NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards heads into the new year as the nation’s only Democratic governor representing the Deep South after a bruising victory over a Trump-backed opponent. This year also saw residents legally buying medical marijuana, Saints fans protesting a blown call that ultimately kept the team out of the Super Bowl and fires that destroyed several black churches.
A look at the top 10 stories of 2019:
Louisiana voters reelected Edwards to a second term despite President Trump’s efforts to return the seat to the GOP. The president led three anti-Edwards rallies in Louisiana, but Edwards cobbled together enough cross-party support to defeat businessman Eddie Rispone. Edwards said his top priorities for his second term are new money for early childhood education and public colleges, and pay raises for K-12 teachers.
HARD ROCK HOTEL COLLAPSE
The Hard Rock Hotel under construction at the edge of the historic French Quarter in New Orleans partially collapsed Oct. 12, killing three workers and crippling nearby businesses. Explosions toppled two cranes that loomed precariously for days. Plans to implode the building were changed to shoring up what is left of the building for further investigation and recovery of two bodies, followed by demolition.
SUPER BOWL PROTEST
Protests and lawsuits followed one of the most glaring officiating errors in NFL history — the non-call of pass interference and helmet-to-helmet contact penalties committed by a Los Angeles Rams defensive back late in the fourth quarter of an NFC championship game against the New Orleans Saints. The Saints lost the game 26-23 in overtime and with it a chance at winning the Super Bowl. Saints fans responded with lawsuits and Saints-themed walking parades on Super Bowl day.
ACADIANA CHURCH FIRES
Arson destroyed three historic black churches in spring 2019; a 21-year-old man is awaiting trial. All three churches were empty and nobody was injured. The governor called the arson a reminder “of a very dark past of intimidation and fear.” A crowdfunding campaign raised more than $2.1 million to restore St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre and Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church and Greater Union Baptist Church, both in Opelousas.
Louisiana joined conservative states across the nation with laws challenging the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationally. One, a so-called “heartbeat law,” prohibits abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected, often before many women realize they are pregnant. Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio have enacted similar laws; they all are being challenged. Louisiana’s law would take effect only if a federal appeals court upholds one in neighboring Mississippi.
In August, Louisiana became the first Deep South state — and one of more than 30 states nationwide — to dispense medical marijuana. The only therapeutic cannabis currently available is a flavored liquid. One bottle can range from about $90 to $220, depending on concentration and pharmacy. About 3,500 people have participated so far.
NEW ORLEANS’ NEW AIRPORT
New Orleans got a new airport in 2019, three years after construction began, replacing one built in 1959. The $1.3 billion Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport terminal features music venues, rooms for parents to bring small children and many charging stations for electronic devices. The airport also offers a limited number of “guest passes” so people without boarding passes may say goodbye, eat, drink and shop in the concourses. More than 40 concessions include two dozen restaurants ranging from Chick-fil-A to Emeril’s Table.
HIGH RIVER-SPILLWAY OPENS TWICE
The Mississippi River was so high for so long that the Army Corps of Engineers opened a flood control structure above New Orleans for an unprecedented second time in one year. Fed by rains and melting snows in the Midwest, high water poured through the Bonnet Carré Spillway for 44 days from February into April, and 79 days starting May 10. The fresh water went through normally brackish Lake Pontchartrain into the Mississippi Sound, endangering fisheries and marine life.
Ransomware and other cyberattacks disrupted state agencies, local school districts and the city of New Orleans. One closed Louisiana’s Office of Motor Vehicles for a week, damaging 10% of the state’s computer servers. Gov. Edwards called the attack “largely unsuccessful” because data wasn’t lost and Louisiana didn’t pay a ransom. He declared an emergency in July as four public school districts were attacked and some networks infected with malware or ransomware. In November, a cyberattack triggered a shutdown of New Orleans’ city government computers. No data was held for ransom. Mayor LaToya Cantrell said about 400 servers were hit and 4,000 computers would be scrubbed as a precaution. Louisiana is establishing a cybersecurity center in Baton Rouge to analyze hacking threats and bolster information sharing among state and federal agencies, industry experts and academics.
The state mourned several notable figures including Louisiana’s first elected female governor, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, who served from 2004 to 2008. She was 76 and died of melanoma. Novelist Ernest J. Gaines, whose poor childhood on a small Louisiana plantation germinated stories of black struggles that grew into universal tales of grace and beauty, died at 86. New Orleans chef Leah Chase, who fed generations of New Orleanians and tourists alike at Dooky Chase’s restaurant, died at 96. Art Neville, who performed with his siblings in The Neville Brothers band and founded the groundbreaking funk group The Meters, died at 81. Dave Bartholomew, who with Fats Domino co-wrote and produced such classics as “Ain’t That a Shame” and ”I’m Walkin’” died at 100. New Orleans singer and piano player John Rebennack Jr. — better known as Dr. John — who blended black and white musical styles with a gravelly bayou drawl died at 77.