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Monday, March 14, 2016

REMEMBERING CHUCK

Also: The unsung heroes at the polls

Also: The unsung heroes at the polls

When I moved to Shreveport in 1993 after working for 27 years on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., I got an immediate call from Bob Barton, then the publisher of the Bossier Press-Tribune. We knew each other from my days with Congressman Jerry Huckaby. Barton immediately signed me up to write a political column, which I was already doing for several papers in Northeast Louisiana. It was the beginning of a rewarding stint with the Press-Tribune, which ended when former Mayor Bo Willams tapped me to be his executive assistant in 1997.

In the meantime, I had become a fan of The Forum News, mainly because of the writings of one Chuck Fellers. He was writing some great articles about politics and politicians. I thought, “I need to get to know this guy.” The opportunity presented itself at a political reception for a Shreveport mayoral candidate. I spotted Chuck in the crowd and made a bee-line toward him to introduce myself. “Are you Mr. Fellers,” I asked. He responded, “That depends. Who wants to know?” I could tell he was a bit suspicious. He had never seen me before, and he had been writing some pretty controversial stuff in The Forum. Even so, there was a touch of humor in his response, which I would get to admire as our friendship developed. We began covering political events together and spending more time with each other. As it turned out, he became one of my best friends, along with his wife Ann.

My association with Chuck drew puzzling reactions from some of my Democratic friends. After all, Chuck was a dyed-in-the-wool conservative Republican, and his sharp pen often criticized Democrats from the national to the local level. I, of course, was a Democrat, so his views and mine often clashed. But that never affected our personal relationship, which was strengthened when I joined The Forum as a political columnist in 1999. I guess you could say we were the political odd couple.

While his journalistic pen could be sharp and biting, his personality and demeanor was always soft and kind, a trait which many people did not know about Chuck.

The bottom line is he was a great journalist and a great friend. So I was shocked and saddened when Ann called me last week to tell me Chuck had suddenly become critically ill, passing away a short time later. I will miss our time together.

Whenever I was out cutting grass or working in the front yard, I could count on Chuck stopping by on his way to and from Barnes & Noble, one of his favorite haunts. When he could no longer drive, he would often call, usually after he received by Fax- Net Update, with words of praise for my work.

That meant a lot coming from him. Many people come and go in one’s life, and I am grateful that Chuck came into mine and stayed until the end. He was a World War II veteran and loved telling war stories. He knew many of the rich and famous but was never braggadocious about that. Heaven has gained an interesting person indeed. Godspeed, Chuck Fellers. I will miss you.

Unsung Heroes When you go to vote, you probably don’t pay much attention to the dedicated people, known as poll workers or poll commissioners, who check you in and direct you to the voting machine. They are a group of dedicated citizens who are the unsung heroes on Election Day and who are certainly appreciated when there are long lines and they move the process along as quickly as possible.

I am sure in some cases that you have gotten to know the poll commissioners at your precinct if you are a frequent voter, and at the same time, they have gotten to know you.

They make the voting experience more enjoyable and are always pleasant to everyone.

I can imagine that is not always easy.

On Election Day, they are up at 5 a.m. or earlier, and with the polls closing at 8 p.m, they are not back home until 9 p.m. or later. Poll commissioners are paid $200 for the day; $250 when serving in an administrative capacity.

I vote at Haynes Baptist Church where two precincts, 16 and 48, are housed. After voting March 5, I spent some time with the commissioners. A husband and wife team there have been commissioners for 35 years – Gil and Ann Lawton. Gil is commissioner-incharge for Precinct 19, and Ann is the same for Precinct 48. Both of these precincts usually have voter turnout above the average every election.

Working Precinct 48 with Ann Lawton were Vicki Fentress, a poll commissioner for 25 years, and Juanita Johnson, 10 years. Working with Gil Lawton in Precinct 19 were Sheila MacKnight, 12 years of service, and Peggy Murphy, who admitted she is 81-years-old and has been a commissioner for 47 years. One of them, who shall remain anonymous, said the job is so enjoyable, she would be willing to do it for no pay.

Poll commissioners are under the Louisiana Secretary of State and the parish Clerk of Court. Poll commissioners are always needed. If interested and 17 years of age or older, contact your Clerk of Court.

After a short training class, you will be ready to go to work.

Lou Gehrig Burnett, an award-winning journalist, has been involved with politics for 44 years and was a congressional aide in Washington, D.C., for 27 years. He also served as executive assistant to former Shreveport Mayor Bo Williams. Burnett is the publisher of the weekly “FaxNet Update” and can be reached at 861-0552 or louburnett@comcast.net.

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