Former Louisiana Gov. Sam Jones. (Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Monday, July 09, 2012 6:17 PM
A marker commemorating the birth site of former Louisiana Gov. Sam Jones in Merryville is both fitting and welcomed news.
Jones spearheaded much-needed reforms in the state’s government during his tenure from 1940-44. The state park nestled along with west fork of the Calcasieu River bears his name and Sam Houston High School in Moss Bluff also recognizes the former governor.
Now, a marker will be placed at the site of the cabin where he was born in 1897. The ceremony will be held at 11:30 a.m. Friday at Merryville High School, across the street from the Jones’ family property.
A graduate of DeRidder High School, Jones left LSU in 1917 to volunteer for the Army in World War I. After his return to civilian life, he passed the Louisiana Bar, began practicing law in 1922 and became an assistant prosecutor.
But he left an inedible mark on Louisiana’s government after winning election to the state’s highest office in 1940.
He’s best remembered for dismantling the daunting political machine orchestrated by Huey Long. According to the book ‘‘Louisiana Governors, Rulers, Rascals and Reformers’’ by Walter Cowan and Jack McGuire, Jones revised election laws to eliminate fraud at the polls, set up a constitutional amendment to eliminate the poll tax, abolished the state sales tax, revised the voter registration law, established civil service for state employees, eliminated deducts from state workers’ payrolls, passed a public record act and providing voting machines in the cities. He also reduced 170 state departments to 20.
Jones, in a forward for ‘‘Louisiana Hayride’’, described Long’s tenure as a ‘‘reign of terror.’’
‘‘The right of free elections were wiped out, and absolute control was seized by the leader of one political faction. ... Freedom of assembly vanished. Laws were passed that were never read by the Legislature; many of them were revised, if not entirely rewritten, after adjournment of the law-making body,’’ wrote Jones.
‘‘Public records were closed to the public. The State Police became the law of the land, with authority to supersede any and all local enforcement officers; to arrest citizens on political charges and transport them to distant jails beyond the reach of friends, without benefit of bail by any court ... . Martial law was imposed on the state capitol for six months one time, when there was no disaster, no riot, no rebellion and no strife — and hence to justification.’’
In four years as governor, Jones did more to pull Louisiana from the precipice of this insanity than any other governor before or after.
Jones could not succeed himself in 1944 and in 1948, he suffered a fate of under-appreciation that many reformers endure, losing in the governor’s race to Huey’s brother, Earl K. Long.
But his reform campaign lives on today in the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, a non-partisan, good government organization that Jones helped found.
So, it is good and right that Gov. Sam Jones’ birth site earns a historical marker and his story of vision, courage and dramatic change is retold to new generations.
This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Dennis Spears, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.