"When he gets to me," Hill recalls, "he finds out that I'm a reporter and he just talks and talks and talks and talks. I'm sitting there thinking, 'This is really interesting, I'm talking to this candidate and congressman about all of these big important issues.'" The host (whom Hill says was "in his cups") joined the conversation, threw his arm around Edwards and said, "Governor, I guess you know you're talking to the No. 1 political reporter in northeast Louisiana." (At the time, Hill says he was the only political reporter in northeast Louisiana.) "Edwin looks at me, winks and says, 'Yes, I know that. Why do you think I'm standing here licking his ass?' And that's how I started."
Later on in both men's careers, when Hill wrote unfavorably about Edwards, the governor charged at him at a public gathering and threatened to "whip his ass" once he was out of office. "So for my entire career," Hill says, "Edwin Edwards had this preoccupation with my ass."
The veteran reporter's career is ending on a higher note than the imprisoned Edwards, who's serving time in a federal prison on fraud and racketeering charges. Hill took a retirement buyout package from Gannett, and after 38 years as a reporter, his last day on the job is this Friday, Aug. 17.
Hill's first day on the job as a capital correspondent in Baton Rouge was Halloween 1973. He already had been reporting on politics for The News Star since 1969. At the time the paper was owned by the same family that owned The Shreveport Times. Hill had attended college at LSU, but he had no idea he would spend nearly 40 years working from within "the bowels of the Capitol," in a windowless office in its basement.
In 1979, Gannett bought both The News-Star and The Shreveport Times. Three years later, Hill would become a contributor to the fledgling USA Today, the national newspaper owned by the Gannett chain. When Gannett later acquired The Alexandria Town Talk and The Lafayette Daily Advertiser, Hill was named the capital bureau chief for all four papers, covering Baton Rouge and state politics.
Of all the stories he has witnessed and recounted over the years, Hill says the one he will remember the most is his own. In August 2000 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had successful surgery a month later. He wrote about his personal experience for the papers. "An amazing amount of men, one out of four, is going to develop prostate cancer," he says. "I wrote about it and opened the mail one day and there was a letter saying, 'Thank you for saving my life.' It was from someone who had, because of this series, went in and got a cancer check and found it through early detection." Hill heard from multiple readers who found and successfully treated their prostate cancer.
But the biggest political story of his career ' and the one that forced him to consider retirement ' was Hurricane Katrina. "My heart has been really in New Orleans since the storm," he says. Hill already was renting a second home there, part of an 1832 townhouse, just four blocks from the convention center. Four days after Katrina hit, he returned to the city, rented out two additional apartments in the building and spent more than a month running a bureau for USA Today.
"That's when I became committed to retiring as soon as possible and moving down here fulltime to help in the recovery," he says. "I felt like there had been a death in my family. I think the entire state of Louisiana felt like there had been a death in the family, and we all went into the stages of grief that we're still in. It was horrifying, and the stories were just so intense. All I had to was to walk out the door and find the first person I ran into on the street and there was a compelling story to be told. There were 500,000 compelling stories. Everybody went through this and had a unique experience. I remember telling a young [Associated Press] reporter, 'I really feel sorry for you guys because this is really the biggest story of my entire career, and I'm nearing retirement. You guys are just starting out. I don't know what you're going to do after this.'"
Hill later helped some friends, an 80-year-old couple, sift through the remnants of their lives with a shovel and a wheelbarrow, in hopes of saving some mementos and keepsakes in their flooded New Orleans home. "I can't say I know how it feels to lose everything, but I have a clue," he says. "I went through their lives day after day after day for about two months, sifting through their belongings, and I spent so much time there, at least I understood what people were doing when they went back into their houses ' the work they were doing."
The storm and its aftermath solidified Hill's resolve to retire and pursue other avenues. He's considering media consulting, teaching and even consulting for political campaigns, which he says he can't even consider or discuss until he leaves his current post. When he does, Gannett will not fill his position. "There will be no replacement," Hill says. "Mike Hasten will be the single correspondent." In his work with the American Journalism Review, Hill has watched the steady national decline in coverage of local politics. "Newspapers are cutting back and closing state capital bureaus," he says. "I always knew when I retired I would not be replaced. I've known that for some time."
Hill's also witnessed the rise of a new breed of media. Newspaper deadlines are no longer daily, but every second of every day, with papers pushing to post content online first and break news stories. He says in the rush to reinvent itself, the newspaper biz doesn't always get it right the first time and sometimes has to make corrections and provide greater context in follow-up stories.
"But the most alarming I think is the loss of civility," he adds. "People are no longer civil to one another in the political arena. And a lot of these angry people on blogs and talk radio are getting into personal attacks and nastiness. We were taught in high school debate that you could disagree without being disagreeable. Somehow, people are beginning to think that you have to be disagreeable in order to disagree."
Hill knew in December that it was time to ride into the sunset. "It takes an awful lot of energy to sit around and think up creative ways to cover a campaign that are fresh and better," he says. "It's just enormous. Right now, this is not the most fascinating campaign of my career either. So there were a number of things that just came together at this particular time. You sit down and in your heart of hearts, you know that it's just time to go. I want to leave this while I can still do something else. And the idea of avoiding having to cover an election campaign is really delicious."
So far the Democratic agenda includes proposals to expand Medicaid; increase the minimum wage; offer equal pay to women; heighten regulations on predatory lending practices, like payday loans; and add more transparency in the governor’s office.
Hot-button education issues ranging from Common Core to charter schools have some lawmakers pushing to scrap the appointing process and go back to electing the state's super.
Police say the handcuffed man fatally shot himself in the back, but his family isn't buying the story.
Gov. Bobby Jindal offered a budget proposal that suggests new education and health care spending, pay raises for state workers and an incentive fund to encourage colleges to enhance their science, engineering and technology training.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Tuesday, March 11, 2014:
Hopefully he’ll be better prepared today than he was in that Feb. 20 deposition.
They came by the hundreds, arriving from all regions of the state to gather on the steps of our Capitol in protest of the Legislature’s long tradition of giving industry the go-ahead to abuse our air, our water and our coastline, all in the name of good economics.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent rhetoric against President Barack Obama has failed to boost his standing among the conservative base.
Louisiana's annual legislative session begins.
The state has hired marksmen to shoot feral hogs from helicopters at two wildlife management areas in south Louisiana.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.