James H. "Jim" Brown

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James Harvey "Jim" Brown
James H. "Jim" Brown
Louisiana State Senator (Catahoula, Concordia, Franklin, La Salle, and Tensas parishes)
In office
1972–1980
Preceded by J. C. "Sonny" Gilbert
Succeeded by Daniel Wesley "Dan" Richey
Louisiana Secretary of State
In office
1980–1988
Preceded by Paul J. Hardy
Succeeded by W. Fox McKeithen
Louisiana Insurance Commissioner
In office
December 4, 1991 – 2000
Preceded by Douglas D. "Doug" Green
Succeeded by J. Robert Wooley
Personal details
Born (1940-05-06) May 6, 1940 (age 74)
Ferriday, Concordia Parish
Louisiana, USA
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) (1) Dale Campbell Brown (later Mrs. William R. Fairbanks of Vidalia)

(2) Gladys Solomon Brown (born 1952)

Children Three daughters from first marriage, including journalist Campbell Brown (born 1968)

One son, James Brown, by second marriage

Alma mater University of North Carolina

Tulane University Law School

Occupation Political consultant, political commentator, former attorney
Religion Presbyterian

James Harvey "Jim" Brown, Jr. (born May 6, 1940), is a political consultant and political commentator based in Baton Rouge long active in Louisiana Democratic politics. In 1972, he was elected to both the Louisiana State Senate, to which he served two terms, and to the 1973 Constitutional Convention. He was Louisiana secretary of state from 1980 to 1988, and he ran unsuccessfully for governor in the 1987 nonpartisan blanket primary. He was elected insurance commissioner in 1991 and served until his resignation in October 2000. Brown's political career closed with a six-month prison sentence for lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about the status of an insurance company.

In 2004, Brown wrote a book entitled Justice Denied: How the Federal Justice System Failed Former Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown, seeking to refute the charges of which he was convicted in federal court and to rehabilitate his reputation. Brown was barred from practicing law until at least the end of 2006. On September 30, 2008, the Louisiana Supreme Court reinstated his right to resume his legal practice.[1]

Brown's daughter, Campbell Brown (born June 14, 1968), is a former CNN news anchor and former co-anchor of NBC's Weekend Today and a former network White House correspondent. She is married to Daniel Samuel "Dan" Senor (born 1971), a Republican political consultant to the administration of former President George W. Bush, who has appeared on Fox News in Washington, D.C.

Early years, education, family[edit]

Brown was born in Ferriday in Concordia Parish in eastern Louisiana, adjacent to the Mississippi River. His family moved to a Kansas suburb of Kansas City and then the St. Louis suburb of Ladue, Missouri. Brown graduated in 1958 from Ladue Horton Watkins High School. An excellent athlete, Brown broke several high school individual and team relay track records while at Ladue, including hurdle and sprint relay events. He was a member of the U.S. track team from 1962 to 1963.

Brown obtained a bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He also studied for a time at Cambridge University in England. He completed studies at the Tulane University Law School in New Orleans and was admitted to the bar. He began his law practice in Ferriday in 1966 and later operated primarily out of Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Brown is married to the former Gladys Solomon of Baton Rouge (born April 22, 1952). He has one son with Gladys, James Brown. He is the father of three daughters, including Campbell Brown, from his first marriage to the former Dale Campbell (born 1943). Dale is married to William R. Fairbanks (born 1946), and they reside in Vidalia, the seat of Concordia Parish.

Brown is Presbyterian.

State senator, 1972-1980[edit]

At thirty-one, Brown was among the youngest persons ever elected to the Louisiana Senate. He represented the newly established 32nd District, which included the northeastern parishes of Caldwell, Catahoula, Concordia, Franklin, La Salle, and Tensas. The previous senator, J.C. "Sonny" Gilbert of Sicily Island in Catahoula Parish, ran successfully for the Louisiana House of Representatives that year.

After he secured the pivotal Democratic nomination in the fall of 1971, Brown defeated the Republican nominee, John Henry Baker of Franklin Parish in the general election held on February 1, 1972. Baker claimed Delhi in Richland Parish as his residence, but he lived in a rural section of northern Franklin Parish. Brown polled 17,151 votes (64.1 percent) to Baker's 9,587 (35.9 percent). Baker, however, noted that he won Brown's home precinct in Ferriday. Baker had been elected as a Democrat in 1968 to the Franklin Parish Police Jury (county commission in most states), but he switched to the GOP in 1969.

In August 1972, Brown was elected in a nonpartisan race from his senatorial district as a delegate to the Louisiana Constitutional Convention, which met in 1973 in Baton Rouge. The convention produced the Louisiana Constitution of 1974, which replaced the previous document in use since 1921, and Brown was an active delegate in the proceedings. (Delegates were chosen from the 105 state House districts and the 39 state Senate districts.) Among his convention colleagues were veteran State Senator Sixty Rayburn of Bogalusa in Washington Parish and future Governor Buddy Roemer, then of Bossier City.

