Samuel Bernard Nunez Jr., known as Sammy Nunez (January 27, 1930 – January 15, 2012), was a Louisiana politician and businessman from Chalmette, the seat of St. Bernard Parish in the New Orleans suburbs.
From 1964 to 1969, Nunez was a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives. From 1969 to 1996, the Democrat Nunez was a state senator. He was the State Senate President from 1983 to 1988 and from 1990 to 1996, when his legislative tenure ended in defeat. He was the State Senate President Pro Tempore from 1980 to 1983 and 1988 to 1990. In 1973, he was a delegate to the Louisiana State Constitutional Convention, where he pushed for inclusion of the homestead exemption on property taxes.
Nunez's forebears came from the Canary Islands. He was the son of Sammy Nunez Sr. (1910–1977) and Leonia Nunez (1912–2002) After the death of the senior Nunez, Leonia married Arthur John Alphonso (1911–1999), a shipyard foreman from Violet in St. Bernard Parish. Nunez had a brother, Hillary Joseph "Tookie" Nunez, who predeceased him.
Nunez graduated from Joseph Maumus High School in Arabi in St. Bernard Parish and received a Bachelor of Science degree from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. From 1951 to 1955, he served in the United States Air Force, with participation in the Korean War.
In 1983, Nunez became Senate President by acclamation when Michael H. O'Keefe of New Orleans was indicted, maintained his innocence, but was ultimately convicted of a federal crime and imprisoned.
In 1976, Senator Nunez introduced the bill to extend Louisiana's unique nonpartisan blanket primary, also called the jungle primary to cover state congressional elections. State Senator Edwards Barham, a Republican from Morehouse Parish, objected on the grounds that insufficient time existed to review the proposed legislation. The open primary had already taken effect on November 1, 1975, for state and local offices.
Nunez's service as Senate president was interrupted from 1988 to 1990 by Allen Bares of Lafayette, a leader of the anti-abortion forces in the legislature. Senator Sydney B. Nelson of Shreveport had mounted a challenge for Senate president, but Governor Buddy Roemer, sided with Bares. In 1990, in a slap at Roemer, senators removed Bares as president and returned Nunez to the post.
From 1988 to 1990, Nunez nonetheless held the title of Senate President Pro Tempore. During his legislative tenure, he was involved in the establishment of the Louisiana Superdome, the New Orleans Arena and the Ernest Morial Convention Center, named for Ernest Morial, the first African American mayor of New Orleans. He was the driving force behind construction of the Crescent City Connection, Interstate 510, and the West Bank Expressway.
In 1986, Nunez was among fourteen candidates in the primary for the United States Senate seat vacated by the retiring Russell B. Long. He polled 69,855 (5.9 percent), a distant third place finish. Long's successor was his fellow Democrat, U.S. Representative John Breaux of Louisiana's 7th congressional district, who defeated the Republican choice, Henson Moore of Louisiana's 6th congressional district, in a general election showdown. After a month of consideration, Nunez endorsed Breaux over Moore.
In 1988, Nunez became the subject of national attention when he met with LSU Chancellor James Wharton regarding the readmission to the university graduate school of a student who is one of Nunez's female relatives. The student, whose identity was not revealed, had been accused of plagiarism and was required to withdraw from LSU for a semester. However, the graduate council required her to withdraw for two years. Dr. Wharton sided with the one-semester suspension and readmitted the student. He thereafter resigned as chancellor and returned to the classroom as a tenured professor of chemistry.
Senator Nunez's last election victory occurred on October 19, 1991, when he defeated fellow Democrat Mary B. Faucheux, 29,553 (68.2 percent) to 13,793 (31.8 percent). In the 1987 nonpartisan blanket primary, Nunez faced tougher competition, but he prevailed with 23,370 votes (50.7 percent) over six opponents, including the runner-up and only Republican in the field, Lynn Dean, an industrialist from Braithwaite in Plaquemines Parish, who drew 11,916 ballots (25.8 percent).
Early in 1995, Nunez removed state Senator Foster Campbell of Bossier Parish, much later a candidate for governor and the United States Senate, from the chairmanship of a committee established to consider a proposed oil and natural gas processing tax on foreign energy imports. Campbell criticized Nunez: "As a legislator for thirty years, he supported billions of dollars in new taxes, including taxes on food, drugs, and utilities. He finally found a tax he doesn't like." Nunez replied that the processing tax could cost the state critically needed jobs.
In the 1995 primary, Lynn Dean led Nunez, 19,794 (46.4 percent) to 15,137 (35.5 percent). A third candidate, Democrat Gilbert Andry, held the remaining 7,773 (18.2 percent). In the general election Dean trumped Nunez, 23,939 (53.7 percent) to 20,682 (46.3 percent). In that same election Republican Mike Foster won the governorship over the African-American Democrat Cleo Fields.
Senator Dean served two terms and was succeeded in 2004 by the Republican, later Democrat, Walter Boasso.
In 2004, Nunez, at seventy-four, pondered entering the race to choose a successor to the retiring U.S. Representative Billy Tauzin in Louisiana's 3rd congressional district, but he never entered the race, ultimately won by the Democrat Charlie Melancon. Tauzin's second wife, Cecile, served as a legislative aide to Nunez while she was a student at LSU in Baton Rouge. In 2006, Nunez was among campaign contributors to both Melancon and the since convicted Democratic U.S. Representative William Jefferson of Louisiana's 2nd congressional district.
Later years and legacy
Long after his legislative service, Nunez was a member of the board of commissioners of the Port of New Orleans. He operated an insurance agency.
Nunez and his Senate successor and former rival, Lynn Dean, were honorary members of the Nunez Community College Foundation board of directors in Chalmette. The college is named for Nunez's late wife, Elaine P. Nunez.
On January 30, 2010, Nunez was inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield, along with the late Charlton Lyons and William "Billy" Nungesser, sitting U.S. Representative Rodney Alexander, and former State Senator Randy Ewing.
Nunez died in 2012 at the age of eighty-one of complications of Parkinson's disease and pneumonia. The Roman Catholic Nunez was living in Plaquemines Parish at the time of his death in New Orleans. He was survived by his second wife, Cynthia Wall Nunez; two nieces, Caroline Grace Watkins and Christie Lee Nunez, and a nephew, Hillary Nunez. Interment was at St. Bernard Memorial Gardens in Chalmette. Pallbearers included his nephew Hillary Nunez and current Louisiana State Senate President John Alario, former state Senator Hank Lauricella, former state Representative Kenneth L. Odinet Sr., St. Bernard Parish District Attorney Jack Rowley, and former Jefferson Parish District Attorney John Mamoulides.