John Sidney Garrett

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John Sidney Garrett
Louisiana State Representative from Claiborne, Bienville, and Webster parishes
In office
1948–1972
Preceded by William Monroe "Willie" Rainach
Succeeded by Louise Brazzel Johnson
Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives (from Claiborne Parish)
In office
1968–1972
Preceded by Vail M. Delony
Succeeded by Edgerton L. "Bubba" Henry
Personal details
Born (1921-10-29)October 29, 1921
Millerton, Claiborne Parish
Louisiana, USA
Died May 28, 2005(2005-05-28) (aged 83)
Homer in Claiborne Parish, Louisiana, USA
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Meredith McEachern Garrett
Children Richie, Mark, and Tommy Garrett
Occupation Businessman
Religion United Methodist
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Battles/wars World War II

John Sidney Garrett (October 29, 1921 – May 28, 2005) was a conservative Democratic member of the Louisiana House of Representatives who served from 1948 to 1972 under four gubernatorial administrations. Garrett was a successful businessman in the small town of Haynesville in Claiborne Parish south of the Arkansas state line. In his last term, he was defeated for reelection even though he was the Speaker of the House. In 1966, Garrett made a strong but losing primary race for the Louisiana Public Service Commission to fill the seat vacated by the election of John Julian McKeithen as governor. At the time, there were only three PSC districts; the number was increased to five under the Louisiana Constitution of 1974.


Background[edit]

Garrett was among five sons born in Millerton, an unincorporated area of Claiborne Parish, to John Hick Garrett (1890–1957) and the former Nobie Hunt (1899–1961). The five Garrett brothers years later placed a plaque in Room 109 of the Haynesville Hospital (built 1925) in their parents' memory.[1]

Garrett graduated from Haynesville High School, attended Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, and graduated from Louisiana Tech University (then Louisiana Polytechnic Institute) in Ruston in Lincoln Parish. In 1994, Garrett was honored as one of 100 "Outstanding Alumni" of Tech during the institution's centennial celebration.

During World War II, Garrett served in the U.S. Army in the European theater of operations. He was a member of the 102nd and 45th Infantry Divisions. He was a captain and battery commander with the field artillery.

Garrett's business ventures included Garrett's Department Store, Garrett Land and Timber Corporation, and Garrett Oil Field Service. He was the chairman of the board of directors of Planter's Bank and Trust Company.

Garrett in the legislature[edit]

Garrett succeeded the segregationist Representative William M. Rainach, who went on to serve in the Louisiana State Senate and was a 1959 Democratic gubernatorial contender. Garrett was originally a segregationist as well who like Rainach had chaired the Joint Legislative Committee on Segregation. In support of the segregationist White Citizen's Council, begun by Rainach, Garrett told an audience in Minden that the "segregation problem is the most serious you will face in your lifetime. The Black Monday (Brown v. Board of Education) ruling of the Supreme Court was a political, not a legal decision."[2] Garrett said the Citizen's Council must operate not as "the Ku Klux Klan ... but within the laws of the state and the nation."[2]

Otherwise, Garrett was a low-key business-oriented legislator who specialized in constituent services and maintained a wide networking of friends and supporters to retain his seat for six consecutive four-year terms. At times, his district included a portion of neighboring Webster, including the parish seat of Minden, and Bienville parishes.

In his last term, Garrett was in a two-member district with conservative Democratic Representative Parey Pershing Branton, Sr., of Shongaloo. In the 1967 primaries, Garrett and Branton defeated three other Democrats, former Springhill Mayor Charles McConnell and Sarepta native Henry Grady Hobbs (1923-2012) of Minden,[3] both attorneys, and James Whit "Tinker" Volentine (1915–1982), a Minden businessman. McConnell tried again in 1971 and lost to R. Harmon Drew, Sr., of Minden. In 1995, Volentine's granddaughter, Helaine George, later Helaine Barrington of Krum in Denton County in north Texas, was one of two Republican women who failed in an attempt to win the same House seat held at that time by the retired Minden educator, Democrat Everett Doerge, who had first been elected in 1991. George had been the only person to challenge Doerge, having announced 8 months early, with her fearless campaign manager, Patrick C. Nation, Sr. of Minden, Louisiana. A Republican who could not be "bought" by the Republican Party of Louisiana, George refused to take "Republican Party" money, and refused to play into the hands of political strategists statewide, who scorned her for not completing her surveys they sent out. George politely declined and had them understand they would know what she was about once her constituents elected her. Not to be outdone, the crafty Republican machine shifted into overdrive immediately throwing another female in the race to unload votes from George. The Cinderella Republican, last minute candidate, proved not strong enough to unseat the Democrat, Everett Doerge. It was clear, the Republicans would have won the seat, had they left well enough alone. George would have beat the incumbent Doerge, for anyone who voted for the second female placed in the race, would have voted for George, and George had enough of her own votes to beat the incumbent. Even had George and Doerge wound up in a runoff election, everyone knows Incumbents aren't victorious in election runoffs. And so, once again, the Republican party suffered a mortal wound in House District 10.