As a state senator, Brown supported openness in government. He worked to create some of the strongest laws in the nation to require open records and meetings. He also obtained legislative passage of landmark consumer protection legislation that offered Louisiana citizens greater financial privacy. He made himself available to radio and television stations and newspapers to keep his Senate activities in the public eye.

In 1976, while Brown was in the state Senate, the advertising executive Jim Leslie of Shreveport was assassinated amid passage of the state right-to-work law. Years later, while in Bossier City, Brown had a chance meeting with Leslie's son, a hotel bellman then thirty-four years of age. Brown subsequently wrote a column in which he recalled that Rusty Griffith was "ultimately tagged as the trigger man" in the Leslie assassination, but Griffith was himself assassinated in Brown's own Concordia Parish. "Some say it was to shut [Griffith] up from trying to blackmail" George W. D'Artois, the then Shreveport public safety commissioner who was implicated in the case but died during heart surgery in 1977 and never faced trial.[2]

In 1978, Brown launched an unsuccessful bid for the United States House of Representatives in Louisiana's 5th congressional district. He was defeated in the primary by the freshman incumbent representative, t Democrat Jerry Huckaby. The Fifth District covers the northeastern quadrant of the state and now extends as far south as Opelousas. Perennial candidate L.D. Knox of Winnsboro also ran against Huckaby that year and in subsequent elections as well. Knox had considered challenging Brown for the state senate in 1975 but deferred when Brown promised to work for "None of the Above" as a ballot option in Louisiana. In 1979, Knox actually changed his legal name to "None of the Above" Knox to enhance his campaign to expand such voter options.[3]

Secretary of State, 1980-1988[edit]

Brown did not seek a third term in the state Senate in the 1979 primary. Instead, he ran in the primary for Secretary of State to succeed Paul J. Hardy, then a Democrat, but later a Republican, who, at thirty-seven, ran unsuccessfully for governor. Brown faced a formidable challenger, it appeared, in the popular Sandra Thompson of Monroe, who had been the Secretary of Tourism, Recreation, and Culture in the administration of Governor Edwin Washington Edwards. Thompson led rather comfortably the primary, but Brown ran sufficiently strong to gain a general election berth. Thompson polled 504,808 votes (40.8 percent) to Brown's 391,849 ballots (31.7 percent). An African American candidate, Ben Jeffers, received 253,764 votes (20.5 percent). Republican candidate Dick Bruce, a New Orleans advertising executive who stressed tourism and international trade, polled 85,870 votes (6.9 percent).

Therefore, Brown had time to increase his support to that of an actual majority. Brown secured nearly all the votes obtained by Jeffers, and most of Bruce's supporters went with Thompson. Brown won the general election with 665,608 votes (51.1 percent) to her 617,907 (48.9 percent). The percent for Brown and Jeffers from the primary was a combined 52.2 percent, or 1.1 percentage points more than Brown had finally received. Thompson and Bruce in the first round of balloting had a combined 47.7 percent, or 1.2 percentage points below what Thompson finally received.

Brown's Senate seat reverted to an intraparty opponent, the outspoken conservative Dan Richey, also of Ferriday, who would hold the seat for one term. Years later, Brown and Richey would often be sparring rivals in blogs and columns. About all they had in common, it seemed, was a Ferriday background. The small town of Ferriday is also the birthplace of several famous Americans: the evangelist Jimmy Swaggart and his cousins, rock and roll singer Jerry Lee Lewis and Houston bar owner Mickey Gilley. Also from Ferriday were the late television journalist Howard K. Smith and the World War II hero Major General Claire Chennault, who, though born in Texas, grew up on a plantation near Waterproof in Tensas Parish but spent time in Ferriday as a youth. And there was the longtime Louisiana superintendent of education, Shelby M. Jackson, who grew up in the Monterey community near Ferriday.

As secretary of state, Brown proposed major legislation to update Louisiana's archaic election laws. He built what is considered the best state archives building in the country and made it convenient for researchers and historians seeking information from the files. And he streamlined the state’s corporation laws to make Louisiana more business friendly. The Shreveport Times called Brown "the best secretary of state in Louisiana history," and the Public Affairs Research Council labeled his office the most efficient in state government. Such accolades led to Brown being unopposed for a second term as secretary in the 1983 primary.

