John Maginnis, political writer, dead at 66

Longtime political writer John Maginnis died Sunday at his home in New Orleans.

LaPolitics Weekly and LaPolitics.com reported the death. No other details were given. However, Maginnis had battled health problems.

Maginnis was 66. He married late in life. His wife, Jackie, survives him.

A fixture in political circles, Maginnis was a familiar figure at the State Capitol and at the parties thrown during the legislative session. He divided his personal time between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

As a political writer, Maginnis wrote books, published a newsletter and authored a syndicated opinion column. He was widely seen as the dean of the Louisiana political media.

“I liked his style,” political adviser Timmy Teepell posted on Facebook on Sunday morning. “Not just the way he wrote, but the way he asked questions. He wanted to know your thoughts. He was friendly. He was funny. He was curious. And he was smart. Not combative. Genuinely a good guy with a ready smile and infectious laugh and a small notepad. I guess that’s why we talked to him. And told him more than we told others. And then he would break the stories on Thursday nights. My dad tells me he was the same way in high school and college when he wrote for the school papers back then. He was old school with sources in every nook and cranny of the Louisiana political establishment. I’ll always remember him as the sage of the Capitol and I will miss him. RIP John Maginnis.”

A member of the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication’s Hall of Fame, Maginnis began his career delivering newspapers. He later worked for “Gris Gris” magazine and Louisiana Political Review.

Technology transformed Maginnis’ work. His “Fax Weekly” was a must-read at the State Capitol. It contained political tidbits and a roundup of the best quotes that week. Later it became “LaPolitics Weekly” and migrated to email and the Internet.

Maginnis shared the workload with writer Jeremy Alford. They formed a business partnership two years ago after Maginnis began suffering health problems. He had a heart attack several years ago and had a blood disorder.

“In addition to being my business partner, John was a friend and mentor. I am deeply saddened by his sudden death, but his work, through three books and more than four decades of reporting, lives on to inspire others. John could see the political angles better than anyone else and his analysis was always sharp and unique. He had a brilliant political mind. When complimented on his work, John was fond of saying, ‘I owe it all to the material.’ Those who knew him best, however, knew better,” Alford said.

Longtime friend Steve May remembered when Maginnis convinced him to quit his job and join him at “Gris Gris.” The publication was a grandfather of alternative weeklies. Over drinks, Maginnis suggested that May should quit his job in exchange for a partnership in “Gris Gris,” which published monthly at the time.

“My wife and I said, ‘Well, OK.’ We were in our early 20s so we did. We packed up and moved ... We didn’t know even then that we were part of what became the alternative newspaper publishing experience. It was great. It was a wonderful time,” May said.

Gov. Bobby Jindal remembered Maginnis as the historian on Louisiana politics.

“In no uncertain terms, his work has truly impacted Louisiana culture and politics. Indeed, reading his books and weekly columns should be a rite of passage for anyone who works in Louisiana politics. But even more, if you just love Louisiana, and want to know about our history, John’s work is a must-read,” the governor said in a prepared statement.

He said Maginnis could capture the essence of Louisiana politics in a single sentence.

“I’m saddened that I will not get to read John’s future accounts of Louisiana politics, but I know that I can always pick up a copy of ‘The Last Hayride’ or ‘Cross to Bear’ and take in his fantastic work,” the governor said.

Former Gov. Edwin Edwards offered his condolences. Maginnis chronicled Edwards’ 1983 gubernatorial campaign in the book “The Last Hayride.”

“He played an important role in monitoring the affairs of our state and always called it as he saw it. Many times critical of me, but we were friendly and I regret his passing. Trina and I offer our condolences to his widow and other family members,” Edwards said.

Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Maginnis was an integral part of the political landscape in Louisiana. She said he introduced people to the state’s political system in fresh, new ways.

“He was incredibly accurate and trustworthy, and had access to information because of the trust he developed. He told each story from every perspective, and because of that he became an important source of information to lawmakers who may have only been privy to one side of the story in that moment. Many in government depended on his reporting to keep them up-to-date. Our hearts go out to Jackie,” Blanco said in a prepared statement.

Deputy State Treasurer Jason Redmond said Maginnis was respected and perceptive.

“His stories and columns were enriched by his depth of knowledge and observations of Louisiana politics over the years, as well his wry sense of humor. The hayride won’t be the same without him,” Redmond said.