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|Louisiana Elections Commissioner|
|Preceded by||Wiley Douglas Fowler, Sr.|
|Succeeded by||Suzanne Haik Terrell|
Jerry Marston Fowler|
April 26, 1940
Shreveport, Caddo Parish, Louisiana, USA
January 26, 2009 (aged 68)|
Baton Rouge, East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana
(1) Sue Fowler, now Sue Weaver|
(2) MariAnn Santangelo Fowler (1937-2005)
|Relations||H. M. Fowler (uncle)|
Susannah Fowler Craig|
Margaret Fowler Abrahams
John Marston Fowler
|Parents||Douglas Fowler (1906-1980), and Abbie Marston Fowler (1906-1976)|
|Alma mater||Northwestern State University|
|Occupation||Businessman; Politician; Athlete|
Jerry Marston Fowler (April 26, 1940 – January 26, 2009) was a Baton Rouge businessman who served as Louisiana's state Elections Commissioner from 1980 until his defeat in the 1999 nonpartisan blanket primary, also known as the jungle primary. He was part of the Fowler family Democratic political dynasty. Fowler vacated the position in 2000 and was thereafter indicted, convicted and imprisoned for bribery and income tax evasion in a scandal that grew out of acceptance of kickbacks on the purchase of voting machines. Fowler succeeded his ailing father, Wiley Douglas Fowler, Sr., as Elections Commissioner. Collectively, the Fowlers, who hailed from Coushatta, the parish seat of rural Red River Parish, served forty-one years in the position, originally called the "Custodian of Voting Machines."
Fowler political dynasty
Douglas Fowler was originally appointed voting machine custodian by Governor Earl Kemp Long after having been a Red River Parish clerk of court and a Coushatta mayor. Fowler was then elected to his first full term as elections commissioner in the 1959-1960 election cycle. He was reelected with minimal opposition in 1964, 1968, 1972 and 1975. (The primaries for the 1968 and the 1972 elections were held late in 1967 and 1971). To Louisiana voters, the name "Fowler" became synonymous with the management of elections – the two won a total of ten consecutive elections, and Douglas Fowler served more than a year of an appointed term.
There was also a third Fowler in the dynasty: Hendrix Marion "Mutt" Fowler, Sr., the younger brother of Douglas Fowler and the uncle of Jerry Fowler. "Mutt" Fowler was a mayor of Coushatta in the 1960s and a state representative from District 24, who served from 1972 to 1986. He resigned from the legislature to become executive director of the Sabine River (port) Authority. His contract was nonrenewed in 1989, and he was thereafter indicted for violating state bid laws. In a plea bargain, "Mutt" served 45 days in the Sabine Parish jail.
Fowler's early years
Fowler, the younger of the two sons of Douglas Fowler and his wife, Abbie Marston Fowler (1906–1976), was born in Shreveport, reared in Coushatta, and graduated in 1958 from Red River Senior High School, then known as Coushatta High School. Thereafter, he played football for nearby Northwestern State University (then Northwestern State College) in Natchitoches and obtained a degree in education. He was drafted to the Oakland Raiders and then ultimately the Houston Oilers (1960–1966), for whom he was an offensive tackle. He played in four games in the 1964 season. Another north Louisiana player, Charlie T. Hennigan (born 1935) of Minden, the seat of Webster Parish, also played for the Oilers at the time in a 7-year career from 1960-1966.
Fowler (D) v. Baker (R)
By the time he sought to succeed his father as elections commissioner, Fowler was a 39-year-old Natchitoches businessman. He was the early favorite to win the position, considering the tendency of Louisiana voters to either reelect incumbents, particularly Democrats, or to promote the offspring of retiring politicians. His main rival in the jungle primary turned out to have been a previously defeated candidate for the Louisiana State Senate and the 1973 Constitutional Convention, Republican John Henry Baker of Franklin Parish. Baker had lost in 1972 to the Democratic attorney, James H. "Jim" Brown of Ferriday, for the District 32 Senate seat. Months later, Baker was also defeated for a delegate slot on a nonpartisan ballot to the constitutional convention by then sitting Representative Lantz Womack of Winnsboro, the seat of Franklin Parish.
Baker was initially ignored by the media after he announced that he would oppose Jerry Fowler, but he soon gained the support of most newspaper editorial boards and "good government" groups when he disclosed that he was running for the position in order to see it abolished. Baker hence proposed that the "useless" office, which then had a salary of $37,400 per year, be returned to the jurisdiction of the secretary of state, where it had been before Governor Long punished Secretary of State Wade O. Martin, Jr., by having convinced the legislature to establish a separate elections bureau free from the control of the elected secretary of state. Ironically, what Baker was proposing would have worked to the advantage of his former rival, state Senator Jim Brown, who would be elected secretary of state in that same 1979 general election.
