Ernest S. Clements

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Ernest S. Clements
Louisiana State Senator from Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, and Jefferson Davis parishes
In office
1936–1944
Preceded by W. Scott Heywood

Clement M. Moss

Succeeded by James O. Dolby

Gilbert F. Hennigan

Louisiana Public Service Commissioner from District 2
In office
1956–1974
Preceded by E. P. Roy
Succeeded by Thomas E. Powell (revised District 4)
Personal details
Born (1898-04-17)April 17, 1898
Died May 17, 1987(1987-05-17) (aged 89)
Political party Democratic

Gubernatorial candidate, 1944

Spouse(s) Rene Clements
Residence Oberlin, Allen Parish, Louisiana, USA

Ernest S. Clements (April 17, 1898 – May 17, 1987) was a seemingly unlikely member of the Long political faction in Louisiana in a career which spanned thirty-eight years from the 1930s to the 1970s. The pious, introverted Clements did not fit the public image of the no-holds-barred, extroverted Long man. William J. "Bill" Dodd, a long-time observer of Louisiana politics and a Clements friend, described him as "zealous and a fine orator in the old-school style . . . [but] so humorless, straitlaced, and self-righteous that none of us, from Earl (Earl Kemp Long) on down to the sound-truck drivers, could keep from playing tricks on him."

The most loyal Longite[edit]

Clements served in the Louisiana State Senate from 1936 to 1944, when he gave up the seat, won by Gilbert Franklin Hennigan, to launch a quixotic campaign for governor. Most of his fellow Longites were openly supporting an elderly attorney and former U.S. representative, Lewis L. Morgan of Covington in St. Tammany Parish. Clements polled only 20,404 votes in the Democratic primary. The winner that year was Jimmie Davis, a popular singer and occasional actor.

In 1948, Governor Earl Long named Clements head of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, a plum political prize. Clements, however, had expected to be named to head the highway department, a patronage distributor, and he was known for placing demanding "deadheads" on the state payroll. These are individuals who collect government checks for doing little or no productive labor. Bill Dodd said that Earl Long told Clements: "Ernest, you ain't gonna take over that highway business. You ain't got sense enough to handle it. I'm willing to put you in charge of them coons and possums [Wildlife and Fisheries]. You can take it or leave it!" So Clements, unsurprisingly but offended at Long's high-handed attitude, accepted the appointment.

In 1952, he worked for the election of Judge Carlos Spaht of Baton Rouge for governor, as Long instructed him to do. However, he would have supported Dodd, the outgoing lieutenant governor who was making the first of his two unsuccessful bids for governor, had Earl Long's leash not been so long. The winner that year was Robert F. Kennon of Minden in Webster Parish in northwestern Louisiana.

Public Service Commissioner[edit]

Thereafter, Clements spent his last years in politics as one of the three members of the Louisiana Public Service Commission, a rate-making body that supervises utilities and motor carriers. He was elected to the then District 2 seat in 1956, 1962, and 1968. He stepped down at the end of 1974, when the body was enlarged to five members under the new Louisiana Constitution. Clements was first elected to succeed Wade O. Martin, Sr., of St. Martin Parish, who died in August 1956. Martin was first elected to the commission in 1932 and hence served twenty-four years. After Martin's death, Governor Long had named E. P. Roy to a temporary appointment until the regular election could be held. Clements won that election. In the two years prior to reelection campaigns, Clements served as chairman of the commission. He was also chairman in his last two years on the commission, when the junior member was then 34-year-old Francis Edward Kennon, Jr., nephew of former Governor Robert Kennon.

Dodd recalls his friend Clements[edit]

Dodd, in his memoirs entitled Peapatch Politics: The Earl Long Era in Louisiana Politics, described Clements accordingly:

"He had a strong resonant voice, was an imposing figure of a man, and used words and phrases in his speech (I say speech, for he used the same speech with very slight changes for forty years) that were almost musical. His prose was as good as that of [American orator Bob Ingersoll or William Jennings Bryan. Any politician . . . who arrived at a meeting while Ernest was speaking immediately knew how long he had been on the platform and how much longer he would speak.

"The straitlaced Ernest never looked at a woman except his wife [Rene]; he was a teetotaler, didn't gamble, and [like U.S. Representative Otto Passman] didn't like to hear vulgar stories or words. He was what we called a square. Ernest's sterling traits made him a prime target for jokes and pranks, for he took himself very seriously.

"Earl used Ernest to lambast and blackguard former Governor Sam Jones, who was our main opponent in the 1948 governor's race. And since Jones and Ernest were from the same section of southwest Louisiana and had been classmates, but not friends, from college days, Ernest enjoyed his role as the hatchet man in 1948."

Dodd recalled how Clements used an anecdote about a "poor 89-year-old French lady" who got her "old-age pension" check from the Jones administration, and it was not the $30 promised at all, but a mere 25 cents.

Dodd said that Clements was jealous of Dodd because Dodd was eleven years younger than Clements, and Clements was not having quite as much upward mobility in politics as Dodd seemed to be having at the time. They were both from Allen Parish; Clements, form the parish seat in Oberlin and Dodd from Oakdale, though Dodd was a native of Texas and grew up in Sabine Parish. "It hurt his ego, for me, an outsider, to have gotten ahead of him," Dodd said.

Dodd recalled on a road trip that he, Clements, and others took to Winnsboro, the seat of Franklin Parish. Dodd said that Clements was "lecturing us on the evil effects of drinking (we had drunk a beer) and the dangers of fooling around with loose women, particularly during political campaigns. He used his long and successful career in politics free off drinking, womanizing, gambling, and other sins, as he called them, to emphasize the value of abstinence, which he equated with success."

In summation, Dodd laughed that Clements was "a hypocrite when it came to practicing what he preached, but he meant what he was saying when he said it."

Clements hence joins the colorful panorama of that breed known as "Louisiana politicians." His papers are at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches.

References[edit]

William J. "Bill" Dodd, Peapatch Politics: The Earl Long Era in Louisiana Politics, Baton Rouge: Claitor's Publishing, 1991

http://www.lpsc.org/(Interview with PSC staffer)

http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/guidedisplay.pl?index=l000418

http://ssdi.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/ssdi.cgi

http://www.nsula.edu/watson_library/cghrc_core/clements_ernest_collection.htm

Preceded by
E. P. Roy, interim
Louisiana Public Service Commissioner from District 2
1956–1974
Succeeded by
Thomas E. Powell, revised District 4
Preceded by
W. Scott Heywood

Clement M. Moss

Louisiana State Senator from Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, and Jefferson Davis parishes)

Ernest S. Clements with Sidney W. Sweeney and then James O. Dolby
1936–1944

Succeeded by
James O. Dolby

Gilbert Franklin Hennigan