Flickr/Creative Commons photo by the Louisiana National Guard.
Ben Nevers, middle, then chief of staff to Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, examines approaching floodwaters in the state during a Jan. 2016 helicopter flight with Maj. Gen. Glenn H. Curtis, adjutant general of the Louisiana National Guard  

Ben Nevers has filled a wide variety of roles since entering the apprenticeship program at Bogalusa, La., Local 1077 more than 50 years ago.

Former Louisiana legislator and Bogalusa, La., Local 1077 Business Manager Ben Nevers, who retired earlier this year at Gov. John Bel Edwards’ chief of staff.

He’s a been a journeyman inside wireman, successful business owner, respected member of the Louisiana House and Senate and trusted adviser to the governor. Now he’ll add grateful retiree.

Nevers announced his retirement as Gov. John Bel Edwards’ chief of staff in February to return to Bogalusa and spend more time with his six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

“I felt like they were at the age where I needed to get back with them and enjoy life,” he said. “It was a privilege to serve people all those years, in both the business and political fields. But I spent a lot of time doing it and I needed to get back to my family.”

Nevers, a U.S. Army veteran, was Local 1077’s business manager before starting Nevers Electrical Contracting in 1980. He remains its president and CEO and the company is an IBEW signatory contractor.

He served on the Bogalusa School Board before being elected as a Democrat to the Louisiana House in 2000 and the Senate in 2004, where he was a defender of labor rights and respected on both sides of the political aisle. The Legislature historically has been controlled by Democrats, but the GOP has controlled both chambers since 2013.

One of his proudest moments came in 2015, when he helped Edwards – also a staunch advocate for union rights in the Deep South – get elected governor, giving Democrats a rare statewide win in the region. Edwards responded by asking Nevers to be his chief of staff.

“I told him I would do it for one year and we would evaluate it after that,” Nevers said. “As a chief of staff to the governor, it’s a 24-7 job. With all the catastrophes and the many things happening in the states, it’s really a difficult position. I was so proud to serve for him and I know he’s going to continue to do a great job.”

Indeed, one of Nevers’ primary roles while serving as chief of staff was coordinating the state’s response to record levels of flooding in 2016.

“Ben Nevers has been one of my closest friends in the Legislature and a fierce advocate for the people of Louisiana for more than 30 years,” Edwards said in a statement. “Over the last year and during my time in the Legislature, I turned to Ben for guidance, support and prayers, and he has delivered on each. I know I speak for a lot of folks at the state capitol when I say that we will miss seeing Ben around here every day, but we know he won’t be going far.”

Fellow Democrats weren’t the only ones showering Nevers with praise.

“Ben’s ever calming, steady and caring voice will be missed at the state capitol,” Louisiana Senate president John Alario, a Republican, told the Baton Rouge Advocate. “Throughout his years of service as a school board member, state legislator and then as the governor’s chief of staff, Ben had earned the respect and friendship of his colleagues, staff and constituents. He has always been dedicated to giving Louisiana’s hardworking families the tools they need to improve themselves, their communities and their state.”

Nevers’ approach was simple, although it sounds old-fashioned in the day of hyperpartisan national politics. Bipartisanship works.

“I believe when you have a problem, reasonable people can sit down and discuss the solution,” he said. “Not everyone will get their own way, but it’s in the best interest of the country and each state if we solve the problems we have. The partisanship stereotype has gone too far. We should be able to work together and be able to identify and solves problem.”

Nevers said any success he’s had was made possible by being an IBEW member. He was proud of how it supported the campaign of Edwards, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and his longtime colleague in the General Assembly.

“I am very thankful,” he said. “The IBEW stepped up, as well as others in organized labor, and helped tremendously in that election cycle. I’ve heard this governor tell many business people he wanted to make sure organized labor had a place at the table, be treated fairly and have a chance to be part of any work that takes place in the state of Louisiana.”