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Louisiana gubernatorial election, 1959-60

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Title: Louisiana gubernatorial election, 1959-60  
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Subject: Huey Long, DeLesseps Story Morrison, William M. Rainach, Louisiana gubernatorial election, 1956, Louisiana gubernatorial election, 1963–64
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Louisiana gubernatorial election, 1959-60

The Louisiana gubernatorial election of 1959–60 was held in two rounds on December 5, 1959, and January 9, 1960. After an election which featured some of the most racially charged campaign rhetoric in Louisiana political history, Jimmie Davis was elected to his second nonconsecutive term as governor after defeating the Republican candidate in the general election.

Background

Like most Southern states between Reconstruction and the civil rights era, Louisiana's Republican Party was virtually nonexistent in terms of electoral support. This meant that the two Democratic Party primaries held on these dates were the real contest over who would be governor. This election, however, saw the second Republican candidate run for governor since Reconstruction. The first was Harrison Bagwell (1913–1973) of Baton Rouge, who ran in 1952.

Candidates

Democrats

  • Country singer Jimmie Davis of Shreveport, governor of Louisiana from 1944 to 1948, originally campaigned on a vague platform of peace and harmony in the first primary, before adopting a racist defense of segregation in the runoff. He was supported by the Regular Democratic Organization political machine in New Orleans, and endorsed by The Times-Picayune.
  • Mayor of New Orleans deLesseps Story Morrison, Sr., had been defeated in the 1956 race for governor, but he ran again in 1959. He ran on a record of accomplishments as mayor of New Orleans for the previous fourteen years, and called for industrialization of the state. He had the support of unions, and favored large building programs and increased trade with Latin America.
  • William Monroe "Willie" Rainach, a state Senator from Claiborne Parish, campaigned as a staunch defender of segregation, using white supremacist rhetoric and attacking his opponents for their perceived softness on "the race question". Still another segregationist was the fiery Ku Klux Klan wizard, A. Roswell Thompson (1911–1976), a New Orleans taxi company operator.
  • Jimmie Noe of Monroe was briefly governor for five months in 1936, but had been out of politics since an unsuccessful bid for governor in the election of 1940. Noe was endorsed by Earl Long, who was instead running for lieutenant governor.
  • Mack Stewart Jr., a Baptist minister from Baton Rouge
  • Holt Allen, a grocer from Jena

Republicans

  • former Superintendent of State Police Francis Grevemberg of Lafayette, who ran as a Democrat in 1956, switched parties and ran in the general election as a Republican.

Campaign

First Democratic primary

At the beginning of the campaign, incumbent governor Earl K. Long announced his intention to run, despite being constitutionally barred from succeeding himself. After the Supreme Court insisted that he would have to resign several months before the election in order to legally run, Long withdrew and instead opted to run for Lieutenant-Governor on the Jimmy Noe ticket. The campaign got off to a slow start, with Davis running a bland campaign calling for “peace and harmony.” Morrison campaigned on a platform of economic progress and development, while Noe and Dodd used promises of increased social programs to compete for traditional Long supporters.

Although easily winning the 1956 gubernatorial election, the ticket of Jimmy Noe and Earl Long finished a distant fourth. This is due, in part, because of the significant problems Earl Long experienced during the latter part of his last term in office such as his involuntary commitment to a state mental hospital, his affair with stripper Blaze Starr, and his ambivalence regarding civil rights issues.

Second Democratic primary

After seeing the explosive growth in support enjoyed by the little-known Rainach, who finished in third place after employing racist rhetoric in the primary, Davis adopted a similar tactic in the runoff. After receiving the endorsement of Rainach, Davis began to criticize Morrison for having received a large proportion of African-American votes in the primary. The Davis campaign claimed Morrison was supported by the NAACP - which Davis termed as “a communist Negro organization founded in New York” - and that he would integrate the state and use increased black voter registration to dominate Louisiana politics. The Times-Picayune aided the Davis campaign by emphasizing the high level of support Morrison had received from black voters. Earl Long also endorsed Davis.

Morrison responded in kind, extolling his record of support for segregation as mayor of New Orleans and questioning Davis’s own segregationist credentials. He also boasted that he had been sued by the NAACP more times than other Louisiana official. Though he was a supporter of segregation, Morrison depended on black votes and could not afford to alienate potential supporters by using the overtly racist rhetoric of his opponent. He remained on the defensive throughout the runoff campaign. The political liabilities of being an urbanite, a Catholic, and a perceived integrationist cost Morrison any support he might have expected in conservative, Protestant, segregationist northern Louisiana.

General election

In 1959–1960, former State Police Superintendent Francis Grevemberg rejected cries of "It can't be done" and switched parties to run for governor as a Republican, challenging Jimmie Davis. Grevemberg called for abolition of useless positions in state government and industrial recruitment efforts. His candidacy offered the state something that it had not seen before, a contested general election for governor. "Never before have the voters in this state been given such an opportunity for self-expression," opined the Alexandria Daily Town Talk, "It is a rare opportunity for us to take part in an advanced course in government and politics."

Democrats were sufficiently confident of overwhelming victories to restrict their general election activities to a few party harmony speeches. Davis had stopped campaigning after he defeated Mayor Morrison and did not return to active campaign status until a few weeks prior to the general election.

Grevemberg was outraged at newspaper editorials against him. "My main purpose for entering this race was toward a two-party system ... I hope I have convinced a sizeable number of people we do need two parties." Grevemberg was particularly hostile toward the Times-Picayune (New Orleans), which called him a "turncoat" after he left the Democratic party, adding: "I risked my life and those of my family in attempts to rid this state of racketeers ... These newspapers have lived up to the reputation given them by Huey Long that they were yellow journals."

Results

First Democratic party primary, December 5, 1959

Candidate Votes received Percentage of votes cast
deLesseps Morrison 278,956 33.1%
Jimmie Davis 213,551 25.3%
Willie Rainach 143,095 17.0%
James A. Noe 97,654
William J. "Bill" Dodd 85,436
Mack Stewart, Jr. 6383
Allen LaCombe 4917
Addison Roswell Thompson 4200
Holt Allen 4106
John Krey, Jr. 2587

Second Democratic party primary, January 9, 1960

Candidate Votes received Percentage of votes cast
Jimmie Davis 487,681 54.1%
deLesseps Morrison 414,110 45.9%

General election, April 19, 1960

Candidate Party Votes received Percentage of votes cast
Jimmie Davis Democrat 407,907 81.5%
Francis Grevemberg Republican 86,135 17.0%
Kent Courtney States' Rights Party 12,515 2.5%

Grevemberg scored his highest percent, 39.9 in Terrebonne Parish, and his second-best showing was the 27.2 percent in his native Lafayette Parish. In several parishes, Grevemberg polled less than 2 percent of the ballots.

Significance of the election

In a time of growing support for the civil rights movement, the 1959–60 election was the first since the advent of Jim Crow in which race became the central issue of a Louisiana campaign. This election also marked the definitive end of the Long era in Louisiana politics. For the first time since 1928, no candidate backed by Huey Long or Earl K. Long made the runoff; Noe finished a distant fourth.


Preceded by
1956 gubernatorial election
Louisiana gubernatorial elections Succeeded by
1963–64 gubernatorial election

Sources

  • Jeansonne, Glen. “Racism and Longism in Louisiana: The 1959-60 Gubernatorial Election.” Louisiana History 11, 1970.
  • Liebling, A. J. The Earl of Louisiana. LSU Press, 1970.
  • Louisiana Secretary of State. Primary Election Returns, 1960.
  • Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana. Voters' Guide to the Elections, '59-'60.
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