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Story Archives: A Long shadow in Louisiana
|A Long shadow in Louisiana|
I guess in some ways all roads in Louisiana politics lead back to Huey Long, maybe because there weren't that many paved roads in Louisiana before he came along.
Long changed that and Friday will mark 75 years since he died two days after being shot to death by 28 year-old Dr. Carl Weiss in the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge.
There might be some people who are reading this who remember Long when he lived, but most, like me, do not.
Even with Long long gone, a fascination continues with the stubby man from Winnfield who rose to national fame with blustering backwoods bravado and there will always be questions about the man.
The more interesting ones involve speculating how much farther he might have risen politically if he had lived.
While Long had presidential aspirations, many historians don't think he had the support to best Franklin Roosevelt in the 1936 election.
Some of those same historians, however, think he might have been popular enough to run as an independent and seat a Republican to return as the Democratic nominee for president in 1940 and win.
We will never know, but it creates an interesting mental picture—to say the least—to imagine Long flanked by Churchill and Stalin in the famous Yalta Conference Photograph.
While Roosevelt was popular, he was a blue-blood and never could be one of the great unwashed that kept returning him to the White House during the Great Depression.
Long, on the other hand, looked like the common man and spoke the language of the common man—loudly.
To a state like Louisiana mired in mud roads and illiteracy, Long made a lot of sense.
Looking back from the vantage point of history, he sounds downright scary.
The man who would become Louisiana's youngest governor in 1928 at the age of 34 was swept to victory by promising "every man a king, but no one wears a crown."
The joke was that everyone knew exactly who wore the king's crown in Louisiana during the Long era—Huey.
His detractors and political opponents—including Roosevelt— liked to describe him as a little dictator.
Long himself reportedly told an opponent that he was "the constitution now" in Louisiana.
Not content to just pass out free text books to school children and build needed roads, bridges and hospitals in Louisiana as governor, Long's reforms would have warmed the heart of a Bolshevik.
As a U.S. Senator, Long wanted to cap personal fortunes at $50 million, limit annual income a $1 million and inheritances to $5 million.
He later suggested lowering his proposed fortune cap even more —somewhere between $10 and $15 million—to spread the wealth to his liking.
In being fair to Long—which is kind of hard to do—we do have the advantage to be able to look at history and see how such spreading the wealth philosophy has played out.
From the fall of the former Soviet Union to the economic mess our own country has become in the hands of like-minded politicians, we can know the folly inherit in Long's ideas of creating a more just world by redistribution of people's earnings in an attempt to level the playing field.
In his time spent controlling Louisiana, Long increased the state's debt from $11 million to $150 million.
Historians are recently starting to revise Roosevelt's handling of the economy during the Great Depressions as prolonging the misery by "soaking the rich" to increase federal spending on New Deal programs.
Long, who wanted to guarantee a month's vacation to all workers and no more than a 30-hour work week during the Depression, was critical of Roosevelt's New Deal because it didn't reach left far enough.
Could even World War II have pulled the U.S. out of the Great Depression if Long had been Chief Magistrate?
Long will always spark such questions, especially among Louisianaians.
His final words before breathing his last were reportedly, "God, don't let me die. I have so much to do." We will always wonder what those things would have been.
Long's political machine didn't die with him, of course.
There was his brother Earl, who also left an indelible footprint in Louisiana politics, as well as his son Russel, who was elected to the Senate in 1948 and continued to be reelected for another 40 years. There were other members of the Long family who entered public life, as well.
I wonder what Huey would say if he knew that in 2010 there remains one lone Long relative left in the political dynasty he founded.
That man —Louisiana State Senator Gerald Long of the 31st District—is a Republican.