Robert F. Kennon

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Bob Kennon
Robert F. Kennon portrait.jpg
Chair of the National Governors Association
In office
July 11, 1954 – August 9, 1955
Preceded by Daniel I. J. Thornton
Succeeded by Arthur B. Langlie
48th Governor of Louisiana
In office
May 13, 1952 – May 8, 1956
Lieutenant C. E. "Cap" Barham
Preceded by Earl Long
Succeeded by Earl Long
Judge of the Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal
In office
1945–1952
Preceded by Harmon Caldwell Drew
Succeeded by J. Frank McInnis
District Attorney of Bossier and Webster Parishes
In office
December 6, 1930 – January 6, 1941
Preceded by R. H. Lee
Succeeded by Graydon Kitchens (Acting)
Mayor of Minden
In office
1926–1928
Preceded by Connell Fort
Succeeded by Henry L. Bridges
Personal details
Born (1902-08-21)August 21, 1902
Dubberly, Louisiana, U.S.
Died January 11, 1988(1988-01-11) (aged 85)
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Eugenia Sentell
Relations Edward Kennon (Nephew)
Children 3
Education Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge (BA, LLB)
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Army
Rank Colonel
Battles/wars World War II

Robert Floyd Kennon, Sr., known as Bob Kennon (August 21, 1902 – January 11, 1988), was the 48th Governor of Louisiana, serving from 1952 to 1956. From 1954 to 1955, he was chairman of the National Governors Association. In 1955, he was also the chairman of the Council of State Governments.[1]

Kennon failed to win a second non-consecutive term in the 1963 Democratic primary election, having lost a runoff berth, with the position going to John McKeithen.

The conservative Kennon grew disillusioned with his national party and endorsed Republican presidential nominees Dwight D. Eisenhower,[2] Barry Goldwater, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Kennon was born in rural Dubberly, south of Minden, the seat of government of Webster Parish. He was the fifth child of Floyd Kennon (1871–1966), who was born the year that Webster Parish was established, and the former Annie Laura Bopp. The Kennons operated an Independent Grocers Alliance store in Minden.[4] After Floyd Kennon's retirement, the store was managed by two sons, Francis Edward Kennon, Sr., and Webb Kennon. Young Bob Kennon was an avid Boy Scout (See Scouting in Louisiana.) who attained the rank of Eagle Scout. He graduated in 1919 from Minden High School, then a comparatively new institution. Thereafter, he attended Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where he procured numerous honors. At the end of his freshman year, he received an award for the best academic record in his class. He was captain of his company in Reserve Officers Training Corps and the vice president of the Interfraternity Council. He was on the debate team and wrote for the campus newspaper, The Daily Reveille. He earned his first letter playing center for the LSU Tigers football team. He helped to organize the university tennis team and was one of the first two people to letter in tennis at LSU, from which he graduated in June 1923.

Kennon graduated from the Louisiana State University Law Center in May 1925. A month later at the age of twenty-two, he passed the bar exam.

Kennon wed the former Eugenia Sentell (December 27, 1908–May 24, 2002), a graduate of Louisiana Tech University (then Louisiana Polytechnic Institute) in Ruston, who taught home economics. Descended from a prominent family in Bossier Parish, Mrs. Kennon was a sister of the Minden physician Charles Sherburne Sentell, Sr. (1904–1972). She was a wonderful hostess and was able to cultivate several friendships that later played key roles in her husband's campaigns. The Kennons had three sons, Robert, Jr. (born 1938), a lawyer, and Charles Sentell "Charlie" Kennon (born 1940), a physician, both in Baton Rouge, and Kenneth Wood "Kenwood" Kennon (born 1943), also a lawyer, who resides in St. Francisville in West Feliciana Parish. Kenneth Kennon is the father of Alexandra Kennon.

Dr. Charles Sentell's wife, Sallie Hutton Sentell (1917-2013), a native of Minden, was the first woman ordained as a ruling elder in the Minden Presbyterian Church.[5]

Municipal politics[edit]

By the time Kennon was twenty-three, he had successfully challenged Minden Mayor Connell Fort and became for a time the youngest mayor in the United States.[6] In his brief time as mayor, Kennon was elected vice president of the Louisiana Municipal Association.[7] Under Mayor Kennon, the status of Minden was upgraded by Governor Henry Fuqua from that of town to city.[8] Although his term was generally considered to have been successful, Kennon did not seek reelection in 1928. He was succeeded as mayor by a clothing merchant, Henry L. Bridges, who in one election would defeat a later state lieutenant governor, Coleman Lindsey.

