Corruption, Reform, and Reaction, 1935-1950
Huey Long’s death marked the end of one era and the beginning of another. After Long’s assassination, politicians sought to continue his dictatorial rule, but proved to be lesser men. The resulting scandals of 1939 generated a reform movement putting the Anti-Longites into power. It was during this period that Louisiana emerged from the Great Depression and entered into the most prosperous era, yet many continued to lead second class lives.
The Leche Administration, 1936-1939
Huey Long ruled Louisiana with an iron hand. Long based his political dictatorship on cultivating popular support, which became known as his “bread and circuses” program. Long proclaimed himself champion of the poor. Long kept his campaign promises to provide Louisiana free school textbooks, new roads, bridges, hospitals, and many more. Long’s death was unexpected and many were eager to replace him, such as: 1.
Earl K. Long—Huey’s brother
James A. Noe—A Monroe oil tycoon
Wade O. Martin, Sr.—the chair of the Public Service Commission 4.
John B. Fournet—a state supreme court justice
Allen J. Ellender—the speaker of the state house
Earle A. Christenberry—Huey’s personal secretary
Richard W. Leche—Most corrupt governor in La history
But without the gifted touch of Huey, the Long machine failed and they were forced to unite. The Longites choose Richard W. Leche and Earl Long. Now the Longites swept all statewide offices and ¾ of the seats in the legislature. In a deal made with Roosevelt, tens of millions of dollars would be funneled into the WPA. The Leche administration: 1.
built numerous roads, bridges, and schools
implemented a state old-age pension
gave school teachers a hefty pay raise
construction/opening of Charity Hospital in New Orleans(1939) 5.
enacted a teacher tenure law and a teacher’s retirement system 6.
signed the Louisiana Fair Trade Law of 1936(price fixing)
The Scandals of 1939
The Leche administration is highly regarded as one of the most corrupt. Leche expanded the practices of the deduct system, and allowed state legislators to hold several offices at once. However, his increasing support for health, education, welfare, and transportation, along with his alliance with the Roosevelt administration, earned him widespread popular support between 1936-1939. The Leche administration crumbled by investigative reporting and Leche was forced to resign. Newspapers began publishing articles of the abuses of power known as scandals of 1939-the “Louisiana Hayride”. 1.
LSU president James Monroe Smith—stole $ from school funds 2.
George Caldwell, LSU superintendent—built himself a mansion from kickbacks 3.
L. P. Abernathy, chair of LA Hwy Commission—owned company that sold materials to the hwy department. 4.
Gov. Leche--$90,000 from smuggling “hot oil”, Beinville Hotel, Mafia 5.
Frank Costello, Mafia—slot machine operations, casinos, & other shady deals The federal government stepped in led by IRS agent Elmer Irey (the man who had put Al Capone in prison). In June 1939, Leche resigned, eventually serving 4 years in prison. Earl Long took over office of governor. Dozens of others were convicted with U. S. mail fraud the most common charge.
The Triumph of the Reformers, 1940-1948
The scandals gave rise to the campaign of reform with leaders promising to clean up state government. Louisiana reformers campaign for “good government” and emphasize honesty and efficiency in the management of the state government. The 1939-40 campaign was a clash between the Longites and Anti-Longites depicted as good versus bad, but the complexity was much more than that. In the 1939-40 primaries, the candidates were dominated by former political opponents of Huey Long. Because more of the Anti-Longites politicos had themselves been involved in questionable political activities, they chose as their candidate for governor Sam Houston Jones, a Lake Charles...
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