John McKeithen

John McKeithen

Infobox Governor
name=John McKeithen

office= Governor of Louisiana
term_start= 1964
term_end= 1972
lieutenant=Clarence C. "Taddy" Aycock
predecessor= James Houston "Jimmie" Davis
successor= Edwin Washington Edwards
office2=Louisiana Public Service Commissioner from District 3 (North Louisiana)
term_start2=January 1, 1955
term_end2=May 1964
preceded2=Harvey Broyles
succeeded2=John S. Hunt, III
office3=Louisiana State Representative from District 20 (Caldwell Parish)
preceded3=V.E. Claunch
succeeded3=Johnnie W. Calton
birth_date= birth date|1918|5|28|mf=y
birth_place= Grayson in Caldwell Parish, Louisiana
death_date= death date and age|1999|6|4|1918|5|28|mf=y
death_place= Columbia, Louisiana
spouse=Marjorie Howell Funderburk "Margie" McKeithen (1919-2004)
children=Six children, including W. Fox McKeithen (1946-2005)
profession= Attorney
party= Democrat

John Julian McKeithen (May 28, 1918ndash June 4, 1999), a Democrat from the tiny town of Columbia, the seat of Caldwell Parish in northeastern Louisiana, was the first governor of his state to serve two consecutive terms. His tenure ran from 1964-1972. He was also the governor who pushed for the construction of the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.

Early life

McKeithen was born in the village of Grayson in Caldwell Parish, the son of contractor and farmer, Jesse J. McKeithen and the former DeEtte Eglin. He graduated from high school there and first attended college in High Point, North Carolina. In 1942, he earned his law degree from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

He served in the United States Army in the Pacific theatre during World War II, and fought in the Battle of Okinawa. After the war, McKeithen started practicing law in Columbia. He married a young teacher in Columbia, the former Marjorie "Margie" Howell Funderburk (September 30, 1919ndash March 24, 2004). She graduated from Louisiana Tech University, then called "Louisiana Polytechnic Institute." They had six children. She was the homemaker of their Hogan Plantation and reserved the spotlight for her popular husband, whom she affectionately called "J.J."

tate legislator and public service commissioner

McKeithen was elected as a Louisiana state representative in 1948; he was a prominent leader for Governor Earl Kemp Long on the floor of the House. In 1952, as a 33-year-old state legislator, he was an unsuccessful Democratic primary candidate for lieutenant governor on a slate supported by the Longs. The "anti-Longs," led that year by Judge Robert F. Kennon of Minden, won the governorship and other top positions. McKeithen lost the lieutenant governor's runoff to C. E. "Cap" Barham of Ruston, the seat of Lincoln Parish, who had originally run on the ticket with U.S. Representative Thomas Hale Boggs, Sr., of New Orleans. Barham then switched to the Kennon ticket in the runoff against McKeithen.

McKeithen then served on the elected Louisiana Public Service Commission from 1955 to 1964. He emerged successful in the 1954 Democratic primary for the PSC by defeating Harvey Broyles and L.S. Hooper. He represented Huey Long’s old north Louisiana district, and emulated Long with his populist attacks on the Southern Bell Telephone Company. He was credited with preserving the traditional nickel phone call, when most states had long gone to a dime or higher in pay phone outlets. When McKeithen left the PSC to become governor, he appointed John S. Hunt, III (1928-2001), of Monroe, a nephew of Governors Huey and Earl Long, to finish McKeithen's term. Hunt then won a six-year term on the PSC in the 1966 Democratic runoff primary by defeating State Representative John Sidney Garrett of Haynesville, thereafter McKeithen's choice as Speaker of the Louisiana House.

Election as governor, 1963-64

In the first primary in December 1963, a wide array of candidates entered from former Governor Robert Kennon to segregationist Education Superintendent Shelby M. Jackson to Ku Klux Klan wizard A. Roswell Thompson, a taxi operator from New Orleans. McKeithen ran second in the primary and headed to a Democratic runoff in January 1964. He thereafter swept the general election on March 3.

