that you have not been confirmed by the State Senate and your position on the board is deemed vacant by law. The change is effective from the date of this letter.

Thank you again for your service to the state and we wish you success in all of your future endeavors.

From Senate President Joel T. Chaisson, II,  June 24, 2008

I regret to inform you that your name was not submitted to the Senate for confirmation for the position of Louisiana State Poet Laureate. Therefore, you were not confirmed by the Senate during the recently concluded regular session of the legislature. Louisiana Constitution Article 4, Section 5 (H) provides that this confirmation is necessary in order for you to continue serving. Therefore, your interim appointment to this board expired on June 23rd, 2008.

Bourque was appointed Poet Laureate by Gov. Kathleen Blanco in November 2007. The appointment was for two years as prescribed by state statute. Because there was not another legislative session before Blanco left office, Senate ratification, the last legal step for the confirmation to be complete, was left to this year’s session. Gov. Bobby Jindal did not submit Bourque’s name for confirmation, so on June 23, at the close of the session, the position of Poet Laureate became vacant.

Bourque announced the news by e-mail.

I do not know more than what the text of the letters tell me.  I have written to Governor Jindal telling him of the work that I have done with students and with teachers throughout the state in classrooms, in libraries, and in community centers since the appointment and I have asked him for clarification through either a meeting with him or through a phone call. Michael Sartisky (Director of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities) has been in touch with James Quinn and he indicated to Michael that the governor was well aware of what he was doing.

Sartisky, who chaired the panel which made the recommendation of Bourque to Blanco, says he thinks Bourque’s name may not have been forwarded to the Senate due to the chaos of the session. “Having known Bobby Jindal for more than a dozen years, I’m inclined to think this is more the result of entropy than intention. Until proven otherwise, I am not inclined to think that if Bobby were in full possession of the facts about Darrell and this position that he would have actually made this as a decision.”

Bourque’s removal from his position is not unique. He is one of 60 of Blanco’s 2007 appointments who received letters informing them that they were not reappointed. According to The Advocate, neither Jindal nor Quinn returned multiple calls for comment. Jindal’s spokeswoman, Melissa Sellers, replied to The Advocate in an e-mail, “As the Governor said after the election, every position was to be treated as an open position and we would work to find the best, most qualified individuals to serve our state.”

Sartisky says he is penning a letter to the governor this morning, and suggests that others do so as well. “We can only hope that when Bobby is better apprised of the merits of Darrell Bourque, they will find a way to rectify it.”