Garrett was recommended to the House as Speaker by Governor McKeithen to fill the vacancy created by the death on November 18, 1967, of Vail M. Delony of Lake Providence, the seat of East Carroll Parish.[4]

Speaker Garrett served on the Louisiana Superdome Commission during the construction of the giant sports stadium in New Orleans. He was an author of the first statewide uniform teacher pay plan and supported legislation pertaining to elementary, secondary, and higher education. He authored the bill which created Lake Claiborne and worked for the appropriations to make the complex a reality.


Running for the Public Service Commission, 1966[edit]

John McKeithen appointed John S. Hunt, III, of Monroe to the PSC seat that McKeithen vacated to become governor. Hunt's appointed term lasted a year and a half. In the summer of 1966, Garrett challenged Hunt for Democratic renomination to a full six-year term on the commission. Hunt was the son of Stewart Smoker Hunt and Lucille Long Hunt of Ruston, a sister of Huey Pierce Long, Jr., and Earl Kemp Long. Both candidates had the same first name and the common middle initial, and Garrett's mother's maiden name was Hunt, but they were not related. Hunt led by plurality in the primary over a multi-candidate field that also included Garrett's legislative colleague, Parey Branton of Shongaloo and former lawmaker Wellborn Jack of Shreveport. After the primary, Garrett claimed that Hunt had received 42,000 African American votes, a margin of 93.1 percent in nine selected precincts across the district.[5] In the Democratic runoff, Hunt defeated Garrett 91,971 (52.5 percent) to 83,075 (47.5) percent. The two evenly split the then twenty-eight parishes in the district. Garrett had garnered the support of three of four primary rivals eliminated in the first round of voting. He carried all of the parishes bordering Arkansas except Caddo in the northwest and East Carroll in the northeast. In north central and northeastern Louisiana, he won La Salle, Cathoula, Grant, Franklin, Richland, and Winn, the latter the ancestral home of the Longs. He also polled majorities in Red River and Bienville parishes in northwestern Louisiana.

Garrett tried to depict Hunt, who had supported Barry Goldwater for U.S. President in 1964, as a captive of the "black bloc vote", but he failed to convince a majority of voters accordingly. Records did, however, reveal that Hunt's 9,896-vote margin was dependent on African-American voters newly enfranchised under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Hunt served a total of eight years on the commission. He was unseated in 1972 by Francis Edward Kennon (born 1938), a Minden/Shreveport businessman and himself a nephew of former Governor Robert F. Kennon.


The defeat of Speaker Garrett[edit]

In the 1971 closed primary (the last for legislative races in state history), Garrett was surprisingly defeated in his bid for a seventh term by a largely unknown insurance agent named Louise Brazzel Johnson (1924–2002) of Bernice in Union Parish. Garrett, placed in new District 11 (Union and Claiborne parishes) was the most high-profile of numerous legislative veterans defeated in an anti-incumbent year. Previously, it had been thought an impossible task for an inexperienced candidate to oust a senior lawmaker, particularly one who wore the title of "Speaker." However, Johnson was victorious in her bid, due mainly to the hard work of James Whit "Tinker" Volentine, the Minden businessman who had been defeated in an earlier bid for Representative. Volentine worked tirelessly to garner votes in an effort to "split" the vote and allow Johnson to become the victor. Volentine, loved by his community, had no problem racking up enough votes to stop the Garrett machine.

Mrs. Johnson was best known for her opposition to the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. She did not consolidate a hold on the Claiborne-Union district because she ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate in 1975, having lost to the more liberal Democrat, former Senator Charles C. Barham of Ruston. Johnson was then defeated for a second House term in the 1979 nonpartisan blanket primary by fellow Democrat Loy F. Weaver, a banker and former agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration from Homer, the man who had succeeded her in 1976.


The 1975 state senate campaign[edit]

In 1975, former Representative Garrett entered an eight-candidate, all-Democratic field in a bid to succeed the retiring conservative State Senator Harold Montgomery of Doyline in Webster Parish. Garret stressed his past support for state centralized purchasing to stop duplication and the implementation of the Code of Ethics in the McKeithen administration.[6] Garrett stressed his past support for education, including the four-year status of Louisiana State University at Shreveport and Southern University at Shreveport as well as the establishment of Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center Shreveport. He also urged the implementation of a statewide community college system.[7]

Garrett outspent his opponents in the race, having raised $25,248 in the primary, including three $1,000 contributions from Minden contractors James Madden and James M. Winford and from Garrett's aunt, Mrs. A.C. Smith of Minden.[8]

The since defunct Shreveport Journal endorsed Garrett's principal opponent, Democrat Foster L. Campbell, Jr., at the time a business teacher at Haughton High School in Bossier Parish. The Journal editorially charged that Garrett as a representative "voted for millions of dollars in new taxes and pork barrel political bond issues ... for the prevailing wage law of 1968 [which] set the gears of inflation ... and has resulted in all state projects costing an estimated additional 20 percent ..."[9]

Garrett, in a newspaper advertisement, accused the Campbell family of seeking to create a political dynasty, with various Campbells having been the Webster Parish school superintendent or a district judge or an appeals court judge.

