5/14/12 - governors and fistfights

In today's excerpt - Huey P. Long. From his swearing-in as Louisiana governor in 1928 to his assassination in 1935, Huey Long was a firebrand without equal in American politics. Leaving a non-stop trail of vitriol and controversy in his wake, Long was not above a fist-fight with a former governor:

"It was lunchtime and a crowd of visitors attending a bottlers conven­tion filled the plush lobby of New Orleans's Hotel Roosevelt. A group of Orange Crush salesmen were relaxing in the hotel grill after finishing their fried oyster sandwiches when they heard yells and scuffling outside the door. Rushing into the lobby, they were surprised to see an elderly overweight gentleman grappling with a younger man on the marble floor. Many of the onlookers recognized the two men fighting. The older gen­tleman was J. Y. Sanders, sixtyish and the former governor of the state, and the younger was the red-haired Huey P. Long.

"An old-fashioned Southern orator full of clichés about the Lost Cause and the virtues of white supremacy, Jared Y. Sanders was a household name in Louisiana politics. Supported by the New Orleans Ring, he served in the state House of Representatives from 1892 to 1904, as lieu­tenant governor from 1904 to 1908, governor from 1908 to 1912, and U.S. congressman from Louisiana's Sixth District from 1917 to 1921. A fire-breathing Protestant who fought liquor and gambling, Sanders ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1912, 1920, and 1926. While gover­nor, Sanders accomplished little and succumbed to the conservative backroom politics of gentlemanly know-nothingness that kept Louisiana mired in the nineteenth century. His refusal to improve the state's ar­chaic highways earned him the nickname 'Gravel Roads' Sanders.

"Huey claimed he had opposed Sanders in every election since 1908, including the 1926 Senate race when he campaigned across the state for incumbent Senator Ed Broussard and against that 'long-legged sap-sucker' Sanders. Sanders now was bent over by age, prompting Huey to call him 'Old Buzzard Back.' J.Y. detested Huey, writing that 'when it comes to arousing prejudice and passion, when it comes to ranting and raving, when it comes to vituperation and vilification, when it comes to denunciation and demagoguery, there is one who stands out by himself alone. [Huey] has many imitators but no equals.' Any meeting between the two men usually turned ugly.

"Ugly indeed was the scene on Tuesday, November 15, 1927, when Huey and Sanders clashed in the Hotel Roosevelt lobby. Huey had just arrived in New Orleans for a week of campaigning and headed to his head­quarters on the hotel's twelfth floor. Unexpectedly he ran into J.Y, who was just leaving the dining room. When he spotted Huey, Sanders yelled across the marble-columned lobby that he was a 'damned liar.' Huey jumped on the ex-governor, punched him, and turned and ran to the ele­vator at the other end of the hotel. Sanders, portly and puffing and bent over with age, chased Huey to the elevator and squeezed in before the doors shut. The two men wrestled on the floor as the boy operating the elevator watched in stunned silence. Bystanders broke up the scuffle.

"Neither man was injured and both claimed victory. J.Y. declared that Huey crouched in the elevator like a 'terror-stricken kitten' and Huey's oppo­nents branded him as a coward who fled from the sixty-year-old ex-governor. Later that afternoon Huey strutted through the lobby viciously chewing on a six-inch cigar and flaunting a part of J.Y.'s shirt cuff ripped off in the elevator. That evening, he still waved J.Y.'s torn cuff and bragged of his elevator triumph as he spoke to a huge crowd in Palmer Park on Carrollton Avenue."


Richard D. White, Jr.


Kingfish: The Reign of Huey P. Long


Random House


Copyright 2006 by Richard White


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