by William “Doc” Halliday
Eighty-seven years ago today, on April 6, 1929, Huey Pierce Long, Jr. serving as the 40th Governor of the State of Louisiana, was impeached by the Louisiana House of Representatives. An impeachment is analogous to an indictment in regular court proceedings. In more than two centuries there have only been a dozen impeachments of state governors.
As an aside, when I first started this article about Huey Long’s impeachment, my mind wandered to his brother “Uncle Earl” who in 1959 had been committed to a state mental institution. He was then serving as the 45th Governor of the State of Louisiana. He was not confined for long, though. He fired the doctors and administrator of that state institution, and then had himself declared sane by the new head of the facility. To my knowledge, this is the only occasion in which a sitting Governor had been committed to a mental institution.
Now back to Huey Long Jr.: He was born in 1893, home schooled for a time, and then attended public school. Even though he was an excellent student, he did not complete high school. He had won a debating scholarship to Louisiana State University, and used those skills to earn a living as a door-to-door salesman. In 1915, with just one year of studies at Tulane University Law School, he convinced the board to allow him to take the bar exam. He passed.
For about a decade he exclusively represented the “poor man” against big businesses. He sued Standard Oil Company for unfair business practices, and seemed to have antagonism against that company. Long started his career as an elected official in 1918 when he was elected to the Louisiana Railroad Commission. He won that election while running on an anti-Standard Oil platform.
In 1924 Long ran for Governor of Louisiana while again attacking Standard Oil. He used radio addresses and sound trucks to take his campaign to the people and was one of the first politicians to do so, particularly in the South. He opposed the Ku Klux Klan, as opposed to an opponent who supported that organization. That organization was perhaps the most salient issue of the campaign. On Election Day, it rained. Rural north Louisiana was mostly dirt roads, and this is the area where Huey had the most support. Because of the rain, those roads turned into mud, preventing many voters from reaching the polls.
Four years later he ran again for governor, using the slogan “Every man a king, but no one wears a crown.” He had used the intervening four years well, building his political organization as well as his reputation.
This time Long won. As soon as he was installed governor, he started firing state employees who had supported his opponent. He used patronage to fill the then open positions with his own supporters. Every state employee who depended upon him for their job was required to pay a portion of their salary into Long’s campaign fund. It amounted to an awful lot of money.
In 1929, Long called a special session of both branches of the legislature in order to pass a five cent per barrel tax on refined oil products. He called this proposed tax an “occupational license tax,” and intended to use it for his social programs. These social programs included building roads, bridges and hospitals, as well as the distribution of free textbooks.
Governor Long’s special session backfired when he was impeached for numerous charges ranging from the use of abusive language to the misuse of state funds and bribery. The impeachment is alleged to have occurred with the backing of Standard Oil. A two-thirds majority was needed for conviction.
Long obtained an infamous “Round-Robin” statement signed by 15 senators. They each pledged to vote “not guilty” regardless of the evidence that might be presented. The impeachment process was suspended. There were allegations of bribery on both sides.
Huey Long was elected to the United States Senate in 1932. He later said that he gave himself the nickname “Kingfish” and said, “I’m a small fish here in Washington. But I’m the Kingfish to the folks down in Louisiana.”
The Kingfish was assassinated in September of 1935, just one month after he announced his candidacy for the President of the United States.
William “Doc” Halliday, an historian and writer, can be contacted at email@example.com