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Political Wars, Part IX

Political Wars, Part IX

Robert Kennon won the governor’s race by a landslide in 1952, but after two days some local results were still undetermined. The Terrebonne votes for Clyde Caillouet were enough to declare him senator-elect over Leonard Toups; Max Rizan was re-elected Lafourche Parish assessor over Dave Robichaux; R.J. Soignet had won one of two state representative seats; and Dick Guidry was 17 votes ahead of Harvey Peltier, Jr., for the other.

Ambroise Landry had defeated incumbent Raoul Legendre for clerk of court and Dr. Philip Robichaux had been elected coroner in the first primary.

All votes were in but the sheriff and representative races were too close to call, with Ducos slightly ahead and Guidry hanging on to his 17-vote lead.

Shouts of “RECOUNT” were heard.

Accusations like “fraud” and “stolen election” were rampant, creating openings for each party’s lawyers who galloped in like the cavalry and took over. Both sides filed petitions, restraining orders, briefs and other legal documents keeping everyone in suspense for weeks until it was announced that an agreement had been reached.

Sheriff Frank Ducos was declared re-elected, and Dick Guidry became the youngest state representative ever by 17 votes. His record still stands today and in 2014 he was inducted into the Louisiana Political Hall Of Fame. He lived to receive that honor, but that’s the year he died, leaving behind a highly regarded legacy.

Dick had attended my son Assessor Michael Martin’s funeral in March 2014, walking with a cane. Optimistic as always, he said: “Leroy, I don’t need this, but at our age, (one month apart), we should follow our doctors’ advice.”

A few months later his son called telling me he had passed away. I lost a son and a best friend that year, and I frightfully suspect who’s next. Well, it’s been a great ride and I accept what the end results must be, but not eagerly. Enough self-pity … back to the historic, sometimes amusing but always provocative Louisiana and Lafourche Parish political wars.

Years later, a losing candidate in that election, who was by then a friend and an honored legislator, told this story to a small group of us at a social function: “We were warned by lawyers and concerned party members that recounts were unpredictable and could go either way. We might gain a representative, but possibly lose a sheriff. The sheriff’s office was more important to us, so we threw in the towel.”

There was no “victory parade” after this election as was usually the case, because neither faction was totally victorious. Although the “all parish” had elected their governor, senator, the two representatives, clerk of court and coroner, the “old regulars” had kept the powerful offices of sheriff and assessor.

The Court House officials took or retained their offices while the three legislators went to Baton Rouge to help Governor Robert Kennon keep his promises. Among those were civil service laws to protect state employees, electronic voting machines to protect elections, right-to-work laws to protect all other employees, and certified drivers license examiners to protect lives on the highways. He kept his promises, which would prove to be a fatal political mistake for his future political career.

One of the promises Kennon kept was to bring stability to the drivers’ license problem in Louisiana, which was only used as a source of revenue. Licenses were issued on the front seat of State Troopers’ cars on practically any street corner … just pay the fee, no questions asked.

This practice had led to irresponsible drivers on the road and far too many accidents and deaths on the highways. That would soon change. New laws required that licenses should only be issued by trained, certified drivers license examiners at designated offices after written or oral and road tests.

The duty to select the first of many examiners to be hired and trained, which would be in South Lafourche, rested on the shoulders of newly elected state representative Richard “Dick” Guidry … and guess who that would be?

“Come Josephine in my automobile and away we’ll go, away we’ll go.”

More next week. BYE NOW!

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