HUEY LONG (1893-1935)
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Huey Pierce Long was perhaps the most controversial and colorful state governor in US history. He was born on August 30, 1893 to poor Winnfield Parish farmers. He attended law school at Tulane University and after completing

 

only two law classes, was able to pass all course work in just a year. In 1915 he was admitted to the Louisiana Bar.

He gained some notoriety while working for a Shreveport law practice when he sued the powerful Standard Oil Company over unfair business practices. This experience began a political philosophy of representing poor and repressed people from government programs designed to benefit the wealthy and influential. He believed in social security, veterans benefits, and student financial aid; and later sponsored reforms that developed immense popularity with the poor rural people of the state.

At just 25 years of age, he was elected to the Louisiana Railroad Commission and served 10 years, the last 4 as commissioner. That commission later became the Louisiana Public Service Commission.

In 1928, at 35, Long was elected governor of Louisiana. In his term he made significant strides in improving the lives of its citizens in providing programs for additional roadways and bridges, free textbooks, improved hospitals. Most importantly he successfully took on the powerful political machines that had previously dominated Louisiana politics. His efforts to put under control the Standard Oil Company monopolistic power in government and commerce made for an unpopular situation with the federal government and many state politicians.

In his first year, members of the Louisiana House of Representatives attempted to impeach Long for his staunch stance against big oil. The charges were eventually dismissed by the State Senate.

While in office, Long possessed powerful political allies by filling vacant State posts with members of his own political network. State employees appointed by Long were expected to pay a portion of their salary toward his “war chest”. The governor would often appear unannounced on the floor of both House and Senate; there he would exert his influence and intimidation in order to enact passage of his legislative agenda.

Huey Long was a major supporter of LSU and during his tenure increase funding, expanding building projects and accepted responsibility for more than doubling enrollment in his 4 years as governor. He established LSU Medical School in New Orleans and on occasion took the opportunity to conduct the LSU band for football games. He would often accompany the football team by train to out-of-town games. Reportedly he once had the team run a play that he had designed. His popularity throughout the State had grown remarkably in just 4 short years. His actions had quickly gained the attention of Washingon, D.C.

Long’s political ambitions led him to make more of an impact nationally. He ran and was elected to the US Senate in 1930, two years prior to the end of his gubernatorial term. He refused to step down from his State position and held the US Senate post and governorship until taking his Senate oath of office in 1932.

Long wrote a book entitled My First Days in the White House and appeared confident to make a serious run for the presidency in 1936. In his book he named well-known individuals who would fill positions to his cabinet. Shockingly naming former President Herbert Hoover as Secretary of Commerce and President Roosevelt as Secretary of the Navy!

His controversial stand to give every family in the United States $5,000 per year in order to avoid poverty and an opportunity to improve their status was a good example of his Share Our Wealth Program which also included limiting private assets to $50 million and annual incomes to $1 million. Long’s slogan was “Every Man A King”. He was nicknamed Kingfish because he also pointed out that he was a small fish in Washington, but to the good people of Louisiana he was “Kingfish”!

In September 1935, while visiting a Louisiana Legislature special session, Long was shot by a physician in the hallway of the State Capitol. It was reported that the shooter, Dr. Carl Weiss had shot Long once or twice and was immediately killed with over 50 rounds by the Senator’s bodyguards and police. Long was rushed to a Baton Rouge hospital where efforts to save his life failed the next day.

His burial service was a national event. Dressed in formal tuxedo in an open copper-lined casket, his body was placed the Capitol rotunda where an estimated 100,000 paid their respects. He is buried on the grounds of the State Capitol where his statue now recognizes his accomplishments for the people of Louisiana.

The Long family continued in politics following Huey’s death. His wife, Rose was appointed to fulfill his unexpired US Senate term. In 1948 his son, Russel was elected to the Senate and served until 1987. Long’s brother Earl was later elected to serve as Louisiana’s governor. In 1952, another brother, George was elected to Congress and his younger sister, Lucille’s son John S. Hunt, III served as Public Service Commissioner in Monroe, Louisiana.

Additionally several more distant relatives filled various State and Parish positions through the years. But Huey will always be remembered by historians as the only “Kingfish”.

An excellent source for more information is the book Huey Long by T. Harry Williams; published in 1969.