John Maginnis, who for more than 40 years chronicled the political scene in Louisiana through his syndicated newspaper columns, three books and weekly newsletter and website, which became must-reads for politicians and political observers, died early Sunday. He was 66.
His death was announced through his website and newsletter, LaPolitics Weekly and LaPolitics.com. His collaborator and business partner, Jeremy Alford, called Maginnis a "brilliant political mind."
"John could see the political angles better than anyone else and his analysis was always sharp and unique," Alford said in an email. "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."
Maginnis’ political columns appeared in 21 newspapers across the state, including The Times-Picayune.
Through his columns and as the author of three political history books – "The Last Hayride," "Cross to Bear," and "The Politics of Reform" — he became one of the most respected and recognizable names in Louisiana political journalism. His books covered the campaigns of Edwin Edwards and David Duke, particularly the 1991 election which drew international attention. Maginnis was widely quoted on news stories about both controversial figures.
“From his first foray in the business, delivering The State-Times on his bike after school, to his first journalism job for The Catholic Commentator, John devoted his life to reporting the news,” according to the statement from LaPolitics.
Edwards, now a candidate for U.S. Congress, offered his condolences in a statement to our reporting partners at The Advocate.
“He played an important role in monitoring the affairs of our state and always called it as he saw it. Many times he was 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.
Maginnis had worked Louisiana's political beat since 1972, finding publishing successes first with Gris Gris magazine and later Louisiana Political Review. The latter gave way to The Fax Weekly in 1993, which underwent a name change, to LaPolitics Weekly, soon after.
During his career, he covered the administrations of six governors, including Gov. Bobby Jindal who in a statement Sunday called Maginnis "the historian on Louisiana politics."
"For decades, John captured our unique style of politics, and in turn, his work helped shaped the debate of where Louisiana should be going in the future," Jindal said.
"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."
"John was a fixture around the Capitol, always trying to get to the bottom of an issue," Jindal added. "He had an incredible gift that enabled him to uncover stories and narratives that no one was talking about, but would ultimately drive the debate. His work is prolific, but John could capture the essence of Louisiana politics in a single sentence."
In recent years, Maginnis expanded his political newsletter and its digital counterpart, LaPolitics.com, by adding new staff (including Alford), developing media partnerships and broadening its editorial scope.
Alford commented Sunday on how frequently Maginnis was sought out by national reporters and visiting journalists, to comment on Louisiana's colorful and unique political history. Alford said Maginnis' wit also endeared him to reporters and colleagues.
"Most of us can barely remember a time when John wasn't the leading voice on Louisiana politics," Alford wrote. "It's hard to imagine him not being there to explain to out-of-town reporters why the state has jungle primary elections and how so many of our politicians end up in trouble.
Maginnis was well-known in New Orleans not just for his columns but for frequent appearances on WYES-TV’s reporters roundtable “Informed Sources.” Maginnis and his wife maintained a residence in New Orleans and enjoyed frequent weekend visits to the city.
In 2000, Maginnis was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the LSU Manship School of Mass Communications.
He is survived by his wife, Jackie Drinkwater-Maginnis.
Funeral arrangements are pending.