Alum who fled storm now La. state rep.

BY ELIZABETH LAI
Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 30, 2007

CORRECTION APPENDED: This article incorrectly stated that Walker Hines graduated in 2006. He graduated in 2007.

Clif Reeder
Walker Hines, who transferred to the University of Michigan from Tulane University after Hurricane Katrina, was elected to the Louisiana state house earlier this month. (FILE PHOTO)

This story also incorrectly said that Louisiana lobbyists aren't required to disclose their contributions to legislators. Louisiana lobbyists must disclose records.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in late August 2005, Walker Hines was getting ready for his junior year at Tulane University. The university closed for the semester and Hines came north to the University of Michigan.

After graduating from the University with a general studies degree in 2007, Hines returned to New Orleans.

Now he's representing his hometown in the Louisiana House of Representatives.

Earlier this month, 23-year-old Hines was elected state representative from the 95th district in New Orleans.

In 2006, Hines told The Michigan Daily that despite loving Ann Arbor, he felt "a moral obligation to return" to New Orleans.

Hines came in second in the original election for state representative, but he won in the runoff against Una Anderson, a member of the Orleans Parish School Board. Her campaign lost momentum when the federal government investigated allegations that she took bribes while on the school board.

"The fact that he was running against someone who was established shows that the voters really do look at the candidates," said Christopher Whittington, chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party.

Hines called himself "pro-business" and "conservative" in an interview Monday. And though he is affiliated with the Democratic Party, Hines said he resists polarizing politics.

"You're going to see a lot of bipartisan legislation passed," he said.

Those positions put Hines at odds with the Tulane University College Democrats. The group officially endorsed another Democratic candidate, Evan Wolf.

Tulane University is in Hines's district.

"I don't think he's very representative of it," said Zach Press, the group's president, of Hines' Democratic identification.

When it comes to typical Democratic stances on social issues like gay marriage, education, and religion Press said, "That's clearly not what he stands for. That's a matter of fact."

Whittington said Hines and the rest of the Louisiana legislature will have to get creative to figure out how to fund ongoing reconstruction efforts, especially when the state needs to spend more than it takes in from taxes.

"He's got some special challenges coming up," Whittington said.

Hines said he is optimistic about the future of the Hurricane Katrina-devastated state despite the obstacles ahead. Among these hurdles is the loss of young business people from Louisiana.

"The focus of my platform was reversing the exodus of young professionals," Hines said. Hines said he has been involved in a networking group called the Young Urban Recovery Professionals - he calls it a "sophisticated Facebook" - for young professionals who live in New Orleans.

"This is sort of the beginning of the rebirth of New Orleans," Hines said.

Press said he hoped Hines would maintain communication with the Tulane student Democrats.

"He said he was going to represent young democrats. That's Tulane University."

Though Hines was criticized for his age and lack of political experience, Whittington said Hines's age is an advantage.

"He brings a fresh, new face and young, progressive ideas," Whittington said.

Hines said he hopes to bring governmental "transparency" and "full disclosure" to the Louisiana citizens through reform.

One of his main objectives is minimizing the amount of influence lobbyists hold over the Louisiana House of Representatives by making lobbyists' donations to legislators public information, Hines said.

"We're considered the most corrupt state in the United States," Hines said. "We cannot afford to be corrupt, nor poor."