Garrett stressed his co-sponsorship in the House of the code of ethics for public employees, a centralized purchasing bill to stop duplications, and a listing of all state employees with their salaries. "Many persons whose employment was questionable resigned," Garrett said.[10] Garrett also had co-sponsored the establishment of Louisiana State University in Shreveport and the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center Shreveport, which was created from the former Confederate Memorial Medical Center.[10]

Garrett urged businesspeople to become involved in the political process. In an address before a civic Club in Minden, he said, "Every business has a duty to ... advise and aid elected officials. You had better get involved in politics - if you don't, you are going to be legislated out of business. ..."[11]

In the showdown on December 13, 1975, Campbell defeated Garrett by a large margin, 15,739 to 6,417.[12] The third-place primary candidate, Minden businessman Houston R. Morris, who had run unsuccessfully for state representative in 1971, endorsed Garrett in the general election, as did other rivals Patrick H. "Pat" Jones and Wade Baker. Garrett's former legislative colleague, Parey Branton, and the Minden educator, Ralph Lamar Rentz, Sr. (1930–1995), also ran for the state senate, but both trailed in the primary results.[13]

In 2002, Campbell, after twenty-six years in the Senate, was elected to the PSC, a race that Garrett had lost in the 1966 Democratic primary runoff. Campbell was thereafter an unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial candidate in the 2007 jungle primary, having placed a weak third.

One of Garrett's grassroots supporters was Buster L. Benefield, who knew Garrett since they were boys growing up in Claiborne Parish. He described his friend as "wealthy, honest, and he and his wife were just good people. It was my privilege to campaign for him."[14]

Garrett's obituary[edit]

Garrett's hobbies included the raising of horses, cattle, and bantam chickens. He was a judge for poultry shows nationwide, a member of the American Bantam Association, and a past president of the American Poultry Association. He was a member of the Millerton Masonic Lodge #245, a 32 degree K.C.C.H. Scottish Rite Mason, and an El Karubah Shriner.

Garrett family tombstone in Haynesville, Louisiana
John Sidney Garrett (1921–2005)

Garrett died in the Homer Memorial Hospital in Claiborne Parish. He was survived by his wife of fifty-eight years, the former Meredith McEachern (1926-2012); three sons, Richie Garrett and his wife Susan of Monroe, Mark Garrett and his wife Patty of New Orleans, and Tommy Garrett and his wife Kelley of Haynesville; six grandchildren, and two brothers.

Services were held in the Haynesville United Methodist Church, with the Reverend Henry Stone officiating. Garrett was the chairman of the church's administrative board, the leader of the church finance committee, the teacher of the men's Sunday school class, and a singer in the choir. Burial was in a large family plot at the Old Town Cemetery in Haynesville.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Milestones (Fall 2008)". homerhospital.com. Retrieved January 2, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b "Rainach Addresses Citizens Council", Minden Herald, April 19, 1956, p. 1
  3. ^ "Henry Hobbs obituary". Shreveport Times, January 2, 2013. Retrieved January 3, 2013. 
  4. ^ Minden Press-Herald, December 19, 1967, p. 1
  5. ^ Minden Press-Herald September 16, 1966, p. 4
  6. ^ "Senate Sought by Garrett", Minden Press-Herald, October 21, 1975
  7. ^ Advertisement, Minden Press-Herald, December 9, 1975, p. 3, reprinted from Springhill Press
  8. ^ Minden Press-Herald, December 8, 1975, p. 1
  9. ^ Shreveport Journal editorial, reprinted as Foster Campbell advertisement in Minden Press-Herald, December 12, 1975, p. 11.
  10. ^ a b "Senate Sought by Garrett", Minden Press-Herald, October 21, 1975, political supplement
  11. ^ Minden Press-Herald, November 26, 1975, p. 1
  12. ^ Minden Press-Herald, December 15, 1975, p. 1
  13. ^ Minden Press=Herald, November 3, 1975, p. 8
  14. ^ Statement of Buster L. Benefield of Bossier City, Louisiana, 2006
Political offices
Preceded by
William M. "Willie" Rainach (D)
Louisiana State Representative (primarily Claiborne Parish)

John Sidney Garrett (D)
1948–1972

Succeeded by
Louise Brazzel Johnson (D)
Preceded by
Vail M. Delony (D)
Speakers of the Louisiana House of Representatives

John Sidney Garrett (D)
1968–1972

Succeeded by
E. L. "Bubba" Henry (D)