Kennon's relationship with Connell Fort did not end with the 1926 municipal election. Seven years later when Kennon was district attorney for the 26th Judicial District (Bossier and Webster parishes), Fort's son, John L. Fort (1906–1992), subsequently the long-time operator of a news stand in Minden, shot to death Abraham Brisco Nation (1886–1933), a Minden city councilman who had quarreled politically with Mayor Fort. In 1932, Fort had returned to office for a third nonconsecutive term. Nation was the father of twelve children and a foreman for the Louisiana and Arkansas Railway in Minden. John Fort was first incarcerated in Caddo Parish but then held in the Bossier Parish jail for two years. The grand jury never reported a true bill, and Kennon decided not to pursue charges against Fort despite the testimony of two eyewitnesses to the shooting, John L. Garrett and J.R. Murph, then the secretary of the city council.[9][10]

District attorney and then judge[edit]

In 1930, Kennon won the election for district attorney of Bossier and Webster parishes by defeating his fellow Democrat Arthur M. Wallace, 2,995 to 1,825.[11] He held the position for ten years and one month. His successor as DA was his law partner, Graydon K. Kitchens, Sr. (1903–1988), a native of Stamps, Arkansas who was reared in La Salle Parish, who held the seat until January 13, 1942.[12] DA Kennon attained the rank of lieutenant colonel in the National Guard, making him one of the highest-ranked officers. Further active with the Masonic lodge, Kennon was named "Grand Master" of the organization in 1936 and cited for his long-term membership in 1986.

The Kennons lived in this house (built 1940) at 813 Jefferson Street in Minden

Kennon took advantage of his growing circle of influential friends and in 1940 ran for justice of the state's Second Circuit Court of Appeal, based in Shreveport. With 46 percent of the ballots, he nearly won outright in the first primary. In the Democratic runoff, he faced the incumbent judge, Harmon Caldwell Drew, a fellow resident of Minden. The Drew family, one of the first to live in Webster Parish long before its establishment, has held judicial positions in north Louisiana for five generations, including besides H. C. Drew, Richard Maxwell Drew, Richard Cleveland Drew, R. Harmon Drew, Sr., and current Circuit Judge Harmon Drew, Jr.. The Kennon-Drew race was vigorously contested with considerable mudslinging. Kennon won by a margin of nine thousand votes,[13] but he did not carry either his home parish of Webster or neighboring Bossier Parish.

The circuit judgeship would not become vacant until 1942. At the time in Louisiana, it was customary to allow more than a year between election and the beginning of judicial terms. As an active member of the National Guard, Kennon was soon called to duty in 1941 as colonel of the XIII Corps of the Ninth Army. He could not hence assume the circuit judgeship until he returned from duty in World War II in May 1945. Drew continued to serve as justice until Kennon returned to claim his seat, part of that time under appointment to the Louisiana Supreme Court, where he served from 1945–1947, having replaced A. T. Higgins.

Gubernatorial race, 1948[edit]

In October 1947, Judge Kennon entered the 1948 gubernatorial primary election as a self-proclaimed candidate "independent of contending political faction," referring to Long and anti-Long groups then organized in state politics. The Kennon platform was dedicated to "economy, honesty, and efficiency" with a "progressive postwar program for Louisiana, its industries, farms, roads, schools, and institutions."[14]

Kennon opened his campaign on October 10 at the Webster Parish Fair. His intraparty ticket mates, all World War II veterans, included Rufus Fontenot of Crowley for secretary of state, J. David McNeill of New Orleans for attorney general, Col. Jules H. Deshotels of Kaplan for lieutenant governor, Daniel Champagne of New Orleans for state treasurer, and Allison Kolb of Baton Rouge for state auditor.[15] In that race, Kennon spoke against ad valorem property taxes at the state level.[16]

However, Kennon was overshadowed by two better-known former governors who secured the coveted runoff positions, Earl Kemp Long and Sam Houston Jones, who carried the endorsement of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Kennon had claimed that he, not Jones, could defeat Long.[17] A fourth candidate was U.S. Representative James H. Morrison of Hammond. Long in turn won a convincing rematch over Jones, who had unseated Long eight years earlier. None of the Kennon-endorsed candidates was elected to a statewide office.

Kennon closed his primary campaign at the Minden High School auditorium[18] but still lost Webster Parish in the returns.