In the first primary, McKeithen hoped to win the backing of the still-influential 'Longite' forces. After the death of Earl Long, the Long faction was divided; most of Long’s former allies backed the candidacy of freshman U.S. Representative Gillis Long, while Earl’s widow Blanche Long backed McKeithen. Despite his Longite background, McKeithen ran on a reform platform, promising to “clean up the mess in Baton Rouge." He also ran as a defender of segregation, having criticized the meddling of U.S. President John F. Kennedy in Louisiana politics. McKeithen emerged in second place to the frontrunner deLesseps Story "Chep" Morrison, Sr. In the runoff campaign, McKeithen rallied the supporters of fifth-place finisher Shelby Jackson by warning of the dangers of a NAACP "bloc vote" for Morrison. McKeithen won the runoff, 492,905 (52.2 percent) to 451,161 (47.8 percent). Though he had maintained segregation, he indicated that he welcomed African-American support in the primary.

McKeithen overcame the conservative Republican Party (GOP) candidate Charlton Havard Lyons, Sr., a Shreveport oilman, in the first seriously contested Louisiana gubernatorial general election since Reconstruction. McKeithen defeated Lyons, 469,589 (60.7 percent) to 297,753 (37.5 percent). McKeithen seemed somewhat bitter that he had to face a Republican candidate after struggling through two hard-fought Democratic primaries but nevertheless congratulated the 69-year-old Lyons for the vigorous GOP campaign.

McKeithen as governor

First term

McKeithen's two terms were characterized by economic expansion and job creation. He pushed for expansion of the state’s industrial sector, and called a special session to create a Labor Management Commission of Inquiry to resolve a strike in Baton Rouge early in his first term. He offered tax concessions to bring new industry to the state, particularly along the Mississippi River corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and conducted a “right to profit” campaign in 1966-1967. After making a name for himself as an opponent of labor, threats were made on McKeithen’s life and a bomb exploded in the State Capitol’s Senate chamber.

McKeithen signed legislation establishing a state code of ethics for elected and appointed public officials, the investment of idle funds to bring additional interest income to the state, and disclosure of the state's previously secret unclassified payroll, three proposals sponsored in the state House by Representative Joe Henry Cooper of Masfield, the seat of De Soto Parish in northwestern Louisiana.

When McKeithen was elected, Louisiana governors could still serve only one term. Governors had to sit out a term if they wished to seek second or third terms thereafter. McKeithen worked to end this practice; voters overwhelmingly approved his pet "Amendment 1" in the 1966 general election. Therefore, he could seek a second term in the 1967-1968 election cycle.

Among his advisors was the former State Senator William R. "Billy" Boles, Sr., a high-powered Monroe attorney and banker. He also depended heavily on Senator Sixty Rayburn of Bogalusa, a favorite of organized labor and the Democrat constituency groups.

Re-election campaign, 1967

He was so popular in office that voters renominated him with ease in the 1967 Democratic primary, in which he was opposed by the very conservative Indiana-born Sixth District freshman Congressman John Rarick of St. Francisville in West Feliciana Parish, who was backed by the Ku Klux Klan. Rarick did not warm to rural voters the way McKeithen could and his strict constitutionalist views did not appeal to many in the Louisiana statewide electorate. People responded positively to McKeithen's folksy mannerisms and trademark "Won't you 'hep me?" appeal. Republicans did not field a candidate to challenge McKeithen for a second term in the general election held on February 6, 1968. McKeithen even worked to defeat a state senator in northwestern Louisiana. Harold Montgomery of Doyline was unseated after two terms by a challenger of the same surname but no relation, Minden attorney John Willard "Jack" Montgomery.

econd term as governor

During his second term, pushing for the construction of the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans was one of McKeithen’s priorities. Despite initial misgivings by many, McKeithen was responsible for moving approval of the Supedome project through the Legislature, arguing that the benefits of associated economic development would be worth the high cost.

