Dave L. Pearce

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For other people named David Pearce, see David Pearce (disambiguation).
David L. "Dave" Pearce
Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry
In office
1952–1956
Preceded by W. E. Anderson
Succeeded by Sidney McCrory
Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry
In office
1960–1976
Preceded by Sidney McCrory
Succeeded by Gilbert L. "Gil" Dozier
Louisiana State Representative from West Carroll Parish
In office
1940–1948
Preceded by D.F. Edwards
Succeeded by Dudley Seamans
Personal details
Born September 8, 1905
Claiborne Parish, Louisiana, USA
Died May 28, 1984 (aged 78)
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Oldham Pearce (died 1974)
Children Two daughters
Occupation Farmer, businessman, insurance agent
Religion Church of God[1]

David L. "Dave" Pearce (September 8, 1905[1] — May 28, 1984) was a Democrat who served as the Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry from 1952 to 1956 and again from 1960 to 1976. Allied with anti-Long elements in the state, Pearce was unseated in the Democratic primary after a single term in 1956 by the Longite entomologist Sidney McCrory of Ascension Parish. However, Pearce regained the post in 1960 and then lost it again in Louisiana's first-ever nonpartisan blanket primary in 1975 to a fellow Democrat, Gil Dozier. He also failed in a 1979 campaign to regain the office.


Background[edit]

Pearce was born in Claiborne Parish in north Louisiana to a farmer and a school teacher. He grew up on a farm and graduated from the since defunct high school in Pioneer in West Carroll Parish in the northeastern corner of the state. He studied music in Dayton, Tennessee, under A. J. Shawlater.[1] As a young man, Pearce sold brushes and mops to the wives of farmers in West Carroll and East Carroll parishes. In 1928, he married the former Elizabeth Oldham (1907–1974) and had two daughters. He operated a livestock auction barn in 1941; otherwise, he engaged in farming and ran a mercantile business.[1]

He represented conservative and mostly white West Carroll Parish in the Louisiana House of Representatives from 1940 to 1948. In his second legislative term, which coincided with the first Jimmie Davis gubernatorial administration, he was chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. From his experience as the legislative point man on agriculture, Pearce decided thereafter to seek the agriculture commissioner's post.


Scope of the agriculture commissioner[edit]

The agriculture commissioner's office regulates the growing, harvesting, inspection, and sale of crops and livestock. It inspects the calibration of the pumps at gasoline stations and scales in grocery stores. The department ascertains that automatic price-readers in stores match up with the posted prices on products. Agriculture commissioners in other states perform these same essential functions as well.

The tall bespectacled Pearce wore a large white hat to depict himself as one of the "good guys." He "looked the part" of an agriculture commissioner and was particularly popular in rural areas of the state, specifically the northeast quadrant, because of his steadfast promotion of Louisiana agricultural products. His office also published newsletters and pamphlets with practical information useful to farmers and consumers.

Earl Long fields McCrory against Pearce[edit]

Pearce first ran for agricultural commissioner in 1948 on the intra-party ticket of former Governor Sam Houston Jones of Lake Charles,[2] who was handily defeated by another former governor, Earl Kemp Long. Pearce lost to W. E. Anderson of Tangipahoa Parish. Anderson was renominated in 1952 but died at the end of his current term. Long appointed Pearce to finish Anderson's term, and Pearce then won a special election and served during the term of the anti-Long Robert F. Kennon of Minden.[3]

Bill Dodd, a veteran state officeholder and an astute observer of Louisiana politics in the mid-twentieth century, said that Earl Long "hated" Pearce and put up the "egghead" Sidney McCrory to unseat Pearce in the 1956 primary. Dodd did not explain why Long "hated" Pearce, but McCrory did defeat Pearce that year.

In his Peapatch Politics: The Earl Long Era in Louisiana Politics, Dodd noted with humor how Long became irritated with McCrory, who had been invited on Long's intraparty ticket "to harass and, we hoped, defeat Uncle Earl's old political enemy, Dave Pearce. All McCrory could talk about was pesticides and how to get rid of different kinds of crop-killing bugs. His main topic and claim to fame, which dominated all of his speeches, whether he was in cotton country, forestry areas, or the city of New Orleans, was his eradicating the pink boll worms from Louisiana cotton fields. Uncle Earl almost went crazy when had to listen to ... McCrory kill enough pink boll worms to fill the Atlantic Ocean."