U.S. Senate campaign, 1948[edit]

When U.S. Senator John H. Overton died in office, a special election was called to fill the seat for a two-year term extending through January 1951. Fresh from his race for governor, Kennon challenged Russell B. Long, the older son of the legendary Huey Pierce Long, Jr., who not quite thirty was still a few days too young to take office at the time of the election. Kennon said state politics should be "reshuffled after the bad deal" of the Long victory in the 1948 gubernatorial race. He urged "mature representation" in the District of Columbia. The Kennon senatorial platform called for $50 per month old-age pensions, a veterans' housing program, forestry and soil conservation measures, and expansion of the Rural Electrification Administration. He also avowed that as a senator, he would work to "cut red tape" in government operations.[19]

The outcome was close, but Long prevailed, 264,143 (51 percent) to Kennon's 253,668 (49 percent). Long's plurality was hence 10,475 votes. As with the earlier gubernatorial primary, Kennon lost his own Webster Parish in the Senate race against Long, 4,096 to 2,994.[20] Based on the Senate returns, many in the anti-Long faction began to consider Kennon once again as a possible gubernatorial candidate in 1951. After he defeated Clem S. Clarke, an oilman from Shreveport and the first Republican to seek the Senate seat from Louisiana since implementation of the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1914, Russell Long served in the Senate with little opposition until he announced his retirement, effective January 1987.

Gubernatorial matters[edit]

Later Kennon home on Pennsylvania Avenue in Minden

In 1952, despite major opposition within the Democratic primary, Kennon won his party's nomination in a runoff with state District Judge Carlos Spaht of Baton Rouge, who had the backing of some of the organizers of outgoing Governor Earl Long. Kennon polled 482,302 votes (61.4 percent) to Spaht's 302,743 (38.6 percent). Spaht's running-mate for lieutenant governor was a future governor, John Julian McKeithen, then a 33-year-old state representative from Columbia in Caldwell Parish south of Monroe. McKeithen was defeated for lieutenant governor by C. E. "Cap" Barham, a state senator and an attorney from Ruston, the seat of Lincoln Parish. Barham stood to the left of Kennon politically and ran first on the intraparty ticket with U.S. Representative Hale Boggs of Louisiana's 2nd congressional district, who finished third in the gubernatorial balloting. Kennon and Boggs thereafter ran on a common ticket of convenience in 1952.

Elmer David Conner (1905-1965), a farmer and businessman from Jennings in Jefferson Davis Parish, had been Kennon's unsuccessful first choice for lieutenant governor.[21] Conner was named director of the Louisiana Department of Commerce and Industry in the Kennon administration.

In the following low-turnout general election in the spring of 1952, Kennon trounced Republican Harrison Bagwell, an attorney from Baton Rouge, 118,723 (96 percent) to 4,958 (4 percent).[22] Prior to Bagwell, the previous Republican gubernatorial candidate in Louisiana had been Etienne J. Caire, a sugar cane farmer and businessman from St. John the Baptist Parish polled 4 percent of the vote, the same as Bagwell, in Caire's challenge of Huey Pierce Long, Jr., in 1928.[23]

Kennon was sworn into office as governor on May 13, 1952, by Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court John B. Fournet.[24]

As a delegate to the 1952 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Kennon led a walkout of the Louisiana delegation, most of whose members opposed the party's civil rights plank, a point that he used in his advertising for the failed gubernatorial comeback bid in the fall of 1963.[25]

Governor Kennon was often said to have conducted his office as if he were instructed by a "civics textbook."[26] In addition to his interest in state sovereignty, Kennon pushed to procure voting machines to all Louisiana precincts to replace paper ballots still used in some rural parishes. Such machines were designed to eliminate the periodic problem of vote-stealing. Kennon expanded Louisiana state civil service with help from the New Orleans attorney Charles E. Dunbar, who had authored the original reform measure in 1940 under the Sam Jones administration.[27]

In 1955, Kennon was named chairman of the National Governors Conference.[28]

In the 1956 gubernatorial election, Kennon, ineligible to succeed himself, supported Fred Preaus, an automobile dealer from Farmerville, the seat of Union Parish in north Louisiana, who had been Kennon's highway director. Preaus also vowed a "strong stand on segregation."[29] Another segregationist candidate, James M. McLemore, an Alexandria businessman, however, claimed that Kennon had done little to stem pending desegregation. According to McLemore, the Kennon administration had been "like an ostrich with the head buried in the sand" and had provided "no leadership" to halt racial integration.[30] McLemore had finished fourth in the 1952 primary and then endorsed Kennon in the race against Judge Spaht.