Gubernatorial aspirations, 1987[edit]

Brown did not seek a third term as secretary of state in 1987. Instead, he entered a crowded field for governor, including three-term incumbent Edwin Edwards. Buddy Roemer, U.S. representative from Louisiana's 4th congressional district, emerged as the frontrunner. Brown and Roemer had both been constitutional convention delegates some dozen years earlier. Also in the race was Republican U.S. Representative Bob Livingston from Louisiana's 1st congressional district, which includes the New Orleans suburbs. Livingston was only the third member of his party ever to be elected to the U.S. House from Louisiana since Reconstruction. Another candidate was the French-speaking Third District Congressman, then a Democrat, but later a Republican, Billy Tauzin of Lafourche Parish. Former Democratic Congressman and District Attorney Speedy O. Long of La Salle Parish, in Brown's former senatorial district, made a second quixotic gubernatorial bid that year.

Roemer led the primary balloting (33 percent) but lacked a majority and was hence forced into a potential general election with Edwards (28 percent). Brown finished in fifth place with 138,324 votes (9 percent). Edwards withdrew from a second race and left Roemer in effect the governor-elect. It was noted that Roemer could not consolidate majority support because of Edwards' withdrawal. Some believe his "minority" governorship set the stage for a one-term administration. Roemer was eliminated from the 1991 general election by Edwards and former Ku Klux Klan figure David Duke.

In debate in 1987, Brown had been asked if there were any circumstances in which he could support Edwards in the general election. He demurred a straight answer to the "hypothetical" question. Roemer, however, said flatly that he would not support Edwards in a second race regardless of Edwards' opponent. This was somewhat ironic in that Roemer's father, Charles E. Roemer, II, had been Edwards' first commissioner of administration. The senior Roemer, however, had been convicted of bribery in 1980 and later served a prison sentence. Some think Roemer's answer to the question about possibly supporting Edwards gave him the needed momentum to overcome Livingston, Tauzin, and Brown. Ironically, though in 1991, Roemer did endorse Edwards over the unendorsed Republican candidate, David Duke.

First election as insurance commissioner, 1991[edit]

Brown resumed his law practice from 1988 to 1991, when he was again bitten by the political bug and ran for insurance commissioner. That office was in shambles from scandals that had occurred under two previous discredited Democratic commissioners, Sherman A. Bernard of Jefferson Parish and Doug Green of Baton Rouge.

Brown led in the 1991 primary, with 572,719 votes (40 percent). He was forced into a general election with New Orleans Republican city council member Peggy Wilson, who polled 435,355 votes (30 percent). Former Commissioner Bernard drew 270,749 votes (19 percent). Doug Green was not a candidate as he had been forced earlier in the year out of office. Two other Democrats and two other Republicans shared another 11 percent of the vote. In the November 16, 1991, general election, in which Edwards defeated Duke for the governorship, Brown was a big winner over Mrs. Wilson. He polled 1,002,038 (60 percent) to her 674,097 (40 percent). Wilson outpolled Duke, who was a drag on the other Republican candidates that year, by some three thousand votes.

Brown took office early – on December 4, 1991. Brown explained in a press release why he had assumed his office before the other elected constitutional officers were sworn in:

I had initially planned to take office along with the other state elected officials in January. However, because of the continuing insurance crisis, especially in regards to the growing insolvency problem, I feel that I must address these issues immediately and put the department on the proper course. If we're going to get this mess under control, we're going to have to do it right. And most of the things we are going to do aren't going to be big surprises. I presented a 70-page plan of restructure and reform to the voters. Since the voters elected me based greatly on the strength of that proposal, I think it would be improper for me not to make every effort to put that plan into action as soon as possible.

Push for insurance reforms[edit]

The legislature permitted Brown to hire eighty-five additional employees and appropriated $2 million for the required reform efforts.

Under Brown's tenure, the department obtained accreditation from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Insurance officials nationwide credited Brown with making a dramatic turnaround in the office, compared to the troubles under Bernard and Green.

As commissioner, Brown hosted a weekly public affairs television program called Town Meeting Louisiana Style, which could be viewed on some fifty cable systems around the state.

Brown ordered a team of insurance examiners to audit all Louisiana-based insurance companies. He established an anti-fraud unit within the department. Both measures, early in his administration, were intended to improve the state's business climate so as to attract insurance companies desiring to conduct operations in Louisiana.

In July 1992, Brown appointed the Louisiana Health Care Commission, a panel that he created to propose legislation to address the problem of the affordability and availability of health care.

A month later, Hurricane Andrew struck, and Brown dispatched department personnel to five emergency relief centers in south Louisiana to expedite insurance claims by working with storm victims and insurance company representatives.

In June 1993, the Shreveport Times stated editorially that Brown "should be strongly commended for transforming one of Louisiana's most corrupt agencies into a hard working agency dedicated to protecting people - not picking their pockets."

Similarly, the Madison Journal in Tallulah in Madison Parish, declared in August 1993 that the office which Brown "took over was in shambles. Brown has worked diligently to bring stability to the insurance industry in Louisiana. He has cleaned house, and the people of the insurance industry are complimentary of his performance."

