Of Politics and Playboys

Wednesday, July 27, 2011
By Nick Pittman

Cajun musician Kevin Naquin two steps into the political arena with a bid for City-Parish Council.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011
By Nick Pittman

Cajun musician Kevin Naquin two steps into the political arena with a bid for City-Parish Council.

In the 1992 documentary Louisiana Boys: Raised on Politics, former Eunice Mayor Curtis Joubert asserts that being able to cook a good gravy, speak Cajun French and being identified as "one of the people" are the keys to election in rural Acadiana.

On Oct. 22, 2011, Kevin Naquin looks to add another item to the list - play a mean accordion. The 32-year-old recently announced his candidacy for the Lafayette City-Parish Council District 1 seat (qualifying starts in September). Naquin, a Cajun musician since his teens, leads the Ossun Playboys and has racked up 17 Cajun French Music Awards and released seven albums.

"I'm getting involved not for a popularity contest, not for money. I don't need the benefits the city offers. I'm doing it because I have the youth, I have the education, I have the desire and willingness to help people and work with public officials to get things done that are needed in District 1," says Naquin.

Naquin's dual role as entertainer and politician is nothing new to Louisiana. Numerous political figures have dabbled in the arts and culture. In a state where music is central to the culture, it's difficult to speculate how many local politicians have an ax in their closet. Locally, the Michot Brothers - members include 15th District State Judge Rick and state Sen. Mike Michot - have appeared on many a campaign sign. Several governors have made the duality of politics and good times an art form. Our first American governor, William C.C. Claiborne, flexed his artistic muscle to design our state seal. After his election, Huey P. Long sang about his Share Our Wealth program, composed songs still played in Tiger Stadium and even led LSU's band in parades.

Hands down, however, Gov. Jimmie Davis (who popularized "You Are My Sunshine") epitomized the entertaining politician. A country music star by the time he first started out in politics in the late 1930s, Davis starred in cowboy movies before sleeping in the governor's mansion. At first, Davis resisted mixing his careers until he upset the crowd at a campaign stop when he did not sing. Afterwards, singing on the stump became a staple for Davis. He later sang his farewell address to the Legislature.

According to UL political science professor Pearson Cross, politics and celebrity naturally intermingle.

"Generally speaking, celebrities of all stripes have an easier time getting elected because they have already established name recognition among the public," says Cross. "One of the first critical things that a candidate has to do is get people to recognize him, and that is really the key to getting elected - having people know who you are, developing a brand around your name. And a musician who has done that, even though it is not in a political field, has that leg up already."

Davis would later spend wads of time away from the state making movies. During his 1944-1948 term Davis released three movies and spent more than 300 days outside of Louisiana. This is not something Naquin looks to mirror.

The duality of Naquin does not end with politics and music. Though a popular performer and sponsored by Budweiser, Naquin is a family man - married with three kids. Naquin is a college graduate and successful in the insurance business, taking home top salesman awards for U.S. Med-Equip, where he covers a two-state territory. Gone are his days of playing nightclubs and bars; now Naquin keeps a lighter schedule, sticking to festivals and private functions. This is his first foray into politics, after deciding against a previous run for the seat.

"Music was never a living; people that know me knew I was family oriented and I believed in working at a regular job, full time," says Naquin. "I always viewed music as a hobby just like someone who likes to fish or hunt or golf."

Kevin Naquin with wife Rachael, daughters Kaleigh (left) and Natalie,
and newborn son Baylen

Musicianship aside, Naquin's platform is a two-step around the current pulse of politics. Read through his platform, and it is obvious Naquin - a registered Democrat who says he votes for the right candidate, not his party - may wear blue on his sleeve, but he has a tendency to bleed red. His campaign literature preaches a mantra of listening to the public and serving his constituents rather than himself. This is most clear when he takes on deconsolidation.

In the initial language of his position on deconsolidation, he seems against it - noting that as a parish we should be unified. However, he is quick to pledge his allegiance to the people's opinion, even if it goes against his. This will serve him well in the district, where outgoing Councilwoman Mary Morrison points to being accessible to constituents as key.

Other parts of the platform are good old recipes handed down from the 20th century greats of Louisiana politics: infrastructure and roads. "The number of gravel roads that exist in this parish and paved roads that look like simulated moon surfaces absolutely shocks me," he exclaims on his site.

Naquin notes that being a musician served as a door opener for his insurance sales but never did it solely gain him success in his field. Likewise, it alone will not win a race. For example, in last year's lieutenant governor's race, Sammy Kershaw failed to make it out of the primary. Kershaw, a recording artist on a much bigger scale with much deeper pockets than Naquin, also ran in 2007 and took 30 percent of the vote, playing second fiddle to winner Mitch Landrieu. Yet, the race to the council seat in northwest Lafayette Parish and the lieutenant governor's office are far from similar.

As Cross sees it, Naquin has a few hurdles cleared. Local elections, Cross notes, are built on volunteer efforts, and the candidates are far less known than statewide or even district races. Naquin's name recognition is likely larger than the election itself. He's also not facing an incumbent - current office holder Morrison can't seek re-election as she was appointed to her husband Purvis' spot when he won the race for Scott mayor.

Says Cross, "Being known to the public in any particular way is an enormous advantage assuming it's not your arrest record."

By the way, Naquin says he cooks a pretty mean alligator sauce piquant.

Nick Pittman is a freelance writer living in Lafayette.