UL alumnus and Senator Mike Michot is currently the Chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. He talks about the importance of UL to the community and economic development, and his work to build bipartisan support for the University and local infrastructure.

Tell us about yourself.

I'm a Lafayette native, a graduate of Cathedral-Carmel and UL, with an undergraduate degree in Finance. I've lived in Lafayette my entire life. I've been married to Monique Broussard for 19 years, we have 2 kids. I've been in business operating Premier Medical since 1994, and before that I worked for the family business, in real estate.

I'm a Cajun musician with my brothers, Les Frères Michot, I play bass fiddle. I'm the 7th of 8 children of Louis & Pat Smith Michot, from Pilette [the community near the Industrial Park, along Pinhook]. I was raised in a political family. My Dad was Superintendent of Education, before that he served in the Legislature. He also ran for Governor in 1963, he lost to John McKeithen.

I've been in the Legislature since 1996. I served in the House for 4 years, and in 1999 I was elected to the Senate. I'm now serving my third & final term, and I'm the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee which oversees the state budgets. I also serve on the Commerce, Natural Resources, and Judiciary A Committees.

What does the Judiciary A Committee oversee?

Civil Law, family matters, custody, child support, as well as trial lawyers vs. business issues, tort, things like that.

Talk about UL.

I am firmly committed to UL. Not only am I a graduate, but everyone in my family attended UL. My father and mother attended UL; Mom graduated, Dad left to go into the War.

Of course, I've known Dr. Savoie for years, he knows my family. In my role as Finance Chairman, I'm in a great position to help grow the University as it relates to its funding. I feel like an investment in the University is important for the entire region. UL is the strongest economic engine for our area. When the economy took a downturn in the 1980s, the one constant was the University, and what it did for the economy.

UL also adds to the quality of life here. The investment of tax dollars into UL translates into big dividends for all of Acadiana.

All of higher education in Louisiana is grossly underfunded.

Well, last year was the first time that we reached the funding formula, we fully funded higher education, which brings our colleges up to the average for the SREB. But we've had so many years of inadequate funding, that it will take a few years before we catch up.

If we want to continue to fund this university, and use these public dollars to leverage grants and attract top faculty from around the country and the world, it is important that we fund the University at competitive levels. The years of mid-year budget cuts which always affected higher education and health care, are hopefully behind us.

However, higher education is still part of the 1/3 of the state budget that is exposed to cuts.

Is there a possibility for an amendment to change that?

Yes, that has been discussed. 2/3 of our budget is protected, so it would be a challenge to protect everything.

This community and the University, have a very unusual-- perhaps unique-- relationship.

UL is Lafayette, and vice versa. People here support the University. Many of the godfathers of our community, the Herbert Heymanns, the Alfred Lamsons, the Robert Trahans, they were very strong, very loyal supporters of the University, through good times & bad.

Other people in the community are very supportive, and they want to see the University have an athletic program that reaches its potential. Many of them feel that with a strong athletic program, we will see stronger support from the community.

Town & Gown is not a good thing in most communities, but Cajuns & Creoles are closer to their young people than many cultures.

Lafayette is a unique community in that we have the small town charm, with the big city flair. Families know families here, and when you go on campus, the students are kids and grandkids of people you know. That's the great thing about growing up here, and building your career in this community.

You created Coeur Acadiana, a non-partisan coalition.

Actually, it's "Core" Acadiana. But I kinda like that.

The Acadiana delegation as recognized by the Legislature includes 22 parishes, from Calcasieu to Terrebonne. So that's the official designation, the "shrimp-colored" parishes on the state map.

Our idea was to bring central Acadiana, or the heart or the core, and the surrounding parishes into a tighter delegation that could come together on important issues, particularly as they relate to supporting UL. The larger Acadiana delegation has three major universities, McNeese, Nicholls, and UL. So if issues came up with the various universities competing, the larger delegation would be split, each region would have to support the university in their community. As they should.

However with our core group, UL is the one University that we will all be in sync on supporting.

We also promote the idea of securing funding for infrastructure. When we get our 15 House members and 5 Senators together, we can influence a vote in a big way. There's strength in the numbers we have.

Tell us something about yourself that most people don't known.

I love flying and airplanes. I was raised with that, but a lot of people don't know it. Dad, Tommy, Rich were, or are, pilots.

Any close calls?

Oh yeah, my Dad. Quite a few.

We had one where we had flown up to Michigan, in the days when we owned the Burger Chefs. We landed in Oxford, Mississippi to refuel and see the Burger Chef there.

When we left, shortly after takeoff the left engine caught fire and we had to make an emergency landing with all of those people and baggage-- and fuel. We just went back to the Oxford airport.

The investigators told us that if we had spent another 2 minutes in the air, none of us would be alive.

And you still love to fly?