|Wiley Douglas Fowler, Sr.|
|Louisiana Elections Commissioner|
1959 – December 31, 1979
|Preceded by||Drayton Boucher|
|Succeeded by||Jerry Marston Fowler|
|Mayor of Coushatta|
|Red River Parish Clerk of Court|
April 26, 1906|
Coushatta, Red River Parish, Louisiana, USA
|Died||January 29, 1980
|Spouse(s)||Abbie Marston Fowler (1906-1976)|
|Children||Douglas Fowler, Jr. (1938-1998)
Jerry Marston Fowler (1940-2009)
Wiley Douglas Fowler, Sr. (November 17, 1906–January 29, 1980), was a local politician from rural Red River Parish in north Louisiana, a loyal supporter of Governor Earl Kemp Long, and his state's chief elections officer from 1959, until declining health forced his retirement, effective December 31, 1979. Fowler laid the groundwork for a small-scale family political dynasty in Louisiana. Jerry Marston Fowler succeeded his father as elections commissioner and served until a scandal caused his own defeat, effective in 2000. And one of Fowler's two brothers, Hendrix Marion "Mutt" Fowler, Sr., went into local politics, served in the Louisiana House of Representatives for fourteen years and ended his public career, also amid a scandal, as the executive director of the Sabine River Authority in Many (pronounced MAN NIE).
Fowler was a native of Coushatta, the Red River Parish seat. He was elected three times as the parish clerk of court: 1940, 1944, and 1948. He was mayor of Coushatta from 1952-1954. "Mutt" Fowler also later served as mayor of their community.
Fowler runs for state auditor
In 1952, Fowler ran unsuccessfully for state auditor on the Hale Boggs intraparty gubernatorial ticket. The incumbent L.B. Baynard in turn lost the runoff election to Allison Kolb, the choice of the successful candidate gor governor, Robert F. Kennon of Minden.
In 1956, Fowler, a particular favorite of Mrs. Blanche R. Long, the governor's wife, ran again for state auditor but was defeated in the primary by Bill Dodd, who had served as lieutenant governor under Earl Long from 1948 to 1952. Also in that race was the incument Allison Kolb, who would later defect to the Republican Party and run unsuccessfully for state treasurer in 1968. The Long faction was divided over whether to back Fowler or Dodd for auditor.
Thereafter, Long rewarded Fowler for his loyalty to the Long faction and named him the third appointed "custodian of voting machines." The legislature created the unusual position—the only in the nation—at Long's request as a result of a bitter dispute that the governor was having with Secretary of State Wade O. Martin, Jr., whose office then handled elections duties. A political commentator, Alan Ehrenhalt, years later dubbed the "custodianship" as the "most ridiculous elective office in the history of state government."
Custodian of voting machines
Fowler was appointed by Long as the director of the state Board of Registration, a position earlier held by Long confidant Drayton Boucher of Springhill, a former member of the Louisiana State Senate from Webster and Bossier parishes. Fowler's title was changed to "custodian" in 1959, and he ran for the position in the 1959-1960 Democratic primaries. Fowler said that he deserved the appointment because "I worked hard enough for it, and no one deserved it more," and he "beat the bushes" for Long in the 1947-1948 gubernatorial cycle. That year Long defeated his old intraparty rival, former Governor Sam Houston Jones of Lake Charles. Fowler, meanwhile, defeated a number of opponents in a close Democratic primary race in 1959.
In the Democratic runoff election held on January 9, 1960, Fowler defeated David Wallace Chennault, Sr. (1923-1980), a native of El Paso, Texas, then living in Monroe. Chennault was the sixth of eight children of General Claire Chennault of the World War II Flying Tigers and first wife, Nell Thompson Chennault (1893-1977, originally from Winnsboro, whom Chennault divorced. Chennault ran on the losing intraparty ticket headed by DeLesseps Story Morrison, the mayor of New Orleans who ran unsuccessfully for the second of three times in a bid to become governor of Louisiana. Fowler ran on the rival ticket headed by former Governor Jimmie Davis, who staged a comeback for a second term in the office. David Chennault died at the age of fifty-six in Houston, Texas, but he still listed a Monroe address with the Social Security Administration at the time of his passing.
In the general election held on April 19, 1960, Fowler overwhelmed William C. Porter (1910-1977), a Republican railroad claims agent from Alexandria, 86.8 percent to 13.2 percent. Porter had been an alternate delegate to the 1956 Republican National Convention in San Francisco, California.
In 1963-1964, Fowler defeated Raymond Laborde, the mayor of Marksville, the seat of Avoyelles Parish, and later a state representative from 1972-1992, and commissioner of administration in the fourth and final term of Edwin Washington Edwards. An Edwards boyhood friend, Laborde ran on the intraparty ticket headed by Chep Morrison. Laborde argued unsuccessfully at the time for the abolition of Fowler's office. All of the Morrison candidates were defeated.
Fowler was thereafter easily reelected to the administrative position in 1968, 1972, and 1975.
Facing Edward Christiansen, 1972
In 1971, Fowler won Democratic renomination over several candidates, including Jerome Sauer, who raised questions about the validity of voting machines in providing an accurate voter cournt. Fowler then faced only his second Republican opponent, reformer Edward W. Christiansen, Jr., a retired Air Force colonel and a former mathematics instructor at Tulane University in New Orleans. Thereafter a delegate to the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, Florida, Christiansen proposed that modern electronic voting devices be adopted to replace what he called "bulky, heavy, cumbersome, cantankerous" voting machines in use since the administration of Governor Robert F. Kennon (1952-1956). Voting machines, often called "Shoup machines" for their inventor, Ransom Shoup, were used in some of the more populous parishes, including East Baton Rouge, Caddo (Shreveport) and Calcasieu (Lake Charles) prior to the Kennon administration, but it was Kennon who obtained electronic machines in all precincts.