Reelection and more reforms, 1995-1999[edit]

His work for reform, reorganization, and modernization paid off at the ballot box. The department closed 21 failing insurance companies and made more than 160 referrals that led to indictments of individuals involved in questionable insurance practices.

Brown was reelected in the 1995 primary by the same margin that he achieved in the 1991 general election. He received 809,778 votes (60 percent) to 373,234 (28 percent) for Republican Sally Nungesser of New Orleans, a former press secretary to Treen and the niece of former Treen aide and later Republican state chairman William "Billy" Nungesser. Several other candidates shared the remaining 12 percent of the vote.

In 1997, Brown released a legislative plan that proposed a significant crackdown on driving while intoxicated and uninsured motorists since driver's licenses were first required in Louisiana in 1946. The legislature approved his bills to raise the driving age from 15 to 16, to limit the availability of uninsured motorists to recover losses from other drivers, the seize vehicles from multiple drunken-driving offenders, to lower the blood alcohol content for DWI, and to impound uninsured vehicles.

In 1998, Brown announced a new proposal to extend health care coverage to 100,000 Louisiana children through a federally funded program within his department.

Troubles abound, 1999-2000[edit]

Late in 1999, just two weeks before the Louisiana primary election, Brown was indicted for lying to the FBI during a routine investigation. He still won a solid victory despite the indictment, 426,098 ballots (57 percent) to 319,124 for the Republican candidate, Allen I. Boudreaux, Jr., a New Orleans attorney who specialized in insurance law and was the director of the state Motor Vehicle Division under Republican Governor Murphy J. Foster, Jr. Turnout was lighter in the 1999 primary than in earlier ones in which Brown had been a candidate for office because Foster was headed to an easy reelection that year. More than forty newspapers endorsed Brown's reelection.

Many came to Brown's defense. "People who know Brown or know his reputation, including members of the press, know the charges against him are politically motivated hooey," wrote the now defunct Shreveport Journal on its op-ed page in the Shreveport Times on October 15, 1999.

Brown was sworn in for his third term in January 2000 but never finished the year in office. His crackdown netted the arrest of five insurance agents accused of fraudulent activities.

As his time as commissioner wound down, Brown announced that Allstate Insurance had lifted its freeze on issuing new homeowners insurance policies in Louisiana. Thereafter, Brown declared that State Farm would rebate $31.5 million to auto policyholders in Louisiana, and a few days later, the company pronounced a $19.5 million rate rollback. Brown cited measures that he implemented, such as "no pay, no play", impoundment, and a crackdown on drunk drivers as one of the reasons for the lower automobile rates.

Though he steadfastly denied having lied to an FBI agent during an investigation of an insurance company, Brown was convicted and served six months in Federal Corrections Institution in Oakdale in Allen Parish. He resigned and was succeeded by his first deputy and former law partner, J. Robert Wooley, a Democrat, who in turn would win the seat in the 2003 general election. Wooley resigned as insurance commissioner on February 15, 2006, and was succeeded by his first deputy, Jim Donelon of Jefferson Parish, a Republican former member of the Louisiana House of Representatives. Donelon pledged to restoring public confidence in the department. He was narrowly elected to the 15-month unexpired term for the position in the special election held on September 30, 2006. Donelon defeated two candidates, principally a Republican state senator from Dry Creek in Beauregard Parish, James David Cain.

Brown today[edit]

Brown writes extensively on Louisiana politics and public affairs through his Internet blog. Though his training is in law, he exudes considerable knowledge of Louisiana history and politics.[citation needed] Brown sometimes teaches classes in Louisiana history[citation needed] at both Tulane and Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

In 2008, Brown was invited to his native Ferriday by then Secretary of State Jay Dardenne to participate in the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the restored Arcade Theatre adjacent to the state-subsidized Delta Music Museum.

References[edit]

  1. ^ KSYL Radio, 970 AM, Monroe, Louisiana
  2. ^ James H. "Jim" Brown (March 23, 2006). "Jim Leslie's Murder: Thirty Years Ago (1976) in Baton Rouge". jimbrownla.com. Retrieved July 26, 2014. 
  3. ^ "Johnny Gunter, "L.D. 'None of the Above' Knox Dies"". Monroe News Star, May 28, 2009. Retrieved June 6, 2009. [dead link]
Louisiana Senate
Preceded by
Jess Carr "Sonny" Gilbert, II
Louisiana State Senate from District 32
1972–1980
Succeeded by
Daniel Wesley "Dan" Richey
Political offices
Preceded by
Paul Hardy
Louisiana Secretary of State
1980–1988
Succeeded by
W. Fox McKeithen
Preceded by
Douglas D. "Doug" Green
Louisiana Commissioner of Insurance
1991–2000
Succeeded by
J. Robert Wooley