Pearce staged a comeback and defeated McCrory in the 1959 primary when anti-Long sentiment was running strongly in the state. McCrory was eliminated from the runoff election as Pearce defeated George W. Shannon, who ran on the intraparty ticket headed by gubernatorial candidate deLesseps Story Morrison, the then mayor of New Orleans.[4]

McCrory had more success in 1960 when he was a key organizer for the John F. Kennedy/Lyndon B. Johnson ticket, which handily carried Louisiana's then ten electoral votes. His ties to Kennedy are traced through McCrory's brother-in-law, who was a fellow PT boat commander with Kennedy during World War II.[5] McCrory ran again for agriculture commissioner in 1963 in a primary held two weeks after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but Pearce was renominated and then ran unopposed in the general election held on March 3, 1964. Pearce also prevailed in 1967 and again in 1971, when he defeated fellow Democrat Earl R. Banks.[6] He had no Republican opposition during any of those elections. In the 1971 contest, Pearce's last successful one, he referred to himself in an advertisement as "Louisiana Top Salesman . . . Progressive, Experienced Administrator."[7]

In 1970, Pearce got into a fistfight with State Senator John G. Schwegmann of Metairie in Jefferson Parish after Pearce and Governor McKeithen accused Schwegmann of short-weighing meats to his customers.[8]

Pearce opposed the election of fellow Democrat Edwin Washington Edwards as governor in the February 1, 1972, general election after Edwards unveiled a reform plan that would require appointment, instead of election, of the agriculture commissioner. Pearce said the political philosophy prevalent in Washington, D.C., where Edwards served in the U.S. House, "has wrecked us and taken all our liberties by people who are not elected."[9] When Edwards' opponent, David C. Treen, said that he would favor keeping Pearce's post elective, Pearce virtually endorsed the Republican nominee.[10] While not technically endorsing Treen, Pearce said that the Republican platform was closer to his views than were the positions of Edwards, who defeated Treen by a comfortable margin.[11] The agriculture commissioner has through the years remained an elected position.

Pearce's defeats in 1975 and 1979[edit]

In 1975, Pearce was unseated in the nonpartisan blanket primary by Gil Dozier of Baton Rouge. Dozier led the balloting with 42 percent; Pearce trailed with 30 percent and decided not to pursue a general election (commonly called the runoff in Louisiana) contest with Dozier, who therefore won the position outright. Allegations of bribery, perjury, and extortion in connection with his job duties worked to sink Pearce's career. A third candidate in the field was the outgoing State Representative Lantz Womack of Winnsboro, who like Pearce had West Carroll Parish roots.

In the 1979 nonpartisan blanket primary, Democratic agribusinessman Bob Odom of Zachary in East Baton Rouge Parish, who had worked in the Agriculture Department in three positions under Pearce and was fired thereafter by Dozier, defeated both Dozier and Pearce. This was Pearce's last political campaign.

A young Bastrop (Morehouse Parish) farmer, Leland George Rawls, II (born 1950), a member of the Republican State Central Committee, also ran for the position in the 1979 primary. Rawls carried a hoe during the campaign as a reminder of his promise to "promote, protect, and advance the Agriculture Department."[12] Rawls finished far behind the three leading Democrat candidates.

In the October 27, 1979, primary Odom led with 563,515 (45.9 percent) to Dozier's 382,486 (31.1 percent). Pearce polled 163,873 (13.4 percent), Rawls 67,021 (5.5 percent), and 50,045 votes (4 percent) went to another minor candidate, Joe Coco. In the general election held on December 8, 1979, Odom defeated Dozier, 853,578 (67.2 percent) to 415,714 (32.8 percent). The general election drew some 43,000 more voters in the agriculture commissioner's race than had the primary. Dozier's percent was practically unchanged from the primary to the general election.

The undoing of Dave Pearce[edit]

Pearce's political decline actually began in 1972, with the disclosure that the state Market Commission had granted $330,000 in state loans to Winnfield Minerals, Inc., which went broke without repaying any of the funds. Pearce's son-in-law was a stockholder in the company.

A joint legislative committee looked into the matter, and, in the summer of 1973, an East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury indicted Pearce on thirty-one charges, twenty-five for public payroll extortion, three for public bribery, one for felony theft, one for governmental ethics violation, and one for perjury. Later, he was accused with three more perjury offenses as well.

