Vic Stelly, a public servant who served 16 years as a state legislator and helped pass the tax plan that bore his last name, died Saturday of complications from COVID-19. He was 79.Stelly represented House District 35 as a Republican from 1988 until 2004, when he chose to not seek a fifth term. His earlier years were spent as an assistant football coach at McNeese State University from 1970 through 1974, and as a Calcasieu Parish School Board member from 1983 to 1987.In 2006, Stelly was elected to the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame.One of Stelly’s biggest political victories came in 2002 when voters approved his plan that swapped higher income taxes for sales taxes on food, prescription drugs and utilities. The Legislature in 2008 repealed the income tax increase part of the plan.After his legislative career, then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco appointed Stelly to the Louisiana Board of Regents in 2007. He stepped down in 2012, citing dissatisfaction with repeated budget cuts under Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration that hurt higher education.State Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, said Stelly was one of his closest friends. Johns said he has known Stelly and his family since the 1970s.“His passing is such a huge loss to our community and state,” he said.Johns began serving alongside Stelly as a state representative in 1996. Johns said Stelly taught him how to be an effective lawmaker by building relationships and working with others.“He was never an obstructionist, but always a coalition builder,” Johns said. “His advice to me was to always ‘Do the right thing,’ and success would come my way. Nobody exemplified integrity more than Vic Stelly.”Dan “Blade” Morrish, a former state legislator, also served alongside Stelly after winning his first House term in 1996. Morrish said he was honored when Stelly asked him to be his seatmate in the House chamber.
“It was a huge deal,” he said. “I learned the right way to handle yourself in the Legislature. The word great is not enough to describe what he was.”Every member of the Legislature respected Stelly, including his opponents, Morrish said. Stelly’s reputation for being well prepared on an issue was evident, especially when he addressed his colleagues on the House floor.“He didn’t go to that mic without knowing exactly what he was talking about,” Morrish said.Morrish said he cherished the hours he and Stelly got to spend together while driving to former Gov. Mike Foster’s funeral. Foster, who served as Louisiana’s governor from 1996 to 2004, died Oct. 4.Former Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach and Stelly were both elected as freshmen state representatives in 1988. He said Stelly’s tax plan, approved by voters in 2002, came from his desire to create more fiscal stability for the state. Roach spoke about Stelly’s legislative ability, insight and determination to get the plan passed by lawmakers and voters.“If you look at the plan, it was well thought out,” Roach said. “Vic was very progressive in his thinking and support of fiscal measures.”Roach said he treasured his friendship with Stelly.“It was meaningful to have him as a friend and as a person you could talk to and bounce ideas off of,” he said. “He was a man of great character and integrity. He was a person who led by example and was really committed and dedicated to this community.”George Swift, president/CEO of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance, said Stelly was serving on the School Board when they first met. Swift said Stelly was instrumental in getting Sam Houston High School rebuilt after a fire destroyed the school in January 1982.Swift said he admired Stelly’s willingness to stand up for issues he was passionate about, as well as him being a true independent. Stelly eventually left the Republican Party and became an independent.“We need more folks like him that will stand up and try to make an impact,” he said.Had Stelly’s tax plan been left alone, Swift said the state would not have encountered the financial difficulties down the road.“It’s a shame his greatest (legislative) victory was taken away by other administrations and legislatures,” he said.Former state representative and current Sulphur Mayor Mike Danahay said Stelly “gave his all in serving the public of Southwest Louisiana and the entirety of our state.”“Vic was a fine gentleman and a true statesman,” he said. “He will always be remembered as a man of great integrity and conviction.”Stelly and his wife, Terry, celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary July 4.