"Cap" Barham, meanwhile never politically close to Kennon despite their sharing of the intraparty ticket in the 1952 runoff election, sought reelection as lieutenant governor (Only governors were then term-limited in Louisiana.) on the deLesseps Story Morrison ticket. Morrison, then the mayor of New Orleans was a former law partner of Barham's 1952 ticket mate, Hale Boggs.[31]

After his governorship, Kennon and his wife resided for the remainder of their lives in Baton Rouge, where he maintained a law practice. Kennon appointed his former law partner in Minden, Graydon K. Kitchens, Sr., also a graduate of the LSU Law Center, to the Louisiana Tax Commission. Earl Long, however, convinced the state legislature to remove Kitchens from the panel so that Long could make his own appointment.[32] Kennon also named a Minden supporter, Leland G. Mims, to a vacancy on the Webster Parish Police Jury. Mims in 1965-1967 was president of the Police Jury Association of Louisiana.[33]

Third gubernatorial campaign, 1963[edit]

Kennon's term ended in the spring of 1956, and he was succeeded by his long-time political rival, Earl Long, who defeated Morrison and Kennon's endorsed choice, Fred Preaus, the former state highway director from Farmerville in Union Parish. For his lieutenant governor running-mate, Preaus chose Morrison's city council colleague, A. Brown Moore, a decorated veteran of World War II and a New Orelans lawyer and businessman.

Kennon attempted without success to run for governor again in 1963. One of his early primary rivals that year, Frank Voelker, Jr., former chairman of the Louisiana Sovereignty Commission, left the race to manage Kennon's campaign.[34] Three LSU scholars described Kennon as "the traditional anti-Long type: respectable, business-oriented, an exponent of governmental quietism, and an advocate of 'good government' administrative reform."[35]

Francis Dugas, a lawyer from Thibodaux in Lafourche Parish, ran for lieutenant governor on the Kennon ticket.[36] In a runoff contest from which Dugas was eliminated, the position went to former Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives C. C. Aycock of Franklin in St. Mary Parish.

In the Democratic primary, Kennon ran fourth (127,870 votes or 14.1 percent). He was therefore eliminated from a runoff between Public Service Commissioner John ≠≈McKeithen of Columbia in Caldwell Parish and the more liberal contender, former New Orleans Mayor deLesseps Morrison, Sr. Some observers theorized that the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, which occurred two weeks before the primary election, may have weakened Kennon's prospects because Kennon had in a televised address criticized policies of both President Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. He called the Kennedys "young, misguided men." He indicated that he could again bolt the Democratic Party in the 1964 presidential election though as it quickly developed the Kennedy assassination changed the national political picture.[37]

Kennon was weakened by the presence of the fifth-place candidate, veteran Education Superintendent Shelby M. Jackson, a strong segregationist and a native of Concordia Parish in eastern Louisiana, whose votes are believed to have come primarily at the expense of Kennon and therefore worked to deny Kennon the coveted runoff position against Morrison. Jackson was the vocal segregationist among the five candidates, as Kennon discussed "state sovereignty", which some saw as a code word for segregation. Even if half of Jackson's votes had otherwise gone to Kennon, then Kennon, and not McKeithen, would have entered the runoff with Morrison. Jackson's supporters were also believed in many cases to have been previous backers of the 1959 segregationist gubernatorial hopeful, William M. Rainach of Claiborne Parish. Another candidate in the race was former State Representative Claude Kirkpatrick from Jefferson Davis Parish, who had headed the Department of Public Works under outgoing Governor Jimmie Davis. Kirkpatrick's widow, Edith Killgore Kirkpatrick, is a native of Claiborne Parish and a past political figure in her own right. Others in the race included outgoing State Representative Louis J. Michot of Lafayette, a future education superintendent.

McKeithen won the runoff and the ensuing general election. Kennon did not endorse either runoff candidate. His nephew, Edward Kennon (a son of F. E. Kennon, Sr.), a Shreveport developer and a later member of the Louisiana Public Service Commission, stumped for the Roman Catholic and pro-Kennedy "Chep" Morrison, who had endorsed Kennon in the 1951-1952 election cycle after the elimination of Morrison's first choice, his former law partner, U.S. Representative Hale Boggs of New Orleans.

Death[edit]

Kennon died in 1988 at the age of eighty-five. He and his wife, are not interred at the Minden Cemetery but in the Young Family Cemetery in Port Hudson in East Baton Rouge Parish.[38]