Pearce was convicted of two misdemeanors and was fined $300 for contempt of a legislative committee and $750 for violation of the Louisiana Code of Ethics.

Eighty-two convictions were eventually returned from indictments of former Agriculture Department employees.

Pearce pleaded guilty to the misdemeanors. Then East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Ossie Brown in July 1975 dropped all remaining charges "in the spirit of justice and fairness" because a key witness had died and because Pearce's health was a concern.

Further scandals against Dozier and Odom[edit]

In the fall of 1980, Dozier was convicted by a federal jury on three counts of extortion and one of racketeering and was sentenced to eighteen years in prison. He served only four; his sentence was commuted to the two years served by U.S. President Ronald W. Reagan.[13]

Odom was indicted by an East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury in 2002 on twenty-one charges, including bribery, extortion, and theft. He was acquitted, ran again for a seventh term in the 2003 nonpartisan blanket primary and was an easy winner.

The legacy of corruption in Louisiana[edit]

After his legal troubles surfaced, Odom drew a quick defender in then Secretary of State W. Fox McKeithen, a Democrat-turned-Republican: "The Bob Odom that I've known is a good, straight man, and I'd be surprised if they find anything on him."

Another Republican, however, was appalled at Odom's troubles. State Senate President John Hainkel of New Orleans, said that Odom's troubles, coming after those of Pearce and Dozier, smear the state's reputation amid corporate board rooms across the country who might be considering locating plants in Louisiana. Hainkel declared that Odom's legal troubles were "very disappointing to me. . . [They don't] help us."

Three other statewide elected Democratic officials were also convicted and imprisoned in recent years: former Elections Commissioner Jerry Fowler, former Governor Edwin Edwards and former Insurance Commissioner James H. "Jim" Brown. Two previous insurance commissioners, Sherman A. Bernard and Doug Green, were also found guilty of corruption and imprisoned.[14]

Dave Pearce Gospel Sing[edit]

Pearce, a member of the Church of God,[15] is remembered through the Dave L. Pearce Memorial Gospel Sing, which is held in his honor every March in Oak Grove, the West Carroll Parish seat of government. Despite his political upheavals, Pearce was a local favorite in West Carroll and surrounding parishes for many years. Oddly, one of his political allies, Jimmie Davis, was also a gospel singer but on a wider scale than Pearce.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d "Dave L. Pearce, p. 22". parlouisiana.org. Retrieved October 7, 2013. 
  2. ^ Minden Herald, January 16, 1948, p. 2
  3. ^ "Bill Sherman, "Louisiana ag chiefs: past and present", July 3, 2008". ldaf.state.la.us. Retrieved May 1, 2013. 
  4. ^ Minden Herald, December 3, 1959; Minden Press, January 11, 1960
  5. ^ "W. C. Abbott, Jr., "A barefoot boy from Home Villa had a hand in history"". thepineywoods.com. Retrieved May 2, 2013. 
  6. ^ Sample ballot, Minden Press-Herald, November 6, 1971
  7. ^ Minden Press-Herald, October 26, 1971, p. 12A
  8. ^ Leo Honeycutt, Edwin Edwards: Governor of Louisiana, Lisburn Press, p. 72
  9. ^ "Treen Gets Support in State Race", Minden Press-Herald, January 13, 1972, p. 1
  10. ^ Minden Press-Herald, January 21, 1972, p. 1
  11. ^ Minden Press-Herald, January 13, 1972, p. 1
  12. ^ "Hoe carrying candidate wants top ag post", Ruston Daily Leader, September 3, 1979, p. 1
  13. ^ http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1282/is_v38/ai_4328771/pg_7?tag=artBody;col1[dead link]
  14. ^ "Jim Bradshaw, "Louisiana's seen several jailed state officials", October 2002". capitolwatch.reallouisiana.com. Retrieved June 15, 2013. 
  15. ^ It is unclear to which of numerous "Church of God" denominations Pearce belonged.
Preceded by
D. F. Edwards
Louisiana State Representative from West Carroll Parish
1940–1948
Succeeded by
Dudley Seamans
Preceded by
W. E. Anderson
Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry
1952–1956
Succeeded by
Sidney McCrory
Preceded by
Sidney McCrory
Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry
1960–1976
Succeeded by
Gil Dozier