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Buddy Roemer, former Louisiana governor and GOP presidential candidate, dies

Former Gov. Buddy Roemer speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, La., on June 18, 2011. File Photo by Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons
Former Gov. Buddy Roemer speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, La., on June 18, 2011. File Photo by Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

May 17 (UPI) -- Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, who switched parties in office and ran as a GOP presidential candidate, died Monday at age 77.

The former governor who founded two banks in Baton Rouge after leaving office, died from diabetes complications, The Advocate reported.

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Roemer, initially a Democrat, swept to victory in 1987, declaring a war on ignorance, environmental pollution and dishonest political leadership. He succeeded Democratic Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, the longest-serving governor in Louisiana history and previously undefeated in political races for 33 years.

Roemer switched parties from Democrat to Republican while in office and lost re-election to Edwards. In 2011 and early 2012, he ran as a GOP presidential candidate, slamming super PACs and lobbyists for having too much influence in Washington, but dropped out with a 2% showing in New Hampshire primary.

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He was born Charles Elson "Buddy" Roemer III on Oct. 4, 1943, in Shreveport, La., as the oldest of five children. Along with his political career, and business savvy, he was known for his intellectual prowess.

By age 10, he had read all six volumes of "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," originally published in 1776, The Advocate noted.

The current Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff in honor of Roemer's life and legacy.

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At age 16, Roemer graduated as valedictorian of Bossier High School. He graduated from Harvard University at age 20 and went on to earn his master's from the university's business school, the executive order noted.

Roemer founded a data-processing company and two banks before he won election to the U.S. House in 1980, where he served until 1988, prior to serving as Louisiana's 52nd governor from 1988 to 1992. In 2000, he was inducted into the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame.

"His astute intellect led him to enter Harvard at the young age of 16, but he still returned to Louisiana, driven by a desire to serve," Bel Edwards said in a statement. "I am especially grateful for the balanced, pragmatic approach he took as governor during a turbulent time for our state's budget. I hope that we will all carry on his legacy by espousing his positive, passionate approach to public service."

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Roemer is survived by his wife, Scarlett, his three children and five grandchildren.

Bel Edwards expressed prayers for his family and friends.

Louisiana lawmakers also expressed condolences.

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"Louisiana weeps," Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said in a statement. "Buddy was one of the most interesting people I have ever met. He was immeasurably talented. All he ever wanted to do was make Louisiana better, and he did."

Roemer contributed to Louisiana "through the public and private sector" and "leaves a great legacy," Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said in statement expressing condolences to his family.

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