Edward J. Steimel
Edward Joseph Steimel
January 20, 1922
|Died||April 8, 2016 (aged 94)|
|Resting place||Greenoaks Memorial Park in Baton Rouge, Louisiana|
|Residence||Baton Rouge, Louisiana|
Gulf Shores, Alabama
|Alma mater||Arkansas State University|
|Mary Welch Steimel (died 1996)|
Josephine Zosso Steimel
Edward Joseph "Ed" Steimel Sr. (January 20, 1922 – April 8, 2016) was the founding executive director of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, an interest group based in the city of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
One of seven children, Steimel was born to George Hubert Steimel (1893–1980) and the former Josephine Zosso (1898–1986) in Running Lake Township near Pocahontas in Randolph County in northeastern Arkansas. He was educated as a journalist at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. In 1951, he joined the staff in Baton Rouge of the nonpartisan think-tank, the Public Affairs Research Council, which has proposed various "good government" reforms over many decades within Louisiana. He was the PAR executive director from 1954 to 1975.
He had two surviving sisters, Margaret Steimel Baltz and husband, Bernard, of Pocohontas, Arkansas, and Viola S. Jansen of St. Louis, Missouri. He was predeceased by a brother and three other sisters.
In 1970, PAR director Steimel questioned why Louisiana voters "seem to have an unusually high tolerance for abuse of public office" as well as a proclivity toward gambling. He specifically criticized the existence of pinball machines, which he claimed attract primarily the young and the poor: "Very few rich people ever play the pinball machine." At the time, Steimel found that Louisiana had an "inadequate supply of highly skilled labor." He questioned economic policies of the Louisiana legislature, which in 1970 raised sales taxes from 2 to 3 cents per dollar to fund increases in teacher pay.
In 1974, Steimel advanced arguments both pro and con in regard to the new Louisiana Constitution approved by voters. Governor Edwin Edwards took Steimel's negative points to mean that Steimel really opposed the Constitution. Edwards called Steimel "a carpetbagger from Arkansas."
In 1986, Steimel declared Governor Edwin Edwards' proposal to legalize casino gambling, which was eventually enacted, "crazy" and likened the issue to a tax plan advanced in 1959 by then Governor Earl Kemp Long, who was for a time confined to a mental institution when questions arose about his fitness to serve in office. Steimel said that gambling would never produce the 100,000 jobs and $250 million in state revenues that Edwards had forecast.
In 1972, Steimel challenged the large fees received by inheritance tax attorneys in Louisiana and instead proposed that the office of the state revenue collector handle such matters. Steimel proposed that the state establish a combination of sales, income, and property taxes to replace its past reliance on petroleum and natural gas levies, which began to decline as a share of state revenues in the early 1970s.
Jim Brandt, a former PAR executive director, said that Steimel took the formerly small organization and "built it into a statewide powerhouse. He went on to LABI and did the same there.
As the director of LABI, Steimel often sparred with the Democrat Victor Bussie, long-term president of the Louisiana AFL-CIO. The two clashed over right-to-work legislation which Steimel had championed through the Louisiana State Legislature in the summer of 1976. In the afterglow of the victory by the right-to-work forces, the public relations executive Jim Leslie of Shreveport was assassinated in a motel parking lot in Baton Rouge, but Leslie's still unsolved murder is not believed to have been related to wrangling over right-to-work but instead a dispute with the Shreveport Public Works Commissioner George W. D'Artois.
In 1976, Steimel supported U.S. President Gerald R. Ford, Jr., in the campaign against the Democrat Jimmy Carter, whom Steimel claimed favored the repeal of Section 14B of the Taft Hartley Act, which permits states to adopt right-to-work laws. More than twenty states have adopted such legislation.
In 1989, however, Steimel and Bussie united to support Republican John S. Treen, older brother of former Governor David C. Treen, in a special election for the District 81 seat in the Louisiana House of Representatives, vacated by Charles Cusimano, who became a state district judge. Treen narrowly lost the race to David Duke, then of Jefferson Parish, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Duke later ran for the U.S. Senate and for governor in consecutive years in races which seemed to hamper the growth of the state Louisiana Republican Party.
In 1982, Steimel voiced immediate opposition to Governor Treen's proposed $450 million Coastal Wetlands Environmental Levy tax on petroleum and natural gas and did so without even consulting his own board. Opposed by LABI and many conservative lawmakers, such as B.F. O'Neal, Jr., of Shreveport and Woody Jenkins of Baton Rouge, CWEL was defeated in the Louisiana House, where it failed to obtain the two-thirds majority required for taxes.
Steimel has long been critical of excessive tax burdens on Louisiana businesses. When the state lost 139,000 jobs in mining, construction, and manufacturing between 1981 and 1986, Steimel noted:
Louisiana possesses such a richness in natural resources that it should clearly be one of the most attractive, competitive states in the nation for economic growth. But the state's overdependence upon these natural resources to underpin its economy is seen today as its most serious mistake [but] can be turned around in just one good session of the legislature, for it is clear what the problems are.
Late in 1986, in his syndicated newspaper column, Steimel declared the Louisiana tax burden as the principal reason that the state has not sufficiently expanded its employment base.
