Richard W. Leche

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Richard W. Leche
Gov Richard Leche.jpg
Richard W. Leche
44th Governor of Louisiana
In office
May 12, 1936 – June 26, 1939
Lieutenant Earl K. Long
Preceded by James A. Noe
Succeeded by Earl K. Long
Personal details
Born (1898-05-17)May 17, 1898
New Orleans, Louisiana
Died February 22, 1965(1965-02-22) (aged 66)
New Orleans, Louisiana
Resting place Metairie Cemetery
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Elton Reynolds
Profession Lawyer
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Battles/wars World War I

Richard Webster Leche (May 17, 1898 – February 22, 1965) was the 44th Governor of Louisiana from 1936 until 1939. Leche was the first governor of Louisiana sentenced to prison.

Early life[edit]

Leche was born in New Orleans, the son of Eustace Leche, a salesman, and the former Stella Eloise Richard, a teacher. After graduating from Warren Easton High School, Leche entered Tulane University in 1916. His studies were interrupted when he enlisted in the United States Army at the outbreak of the First World War. After being discharged without having seen combat, Leche briefly moved to Chicago, where he sold automobile parts. On his return to Louisiana, Leche graduated from Loyola University Law School and started a law practice in 1923.

In 1928, Leche ran unsuccessfully for the Louisiana State Senate. By 1930, Leche had joined with Governor Huey Pierce Long, Jr., and managed Long's campaign for the United States Senate in the fall of that year. When Long moved on to the Senate in 1932, he appointed Leche as secretary to his successor as governor, Oscar K. Allen. Leche's job was to keep an eye on Allen and report back to Long on a daily basis. In 1934, Long had Leche appointed as an appeals court judge in New Orleans.

Leche as governor[edit]

After Huey Long was assassinated in September 1935, the Long organization was left without a leader and without a candidate for the 1936 gubernatorial election. After a period of backroom maneuvering, the relatively minor Leche was chosen as a compromise candidate by Longite leaders, including New Orleans mayor Robert Maestri, outgoing governor Oscar K. Allen, James A. Noe, Seymour Weiss, and Abe Shushan. Despite his relative obscurity, Leche was able to beat the anti-Long candidate Cleveland Dear, a U.S. representative from Alexandria, with the aid of the still-powerful Long machine. Leche polled 67 percent of the primary vote, and the anti-Long forces seemed beyond recovery. Outgoing State Representative Mason Spencer of Madison, who had uncannily predicted Long's bloody death some five months before it happened,[1] withdrew as a gubernatorial candidate to support Dear but still polled nearly two thousand votes because his exodus came too late to remove his name from the ballot.[2]

Within four years, however, the scandalous corruption of the Leche administration, "the self-appointed heirs" to Huey Long, was replaced in 1940 by the "reform" candidate, Sam Houston Jones of Lake Charles.[3]

While he continued Long's program of road-building, free textbooks, and expansion of hospital and educational facilities, Leche and his administration were far less committed to wealth redistribution and social programs than Long had been. He ceased attacks on the oil industry, granted tax exemptions to new business and industry, and enacted a regressive sales tax. These policies brought Leche support from the press and the business community, two of Huey Long's staunchest foes.

Leche sits beside President Roosevelt at dedication of improvements in City Park in New Orleans in 1937.

Shortly after his inauguration, Leche commented, "When I took the oath of office I didn't take any vow of poverty." Corruption was to become the major feature of his administration. It also reached deep into the administration of Louisiana State University, where President James Monroe Smith, called by students "Jimmy the Stooge", was forced from the lucrative position through "Hayride" scandal.[4]

In a reconciliation with the administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Leche promised to cease using Long's Share Our Wealth rhetoric and to support New Deal programs. In return, Roosevelt dropped investigation of the Long machine on tax evasion charges and restored federal patronage to Louisiana. The resulting flow of federal funds, accompanied with widespread graft and corruption, became dubbed the "Second Louisiana Purchase" by contemporaries. While some of the federal funds went to expand Louisiana State University and New Orleans's Charity Hospital, Leche and his administration took their rapprochement with Roosevelt as free license to steal as much as possible. Once the corruption became too blatant, though, Leche and several of his cronies were indicted in what were termed the "Louisiana Scandals". Beset by scandal and accusations, Leche resigned the governorship on June 26, 1939; he was succeeded by his lieutenant governor, Earl Kemp Long.

Richard Leche's legal problems began when Chester Martin, a highway engineer who had his pay skimmed by Leche's newspaper, mimeographed receipts of the payments and a written summary of his allegations. He left them on the desks of every state legislature member the morning before the legislature came into session. Martin lost his job that day, and no one in the state would hire him until the federal government indicted Leche. Martin used the year to get his law degree from LSU, and practiced law until his retirement.

Conviction and imprisonment[edit]

The Richard W. Leche medallion on the east side north end of Strawberry Stadium at Southeastern Louisiana University.

Resignation did not end Leche's legal troubles. In 1940, he was convicted of using the mails to defraud; the particulars involved a scheme to sell trucks to the state highway department. Other charges included the use of stolen WPA resources to build private homes for himself and his allies, making a profit from the sale of "hot oil"—oil produced illegally in excess of state quotas and thus exempt from taxation—and misuse of the funds of Louisiana State University. Huey Long's prediction—"If those fellows ever try to use the powers I've given them without me to hold them down; they'll all land in the penitentiary"—proved prophetic. Sentenced to ten years in an Atlanta penitentiary, Leche was released on parole in 1945 and pardoned by Harry Truman in 1953. He then resumed his law practice until his death in New Orleans in 1965.

A large medallion at Southeastern Louisiana University's Strawberry Stadium commemorates the life and career of Richard W. Leche. (The medallion can be viewed on the north exterior end of the east side of the campus football stadium.)

Decades after Leche's conviction, Edwin Edwards would become the second governor of Louisiana sentenced to prison.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Who Killed the Kingfish?". law.uga.edu. Retrieved July 24, 2013. 
  2. ^ Louisiaa Secretary of State, Primary election returns, January 21, 1936
  3. ^ William C. Havard, Rudolf Heberle, and Perry H. Howard, The Louisiana Elections of 1960, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Studies, 1963, p. 31
  4. ^ ""Louisiana: Jimmy the Stooge", July 10, 1939". Time. July 10, 1939. Retrieved March 25, 2011. 
  • Davis, Edwin Adams. Louisiana: The Pelican State. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1961. LCCN 59:9008.
  • Dawson, Joseph G., Ed. The Louisiana Governors. LSU Press, 1990.
  • Sindler, Allan P. Huey Long's Louisiana: State Politics, 1920–1952. Johns Hopkins, 1956.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
James A. Noe
Governor of Louisiana
1936–1939
Succeeded by
Earl K. Long