Tombstone of Governor and Mrs. Robert F. Kennon

In 2001, Kennon was posthumously inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.[39]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Former Governor Kennon dies", Minden Press-Herald, January 12, 1988, p. 1
  2. ^ "LOUISIANA'S CHIEF BACKS EISENHOWER; Gov. Kennon Says General Will End 'Truman Era of Minks, Pay-Offs and Rackets'". The New York Times. September 7, 1952. p. 1. Retrieved January 6, 2015. 
  3. ^ "Reagan picks up endorsement of former Demo governor", Minden Press-Herald, November 3, 1980, p. 1
  4. ^ Minden Herald, October 12, 1934, p. 3
  5. ^ "Sallie Sentell Obituary". Shreveport Times, January 7, 2013. Retrieved January 7, 2013. 
  6. ^ "Robert F. Kennon Elected Youngest Mayor in State", Webster Signal-Tribune and Springhill Journal, Historical Edition, 1926
  7. ^ Kennon advertisement, Minden Press, January 4, 1952, p. 5
  8. ^ John Agan (2002). Minden: Perseverance and Pride. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing Company. p. 197. ISBN 9781439630532. Retrieved March 7, 2015. 
  9. ^ Earlene Mendenhall Lyle, The Minden Cemetery: A Peaceful Resting Place, June 2004, pp. 4, 67, 88
  10. ^ "[John] Fort Will Be Held in Caddo Parish on Murder Charges," Webster Signal-Tribune, November 14, 1933, p. 1
  11. ^ "Official Vote of Webster and Bossier Parishes", Minden Herald, September 18, 1930, p. 1
  12. ^ List of District Attorneys from Webster Parish, Webster Parish Centennial Booklet, 1971, p. 17; Graydon K. Kitchens, Jr., was from 1976 to 1996 a city, ward, and state court judge based in Minden.
  13. ^ Kennon advertisement, Minden Press, January 4, 1952, p. 5
  14. ^ Minden Herald, October 3, 1947, p. 11
  15. ^ Minden Herald, January 9, 1948, p. 3
  16. ^ "Kennon Advocates Ad Valorem Tax Death for State", Minden Herald, November 14, 1947, p. 1
  17. ^ "Bob Kennon Says Jones, Morrison Losing Out in La.", Minden Herald, November 21, 1947, p. 1
  18. ^ "Kennon Rally to End First Primary Race", Minden Herald, January 16, 1948, p. 1
  19. ^ "Kennon Scores One-Family Rule", Minden Herald, July 30, 1948, p. 1
  20. ^ Minden Herald, September 3, 1948, p. 1
  21. ^ Minden Herald, December 7, 1951, p. 1
  22. ^ Michael J. Dubin. United States Gubernatorial Elections, 1932-1952: The Official Results by State and County. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company. pp. 103–104. ISBN 978-0-7864-7034-1. Retrieved January 6, 2015. 
  23. ^ Milburn E. Calhoun (2008). Louisiana Almanac, 2008-2009. Pelican Publishing Company. p. 511. Retrieved November 29, 2013. 
  24. ^ Minden Herald, May 16, 1952, p. 1
  25. ^ Minden Press, December 2, 1963, p. 4
  26. ^ Michael L. Kurtz, "Gov. Robert F. Kennon: Government by the Civics Book," North Louisiana History, Vol. 12 Nos. 2-3 (Spring-Summer 1981) pp. 52-61
  27. ^ "Dunbar, Charles E". A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography (lahistory.org). Retrieved December 16, 2010. 
  28. ^ Minden Press, December 2, 1963, p. 4
  29. ^ Minden Herald, December 8, 1955, p. 1
  30. ^ J. M. McLemore Outlines Plan on Segregation", Minden Herald and Webster Review, December 22, 1955, p. 2
  31. ^ Minden Herald and Webster Review", December 8, 1955
  32. ^ "Graydon Kitchens Booted from Post by Legislature", Minden Herald, May 24, 1956, p. 1
  33. ^ "Mims Will Not Seek Another Term", Minden Press-Herald, undated 1975 article
  34. ^ The Minden Press, September 23, 1963, p. 16
  35. ^ William C. Havard, Rudolf Heberle, and Perry H. Howard, The Louisiana Elections of 1960, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Studies, 1963, p. 98
  36. ^ Lake Charles American-Press, December 3, 1963, p. 26
  37. ^ "Kennon Indicates He Will Bolt Democratic Party Rather Than Support Kennedy", The Minden Press, August 26, 1963, p. 1
  38. ^ "Young Family Cemetery - Kennon". la.-cemeteries.com. Retrieved May 31, 2011. 
  39. ^ "City of Winnfield: Visitor Info". cityofwinnfield.com. Archived from the original on July 3, 2009. Retrieved May 31, 2011. 

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
Earl Long
Democratic nominee for Governor of Louisiana
1952
Succeeded by
Earl Long
Political offices
Preceded by
Earl Long
Governor of Louisiana
1952–1956
Succeeded by
Earl Long
Preceded by
Daniel I. J. Thornton
Chair of the National Governors Association
1954–1955
Succeeded by
Arthur B. Langlie