John Henry Baker
|John Henry Baker, III|
|Franklin Parish Police Jury
(equivalent of county commission)
October 20, 1934|
Greenville, Washington County, Mississippi, USA
|Died||January 9, 2015
|Resting place||Delhi Masonic Cemetery in Delhi in Richland Parish|
(1) Melba Jo Thomas (divorced)
John Henry Baker, IV (deceased)
|Parents||Cecelia Myers Baker Radau (mother)|
|Religion||United Methodist Church|
John Henry Baker III (October 20, 1934 – January 9, 2015), was a farmer and landowner from Franklin Parish in northeastern Louisiana who was active in the rebirth of the Republican Party in his state during the 1970s and 1980s. Baker was his party's nominee for the District 22 seat in the Louisiana State Senate in 1972 and for the former position of state elections commissioner in 1979. He was the first to propose the abolition of the commissioner's post (originally called the "custodian of voting machines") with the return of the duties to the secretary of state. Baker's proposal was adopted a quarter of a century later in 2004.
Background, education, farming
Baker was born in Greenville in Washington County in western Mississippi, to John Henry Baker, Jr., and Cecilia Myers Baker Radau (1915-2001), a native of Rockdale in Milam County, Texas, whose second husband was Fred C. Radau (1915-1977). He was reared in a rural area near Delhi, located in neighboring Richland Parish, but the Baker ancestral property and his voting residence was in northern Franklin Parish. Baker's brother, Bob Roy Baker (1936-2002) of Delhi, died a month after the passing of Baker's son, John Henry "Hank" Baker, IV (1958-2002).
As a teenager, John Henry and Bob Roy Baker left the area to attend Marion Military Institute in Marion, Alabama. Baker thereafter served in the United States Air Force from 1955 to 1958. After his military duties ended, Baker returned to farming. He was a Methodist.
Baker was twice divorced. He was married until his death to his third wife, the former Linda Rae Martin, his surviving widow. From his first marriage to the former Melba Jo Thomas (born 1941), was born John "Hank" Baker, IV, who is interred at Myrtle Memorial Cemetery in Winnsboro. Baker was survived by a daughter, Jefferi Baker Ryals (born October 1961), and her husband, Robert Lee Ryals (born March 1957), of Delhi.
Franklin Parish Police Jury
In 1968, Baker, at thirty-three, was elected as a Democrat to the Franklin Parish Police Jury (equivalent of county commission in otherm states). He won his primary, then equivalent to election, by only nineteen votes. In February 1969, he switched to the Republican Party and set forth to build a competitive two-party system in his region and state, a goal for which there was no political infrastructure. While he was on the police jury, the body joined the 11-parish North Delta Economic Planning and Development Council. Baker served on this council during his single term on the jury.
While on the jury, Baker was appointed to the Franklin Parish Library Board, on which he served for thirteen years. Baker was also a chairman of the Franklin Parish Republican Party intermittently since the 1970s.
Running for the state Senate
In the winter of 1971 to 1972, Baker ran for the state Senate against the 31-year-old Democratic nominee, James H. "Jim" Brown, a graduate of Tulane University in New Orleans. Brown at the time was a politically ambitious lawyer in Ferriday in Concordia Parish, located along the Mississippi River across from Natchez, Mississippi. Besides Franklin and Concordia, the district included Catahoula (Jonesville) and Tensas (St. Joseph and Newellton) parishes. The outgoing senator was J. C. "Sonny" Gilbert of Sicily Island in Catahoula Parish. Gilbert ran successfully for the state House that year; after he left the legislature, he switched to Republican affiliation.
Brown was an easy winner in the general election, 17,151 votes (64.1 percent) to Baker's 9,587 (35.9 percent). Baker had been the first Republican ever to contest the 32nd District seat. With the boundaries altered, the district for the first time elected a Republican state senator on November 17, 2007, when GOP businessman Neil Riser of Columbia, the seat of Caldwell Parish, defeated the Democratic candidate Bryant Hammett of Ferriday. The Senate seat was vacated by the term-limited Democrat Noble Ellington of Winnsboro, who instead returned to the Louisiana House after an absence of twelve years.
Running for constitutional convention delegate
In August 1972, five months after he lost the state Senate race, Baker ran unsuccessfully in the nonpartisan race for delegate to the state constitutional convention. The convention was held in Baton Rouge in 1973. It adopted a new constitution, which voters approved in a special election held in the spring of 1974.