Christiansen ran on the Republican slate headed by gubernatorial candidate David C. Treen, then of Jefferson Parish. While Treen obtained 42.8 percent of the vote against Democrat Edwin Washington Edwards, Christiansen polled only 265,525 votes (25.5 percent). The entrenched Fowler received 721,987 votes (71.7 percent), and the American Party nominee Louis D. Arnaud drew 28,413 votes (2.8 percent).
In 1975, in the first-ever nonpartisan blanket primary, or jungle primary in Louisiana, Fowler easily defeated two fellow Democrats who sought the elections commissioner's position, Jerome A. Sauer, who charged that Louisiana voting machines can easily be rigged, and Delores Burrell Vanison.
Jerry Fowler succeeds his father
Under the Louisiana Constitution of 1974, the office of "custodian of voting machines" was renamed "elections commissioner." Fowler won a final term in the 1975 jungle primary, and then, in 1980, shortly after his death, the office reverted to his son. Jerry Fowler won the 1979 general election over the Republican John Henry Baker of Franklin Parish, whose unusual campaign called for the abolition of the election commissioner's position and the return of the duties to the secretary of state. Baker's proposal, defeated at the polls, was finally adopted a quarter of a century later in 2004. Baker drew the support of former state Representative and state Senator Robert G. "Bob" Jones of Lake Charles, whose father Long and Fowler had worked to defeat in 1948.
Fowler and his friend, former state Senator B.B. "Sixty" Rayburn, Sr., of Bogalusa in Washington Parish, were two Earl Long "cronies" who survived in office far beyond the Long gubernatorial terms, which finally closed in 1960. Rayburn recalled that he and Fowler "toured the state together with Earl in 1956. He was a very close, dear friend of mine. . . . He was just a fine a man as I have ever known." Earl Long's nephew, then U.S. Senator Russell B. Long, said that "few people can claim to have served their state harder, more faithfully, and for a longer period than Doug Fowler. As commissioner of elections, he was an exemplary state official who won reelection time after time."
Jerry Fowler, meanwhile, later ran afoul of the law, was defeated for a sixth term in the 1999 primary, and served time in a federal prison in Texas for bribery and income tax evasion. Jerry Fowler's wife, Mari Ann, disappeared one Christmas weekend when she went to visit her husband in prison, was never located, and has been declared legally dead.
Fowler was a widower for the last four years of his life. His wife, Abbie Marston Fowler, was born on September 22, 1906 and died on July 20, 1976, as a result of severe injuries sustained in an automobile accident in Baton Rouge on December 4, 1975. Fowler and his driver, Fred Schlesinger, a state employee, were also injured in the accident but recovered. The insurance company acknowledged that the other driver, an employee of Western Union Telegraph Co., was liable for the accident, and compensation was paid to both Fowlers and to Schlesinger. The two Fowler sons later sued for damages after their mother's death. They retained the services of the Natchitoches attorney and then state Senator Donald G. "Don" Kelly, a fellow Democrat.
Fowler died at seventy-three of emphysema and pneumonia in the Natchitoches Parish Hospital in Natchitoches. His funeral was held on February 1, 1980, in his home church, First United Methodist in Coushatta. In addition to Jerry Fowler, Douglas Fowler was also survived by his elder son, Dr. Wiley Douglas Fowler, Jr. (November 15, 1938—October 2, 1998), then of Jacksonville, Florida; two brothers, "Mutt" Fowler, then a Coushatta insurance agent, and John R. Fowler (March 3, 1912—May 21, 1990), then a Coushatta drug store owner; two sisters; eight grandchildren; several nieces and nephews, including Katherine Ann "Kathy" Fowler (1946-2006) and H.M. "Buddy" Fowler, Jr., of Coushatta.
Fowler, his wife, and elder son are buried in the family plot at Springville Cemetery in Coushatta.
In 1999, Fowler was inducted posthumously into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield in Winn Parish. In its obituary of Fowler, the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate said that the former commissioner's favorite sport was clearly "politicking."
- The Social Security Death Index erroneously lists Fowlers death date as "March 1980", but his tombstone says January 29, and the newspaper article on his death was published on January 31, 1980.
- Minden Press, December 28, 1951, p. 1
- "Social Security Death Index". ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com. Retrieved June 6, 2010.
- Minden Press, January 11, 1960
- "Chep Morrison and Ticket Here Monday", Minden Herald, September 17, 1959, p. 1
- "Ancestors of Claire Lee Chennault". familytreemaker.genealogy.com. Retrieved June 6, 2010.
- Minden Press-Herald, November 6, 1971
- Minden Press-Herald, November 3, 1975, p. 1
"Douglas Fowler succumbs at 73," Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, January 31, 1980
Shreveport Times, January 31, 1980
Shreveport Journal, January 22, 1972
William J. "Bill" Dodd, Peapatch Politics (Baton Rouge: Claitor's Publishing, 1990)
Springville Cemetery, Coushatta, grave search
|Louisiana Elections Commissioner
Wiley Douglas Fowler, Sr.
Jerry Marston Fowler