On the Superdome and other issues, McKeithen faced the legislative opposition of a group of mostly young reformers known as the "Young Turks." One of their leaders was Robert G. "Bob" Jones, a state representative from Lake Charles and the son of former Governor Sam Houston Jones. Jones objected to state funding of the Superdome in New Orleans and many state bond projects. The Young Turks favored a "pay-as-you-go" approach, rather than too much bonded indebtedness. Jones himself would run unsuccessfully for governor in 1975.

He also pushed through a 2-cent sales tax increase in 1970 to fund higher pay for teachers and state employees, and worked to expand construction on many public college and university campuses. He reformed the Department of Corrections, and improved conditions in the Angola state penitentiary.

In 1969 and 1970, McKeithen’s administration received criticism in the national press. "Life" magazine claimed that the Mafia had influence in Louisiana’s state government. Thirty-nine state and local officials were eventually indicted, but no ties were ever linked to McKeithen himself.

McKeithen and race

McKeithen, presiding over Louisiana during the turbulent civil rights era, had an ambiguous record on race relations. He had first been elected in 1964 as a segregationist, and race-baiting rhetoric was a major part of his campaign. He fought publicly with President Lyndon Johnson’s Office of Economic Opportunity, and tried to appoint segregationist Shelby Jackson to head the state’s management of federal War on Poverty funds. As late as 1965, McKeithen publicly stated his support for segregation as the best system for Louisiana, but he later moderated his views on race relations. He personally intervened to stem racial violence in Bogalusa in 1965 and created a Biracial Commission on Human Rights, Relations, and Responsibilities designed to ease tensions. He appointed Israel Augustine and Ernest "Dutch" Morial as Louisiana’s first African-American judges since Reconstruction. But during 1967 disturbances, McKeithen took a hard line, threatening to have authorities shoot looters and rioters. McKeithen also later became a national spokesperson for the movement to oppose integration by busing school children.

After governorship

After he left office in 1972, McKeithen sought the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the death of long-term Democratic incumbent Allen J. Ellender. The filing deadline had closed for the Democratic primary; so he ran as an independent in the general election. He lost to the Democratic nominee, former Louisiana state Senator J. Bennett Johnston, Jr., as Richard M. Nixon and Spiro T. Agnew were easily carrying Louisiana for the Republicans.

Governor David C. Treen, a Republican, appointed the Democrat McKeithen to the LSU Board of Supervisors, a position that he held until his death. In his later years, McKeithen practiced law in Columbia and in Baton Rouge with his granddaughter, Marjorie. In 1991, McKeithen made headlines by resigning from the his local country club after it barred a black high school golfer from playing in a tournament there. In 1993, McKeithen was among the original inductees into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield. McKeithen died on June 4, 1999, in Columbia.

McKeithen's son, W. Fox McKeithen (1946-2005), was a member of the Louisiana legislature (1984-1988) and secretary of state (1988-2005). Fox McKeithen switched his party allegiance from Democratic to Republican after his first election as secretary of state in 1987, much to the consternation of his staunchly Democratic father and daughter.

External links

* [,%20John%20Julian/McKeithen,%20John%20Julian.shtml Cemetery Memorial] by La-Cemeteries


*Dawson, Joseph G. "The Louisiana Governors: From Iberville to Edwards." Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1990.
*Miriam G. Reeves. "The Governors of Louisiana." Pelican, 1998.
*Charles W. Tapp. “The Gubernatorial Election of 1964: An Affirmation of Political Trends.” Louisiana Academy of Sciences XXVII (1964)
*”McKeithen: a great salesman for Louisiana” Baton Rouge State-Times/Morning Advocate, June 5, 1999.
* [ State of Louisiana - Biography]
* [ Encyclopedia Louisiana entry on John McKeithen]

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