In 1987, Steimel announced opposition to mandatory collective bargaining for Louisiana teachers, a process which he maintained would remove the role of the public from the negotiation of educational labor contracts. Collective bargaining is voluntary on the part of each school district within Louisiana. Steimel voiced support for teacher salary increases but opposed other demands from the teacher associations.
In the summer of 1987, Steimel endorsed a $30 million reduction in unemployment compensation payments. At the time Louisiana employers owed $1 billion to the unemployment fund, a situation Steimel termed another major deterrent to economic growth and a contributing factor to the high rate of unemployment in the state, which was 12.5 percent in 1986. According to Steimel, Louisiana employers were then paying $234 more per year per employee into the unemployment fund than were employers in competing southern states. The reduction approved by the legislature brought Louisiana in line with unemployment payments made by employers in neighboring states.
Steimel blamed environmental problems not on business but poor public policies regarding solid waste disposal and sewage treatment. He cited pesticide runoff from the American Midwest as a major pollutant of streams in Louisiana. Steimel once cited the cartoon character Pogo by Walt Kelly that, in reference to the environment, "the enemy is us."
Steimel encouraged the Democrat-turned-Republican Jock Scott of Alexandria, an outgoing member of the state House, to run in 1987 for the Louisiana State Senate, a position which Scott subsequently lost to the Democrat businessman Joe McPherson of Rapides Parish, who held the Senate seat until 2012. One of the lawmakers generally supportive of LABI, Ron Gomez, a Democrat from Lafayette, in 1986 secured the "Most Valuable Player to Business" designation. Despite his pro-business voting record, Gomez had criticized Steimel for unproductive negativity toward the state's educational structure.
Everett Doerge, than an assistant superintendent of schools in Webster Parish in north Louisiana and later a Democratic member of the Louisiana House, accused Steimel and LABI of seeking to "destroy" public education. In a 1987 reply letter to Doerge published by the Minden Press-Herald, Steimel described the veteran educator as "a perfect example of why we can never change our present [educational] system. ...[His] reaction and behavior we have come to expect from many in the educational establishment who are more interested in protecting the status quo and jobs, rather than educating children".
In one of his 1988 columns, Steimel aimed his pen at the United States Congress and the liberal majority elected in 1986 in the last two years of the administration of U.S. President Ronald W. Reagan. Steimel objected to an increase in the minimum wage, a measure which he said would "wreak havoc with the very individuals it is designed to help most -- new entrants into the work force and new minority workers in particular." He called the 1988 legislative session the "John Galt Congress", borrowing from Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, in which uninformed people merely shrug their shoulders and ask "Who is John Galt"?" whenever they are questioned about the grip of expanded government on their lives and liberty. A few days later, Steimel wrote that in the United States "political power usually gravitates to where public money is most available. ... We need our own money spent in our own community for things we need or want to improve our quality of life."
The LABI address is 3113 Valley Creek Drive, Baton Rouge, LA 70898-0258. The association was headed from 1989 to 2013 by the executive director, Daniel Leo "Dan" Juneau (born June 1946), a Libertarian. Juneau's successor as executive director is Stephen Michael Waguespack (born February 1974) of Baton Rouge, a Republican who was once the chief of staff to then Governor Bobby Jindal.
From 1989 to 2006, Steimel was the director of development of the Louisiana State University College of Engineering. During his tenure in that position, Steimel worked to obtain more than $58 million in private funds from industry and alumni. Through his efforts, LSU gained more than 50 scholarships, 106 professorships, and 15 special chairs. The Edward J. Steimel Staff Excellence Award is presented annually to employees of the LSU Engineering Department.
Steimel was married to the former Mary Welch (1922-1996), who had served as a second lieutenant in the United States Army Air Corps during World War II. The couple had one child, Phyllis Susanne Steimel, who died of cerebral palsy. Mary could have no more children, and the couple adopted three others, Mary Jo Steimel O'Neal and husband, Jon, of Denham Springs in Livingston Parish; Edward Steimel, Jr., and wife, Sarah Sanders, and George Frederick Steimel and wife, Mary Cardini, both couples from Baton Rouge. For three decades Steimel was the principal spokesperson and first fundraiser for the Baton Rouge Cerebral Palsy Center, since known as the McMains Children's Developmental Center.
In 1996, no longer the LABI executive director, Steimel supported the conservative Democrat-turned-Republican Woody Jenkins for the U.S. Senate in a race narrowly lost in a disputed vote to the Democrat Mary Landrieu, who still holds the position. He also contributed to the reelection of then U.S. Representative Richard H. Baker of Baton Rouge.
In 2007, Steimel worked for the election of Republican Bobby Jindal as governor. Thereafter like the statewide radio commentator, Moon Griffon, Steimel withdrew his support for Jindal, saying that the governor was insufficiently conservative on fiscal matters, having vacillated over a large legislative pay hike, which Jindal subsequently withdrew.
He died at the House of Grace in Denham Springs in the spring of 2016 at the age of ninety-four. Steimel, his wife Mary, and daughter Phyllis are interred in Baton Rouge at Greenoaks Memorial Park.
Conservative radio talk show host Moon Griffon praised Steimel's activities as a long-term government watchdog and noted that Steimel's death came just three months after the passing of another constitutional advocate, C.B. Forgotston.