Baker filed for delegate in the state legislative district for Franklin and Tensas parishes. He was defeated by Democratic State Representative Lantz Womack of Winnsboro. As a young man, Womack had played baseball for the former Winnsboro Red Sox at a time when many small towns had their own teams. Baker's father organized two Winnsboro teams, one for whites and the other for African-American players. Womack, a businessman and farmer, was first elected to the House seat from Franklin Parish in a special election in 1958, and he held the seat until 1976. In his last reelection on February 1, 1972, Womack polled 67 percent of the vote against the Republican nominee, Terry Clingan (1918–2007), a barber from Mangham in Richland Parish and later from Baskin, a village in Franklin Parish. Coincidentally, Womack was once a bookkeeper for the Bakers.
Challenging Jerry Fowler
In 1979, Baker announced that he would challenge the Democrat Jerry Fowler, then a Natchitoches businessman, in the race for elections commissioner. Fowler (born 1940) was seeking to succeed his ailing father, Douglas Fowler, the former Red River Parish clerk of court and one-time Coushatta mayor. Fowler had been appointed to the post by the late Governor Earl Kemp Long, after Long had quarreled with Secretary of State Wade O. Martin, Jr., by procuring legislative consent to remove the elections office from the domain of the secretary of state. Douglas Fowler was then elected to his first full term in 1960 and then reelected with minimal opposition in 1964, 1968, 1972, and 1976. (The primaries for the three latter elections were actually held late in 1967, 1971, and 1975.) To Louisiana voters, the name "Fowler" became synonymous with the management of elections – the two won a total of ten consecutive elections.
"Abolish the office"
Baker ran for elections commissioner, basing his campaign on abolishing the "useless" office, which then had a salary of $37,400 per year, and returning its duties to the secretary of state, where they had been before Earl Long punished Martin, who had continued to be reelected secretary of state until his retirement in 1976.
Ironically, what Baker was proposing would have worked to the advantage of Baker's former rival, state Senator Jim Brown, who would be elected secretary of state in the same 1979 election. When Baker offered his proposal to abolish the very office for which he was seeking election, he began to make headway. He won a student mock poll at Louisiana State University at Alexandria and several other colleges as well as the endorsements of "good government" groups and most of the state's newspapers. The New Orleans Times-Picayune did not "endorse" Baker, however, but "recommended" his idea of abolishing the office.
Baker polled 175,017 votes in the nonpartisan blanket primary, just enough to enter the 1979 general election against Jerry Fowler, who had been a former professional football player and a former educator. Baker and Republican gubernatorial candidate 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. (The law did not take effect for congressional elections until 1978, and it ended for those elections in 2008 but was reinstated in 2010.)
In the second round of balloting, Fowler polled 762,324 votes (62.8 percent) to Baker's 452,189 (37.2 percent). Baker won 68.1 percent in his own Franklin Parish, which Treen lost to the Democrat Louis Lambert of Baton Rouge. Baker won 55.8 percent and 51.2 percent in his neighboring Richland and Ouachita parishes, respectively. He polled 49.1 percent in Caddo Parish (Shreveport) and ran nearly as well in Calcasieu Parish (Lake Charles), where he had the support of former state Senator Robert G. "Bob" Jones, the stockbroker son of former Governor Sam Houston Jones.
Like his father, Jerry Fowler was also elected commissioner five times: 1979, 1983, 1987, 1991, and 1995. In 1999, however, he finished in third place in the primary after bribery allegations surfaced. He would later serve a prison sentence. The post was then won by the only Republican who ever held it, Suzanne Haik Terrell.
In 2004, more than four decades after Long's death, the elections division was hence returned to its original administrative home. It was left to Commissioner Terrell to implement Baker's longstanding proposal. Baker never received political credit for his "good government" proposal from 1979.
In 1980, Governor Treen appointed Baker to the Louisiana Athletic Commission, since renamed the Louisiana State Boxing and Wrestling Commission. That same year, Baker was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Detroit, Michigan, which first nominated the Ronald W. Reagan and George H. W. Bush ticket.
As of 2009, Baker was still a member of the Franklin Parish Board of Election Supervisors by virtue of his being the parish Republican chairman.
Baker died at the age of eighty early in 2015 at St. Francis Hospital in Monroe. He is interred at Delhi Masonic Cemetery in Delhi.
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- Shreveport Journal, October 11, 1969, p. 9D
- The Alexandria Daily Town Talk, November 10, 1979, p. 3D
- Baton Rouge State-Times, December 22, 1979, p. 16C
- "Jerry M. Fowler". The Baton Rouge Advocate. January 28, 2009. Retrieved May 11, 2016.
- Alan Ehrenhalt (August 30, 2001). "The most ridiculous elective office in the history of state government is about to pass out of existence". Jewish World Review. Retrieved May 11, 2016.