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|Huey Long Reincarnated|
Two days after Huey Long was shot in September 1935 in that magnificent capitol building he built, a stones throw from the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, the Kingfish died. It was widely assumed at the time Long's radical proposal to lift America from the grasp of the Great Depression, "Share Our Wealth," died as well when the 42-year-old U.S. senator from Louisiana passed away.
Hold that thought for a moment.
Raised in a middle-class family in Winn Parish, Long rose to power in the 1920s. He first served on the state Railroad Commission, known today as the Public Service Commission. As a member of the Railroad Commission, Long picked fights with the business community, claiming along the way he was simply guarding the interests of the common man. A man of the people. That's who Long said he was.
Riding his populist image or reputation as a man of the people, Long was elected governor in 1928. He did it by pitting the people, including Catholics in southern Louisiana, against the so-called powerful interests in New Orleans, the "Old Regulars."
"Every man a king, but no one wears a crown," Long often said, clearly inciting class warfare to further his political career. It was a brilliant move politically, setting the stage for the nature of politics in Louisiana, which exists, to some degree, to this day.
As governor, Long embarked on an ambitious and expensive plan to reshape Louisiana. In the face of stiff opposition, he convinced the Legislature to approve a host of endeavors, including construction projects to build roads and bridges, hospitals and educational facilities. Free text books for school children were paid for by the state, too. Populism had arrived.
But Long wanted to do more. His problem, however, was financial; he needed more state revenue to expand government so, according to Long, he could help the people better their lives at the expense of the so-called powerful business interests.
The desire to do more for the people prompted Long to propose a 5-cent tax on oil, a tax aimed at punishing Standard Oil, an energy conglomerate whose presence at the time was felt throughout Louisiana. Needless to say, Standard Oil didn't subscribe to Longism.
Long's oil tax proposition didn't sit well with the Legislature either where Standard Oil's influence was substantial. Impeachment proceedings eventually ensued amid allegations Long was guilty of blasphemy, bribery, corruption and misuse of state funds.
Utilizing a few tricks of his own, Long survived the impeachment debacle and emerged from the bitter battle more determined than he had ever been before. So much so that Long unveiled plans to build a new capitol, which would be financed by a bond measure the Legislature would have to approve. The bond measure also entailed more monies for more highway construction projects and other initiatives. But the Legislature balked again. At least for the time being.
Reeling from his defeat in the Legislature and to prove the point the people supported him, Long ran for the U.S. Senate in 1930 against a weak incumbent, Joseph Ransdell of Lake Providence. Long thumped him with 57 percent of the vote, clearly signaling Long enjoyed support among a majority of the people of Louisiana.
Yet, fearing his political opponents would seize the opportunity to turn back his grand plans to reshape the state, Long refused to take his seat in the Senate until January 1932. Instead, he remained in Baton Rouge to keep an eye on things, so to speak, or to ensure his populist endeavors didn't fall by the wayside. It worked, too, though Long's behavior had long ago cemented the hatred scores of people felt for him.
Once Long arrived in Washington, it didn't take him very long to make a name for himself, delivering fiery speeches on the floor of the Senate in which he denounced the concentration of wealth in America. He made it personal as well, often singling out colleagues for their support of interests that Long opposed. Long made very few friends, while his opposition continued to grow at a fast clip.
Long, however, evolved into a vocal supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1932 presidential campaign, saying Roosevelt the populist was exactly what was needed for the country to emerge from the Depression. Roosevelt knew Long was a wild card; he used anyway.
It wasn't long however, before Long became disinterested in serving as a cheerleader for Roosevelt and his medicine to fight the Depression, the "New Deal." After all, Long wasn't interested in sharing the stage, if you will, with anyone, including the president of the United States. More important, Long wanted to redistribute wealth in America; Roosevelt didn't. They broke ranks.
Though he was young and a fairly fresh face in the Senate, Long's presence on the national scene afforded him opportunities to expand his base of support. A "cult" comes to mind. Long's popularity among the people also allowed him to advocate his own proposal to end the Depression, "Share Our Wealth."
"Share Our Wealth" was a fairly simple proposal. It entailed taking money from the so-called rich and redistributing to those who had not been as fortunate in life for whatever reason.
But everything changed when Dr. Carl Austin Weiss shot Long in a corridor in the capitol in Baton Rouge.
Or did it?
In listening to Barack Hussein Obama lately, "Share Our Wealth" is alive and well. He apparently believes in it, too.
|Frank Morris Murder Series|