Baker polled 175,017 votes in the primary, just enough to enter the general election against Jerry Fowler. Baker and his gubernatorial ticket mate, David C. Treen, then of Jefferson Parish, were the first Louisiana Republicans to win statewide general election slots since the implementation of the jungle primary law in 1975.
In the second round of balloting, Fowler polled 762,324 votes (62.8%) to Baker's 452,189 (37.2%). Baker won 68.1% in his own Franklin Parish, which Treen lost to the Democrat Louis Lambert of Baton Rouge. Baker received 55.8% and 51.2% in his neighboring Richland and Ouachita parishes, respectively. He polled 49.1% in Caddo Parish (Shreveport) and ran nearly as well in Calcasieu Parish (Lake Charles), where he had the support of reform former state Senator Robert G. "Bob" Jones, a former Democrat-turned Republican and the son of former Governor Sam Houston Jones. Fowler though could claim an impressive victory under the circumstances, and he vowed to continue the spirit of public service epitomized by his ailing father, who died weeks before his son could take the oath of office as his successor.
Easy reelection victories
Fowler faced little difficulty in being reelected in the primaries held in 1983, 1987, 1991 or 1995. In 1987, his tally exceeded one million votes: 1,079,851 (83 percent) against fellow Democrat James Alan "Jim" Rentz (1933–2011), a native of Ruston and a United States Navy veteran of the Korean War, who polled 217,886 ballots (17 percent). Like Fowler, Rentz was a former professional football player. He was a former employee of the Louisiana Department of Education in Baton Rouge, where he had long resided.
In 1991, Republican Steve Young challenged Fowler in the jungle primary but also fared poorly. Fowler received 940,309 votes (72 percent) to Young's 372,480 (28 percent). In 1995, Fowler won again over Republican candidate Wray M. Anderson (born 1953) of Mandeville in St. Tammany Parish: 954,076 (75 percent) to 323,422 (25 percent). Anderson was cited after the campaign for failing to file a proper financial statement.
Defeat in the 1999 jungle primary
In 1999, however, Fowler ran into insurmountable difficulties, as it turned out in the race, in which ten challengers stepped forward: five Republicans, three fellow Democrats, and two "no party" candidates. Fowler finished a strong third with 247,961 (21%) in the multiple-candidate field. He missed a general election berth, however, by 9,222 votes. In fact, two Republicans secured the slots in the second balloting: Suzanne Haik Terrell of New Orleans (257,182 or 22%) and outgoing state Representative Louis E. "Woody" Jenkins of Baton Rouge (305,919 or 26%). Terrell, though the second-place finisher in the primary, went on to defeat Jenkins, who had earlier lost three high-profile races for the U.S. Senate. Jenkins' loss effectively ended his political career. Presumably had Fowler obtained the second slot, instead of Terrell, he would have lost to Jenkins, considering the allegations which surfaced about abuses of his office. Terrell emerged in 2002 as a U.S. Senate candidate and was defeated by the Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu.
Terrell, like John Henry Baker, a quarter of a century earlier, promised to work to abolish the "useless" office. And she managed to do so in her four-year term, for Terrell was the only woman elections commissioner, the only Republican elections commissioner, and the last of the three elected commissioners in Louisiana history. A political commentator, Alan Ehrenhalt, hailed Terrell's steps to abolish the office, which he dubbed the "most ridiculous elective office in the history of state government." The commissioner of elections did not even keep the tabulation of election returns: that function remains within the duties of the secretary of state, which operates a website with returns dating from 1987 and partial tabulations between 1983 and 1986.
Fowler goes to prison
After Fowler left the commissioner's office, he was charged and convicted of accepting kickbacks on voting machines and income tax evasion. Much of the investigation was handled through the office of the Republican legislative auditor Dan Kyle. In November 2000, he pleaded guilty to defrauding the State of Louisiana of some $900,000 between 1991 and 1999. Many observers believed that he actually obtained $3 million illegally. Fowler's attorney said that his client spent the money gambling. Fowler was sentenced to five years in prison. He served four years in the federal prison in Beaumont, Texas, and was then released to Ecumenical House, a half-way house in Baton Rouge, where he served an additional number of months.
