Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana, Billy Nungesser, will never forget watching LSU play in Death Valley as a young boy. He remembers the crowd roaring as Billy Canon sped down the football field, and then he recalls looking over at his father sitting with his hands on his head during Canon's great run, confused why his father was upset.
Nungesser's family had little money, and a fan had offered Nungesser's father $1,000 a piece for his four LSU football tickets. Nungesser's father begged his wife to let him sell the tickets, so he could take the family out to a nice steak dinner.
"And my mom said, 'No, I'm going to the game," Nungesser recalls with a smile.
Young Nungesser never imagined that decades later he would be escorted down Nicholson Drive towards Tiger Stadium as Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana for one of the biggest games of the year: the LSU vs. Alabama matchup. He never planned to become a public official. His plans changed in 2005, however, after Hurricane Katrina destroyed his community in Plaquemine Parish.
"If Katrina had not happened I would not be here today. But everything happens for a reason and God had a plan, and I'm here as your Lieutenant Governor and as a tiger fan," Nungesser says.
Before his life in the public eye, Nungesser ran a horse-riding center with his wife. Katrina hit Plaquemines Parish hard, and in 2005, Nungesser found himself in a completely different setting.
Instead of riding horses, he rode his airboat around his community, pulling people out of their mobile homes and rescuing people grasping to debris, trying to stay afloat on top of the water. In the following weeks, his home had a constant stream of first responders coming in and out, feeding the people he had rescued.
"Right after the storm we rescued people. 34 people lived with me and my wife that I didn't know, and I never saw a politician," Nungesser says. "All eyes were on New Orleans, and nobody cared about Plaquemines Parish, not even the elected officials! We were there with first responders, volunteers, pastors, feeding people, cleaning the highway, and never saw an elected official. I got angry enough, and people said 'Well, run for office.' I never thought I ever would."
The community saw Nungesser's passion and willingness to help the people of Plaquemines Parish. In November of 2006, Nungesser was elected as Plaquemines Parish's next president, however, a new battle would soon arise before the newly-elected official: the BP Oil Spill. In April of 2010, over 4.9 million barrels of crude oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. It would become the worst oil spill in history.
"After the BP Oil Spill, we were bringing in those pelicans covered in oil and nobody seemed to care. I was on CNN every night [asking], 'Where is our help?'"
It was a question Nungesser was becoming tired of asking, and he was all too familiar with the situation, after going through Katrina.
"I decided to run for Lieutenant Governor, and I learned through those tragic experiences that if you truly care about people and you get elected to office, you can do so much good for so much more than just your job as promoting tourism," Nungesser says. "Every day we're helping people all over Louisiana whether it's with their medical bills or getting [them] back in a VA hospital."
Nungesser defied the odds once more on on November 21, 2015, when he was elected as Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana. Nungesser campaigned with the same mission as before: to provide the people of Louisiana with the best care possible. He never wanted citizens to feel as if they were being forgotten.
"The people deserve elected officials that go beyond the call of duty and do everything that they physically can to help the people that they represent, and that's what we should demand of all our public officials."
Nungesser's term ends in 2019, but he doesn't believe God is done using him yet.
"I'm running for re-election. I got the best job in the world in this great state," Nungesser says. "Everywhere I go in the world I ask people, 'Why do you send people to Louisiana?' They say it's the food, it's the music, it's the parties, but they also say that the people in Louisiana treat people like nowhere else in the world. We welcome strangers like they're family."
Lieutenant Governor Nungesser says Louisiana's greatest asset isn't the food, the music or even the tiger band.
"It's the way we treat strangers when they come here. We give them a warm and fuzzy feeling they don't get anywhere else in the world, and that's what makes Louisiana special. That's why so many of these tiger fans are here from all over the world. You never lose that love for Louisiana or it's people."