Fowler's 1996, 1997 and 1998 U.S. Individual Income Tax Returns, Forms 1040, reflect adjusted gross income of $157,949.54; $185,938.00 and $165,272.00, respectively. His corrected figures, including money from kickbacks, is $482,053.54; $487,891.29; and $419,312.00 in 1996, 1997 and 1998, respectively.
Ehrenhalt reflected on the Fowlers' tenure over the administration of Louisiana elections for more than four decades:
"Reformers, embarrassed by the triviality of the title "custodian of voting machines" managed in the 1970s to change the name to Commissioner of Elections. But they did not change the duties much: Louisiana's citizens continued to go to the polls every four years to pick a constitutional officer whose job consisted largely of buying and repairing machinery and remembering to deliver it to the right polling place when it was needed.
"It was not only a cushy job, it was also the personal possession of a single family. When Long created the post, he promoted the candidacy of a loyal crony, Douglas Fowler, who held it from 1960 until his retirement in 1979. Then Fowler's son, Jerry, a former lineman for the Houston Oilers, took over and won reelection four times.
"The odds are the job would still be a Fowler fiefdom if the second occupant of the office had not been caught looting the till in 1999. A legislative auditor found that Jerry Fowler had been taking kickbacks on the purchase of voting machines and occasionally paying friends of his to haul them around even when there was no election scheduled. Fowler was indicted on eight counts of malfeasance in office, entered a guilty plea, and was sentenced to prison for five years."
Abduction of Mari Ann Fowler
During his incarceration, Fowler's second wife, Mari Ann Fowler (born April 12, 1937), disappeared on Christmas Eve 2002. She was abducted from the parking lot of a fast-food outlet in Port Allen in West Baton Rouge Parish, where she had stopped while headed to Beaumont to visit her husband. The abduction was partially photographed by a security camera. Fowler was never found, and was declared legally dead by a Louisiana state court judge in May 2004.
At the time she vanished, Mrs. Fowler was an education consultant. A former teacher, she had worked more than a quarter of a century for the Louisiana Department of Education in various capacities, including assistant state superintendent for research and development. She first attended Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond but received her bachelor's degree in English and speech from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (then the University of Southwestern Louisiana). She also held a master's degree in education supervision from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and a doctorate in education administration from Nova Southeast University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
On August 27, 2005, Fowler held a memorial service for his wife in the Holy Ghost Catholic Church in her native Hammond in Tangipahoa Parish. In addition to her husband, MariAnn was survived by her then 90-year-old mother, Rose Santangelo (1914–2006) and a sister, Jo Ann O'Neil, both of Hammond; a son from a previous marriage, John A. Pritchett (born 1959), and two granddaughters, Chelsea Pritchett and Baylea Pritchett, all of Brusly in West Baton Rouge Parish.
Fowler died in a Baton Rouge hospital at the age of sixty-eight of heart failure following surgery. He was cremated. A memorial service was held at University United Methodist Church, 3350 Dalrymple Drive, in Baton Rouge on January 29, 2009, which was also the 29th anniversary of the date of death of Fowler's father. Fowler was survived by three children from a previous marriage to Sue Fowler, later Sue Weaver of Natchez, Louisiana: Susannah Fowler Craig and husband Stewart, of Baton Rouge, Margaret Fowler, of Los Angeles, California, and John Marston Fowler and wife Jennifer, of Baton Rouge. He had four grandchildren, Stewart Craig and Patrick Craig, and from the marriage to MariAnn, Chelsea and Baylea Pritchett. He was also survived by his paternal uncle, H. M. "Mutt" Fowler of Coushatta. In addition to his parents, he was predeceased by his brother, Dr. Wiley Douglas Fowler, Jr. (1938–1998), and a paternal uncle, John R. Fowler (1912–1990).
- "Former NFL lineman Jerry Fowler dies after complications from surgery at 68". The Canadian Press. 2009-01-26. Retrieved 2009-01-27.
- "Social Security Death Index". Rootsweb.ancestry.com. Retrieved January 29, 2009.
- "James Alan "Jim" Rentz". Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, February 15, 2011. Retrieved February 15, 2011.
- "Rentz challenging Fowler", Minden Press-Herald, October 23, 1987, p. 3A
- "Alan Ehrenhalt, "The most ridiculous elective office in the history of state government is about to pass out of existence", August 30, 2001". jewishworldreview.com. Retrieved February 15, 2011.
- "Jerry M. Fowler obituary". Baton Rouge Morning Advocate. Retrieved January 29, 2009.
| Louisiana Elections Commissioner
Jerry Marston Fowler
Suzanne Haik Terrell