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Huey Long

Huey Pierce Long (August 30, 1893 - September 10, 1935) was an American politician; he was governor of Louisiana (1928-1932), Senator (1932-1935) and a presidential hopeful before his assassination. He is often alleged to have had many dictatorial tendencies that made many of his actions quite unprecedented in modern American politics.

Long was born in Winnfield, Louisiana into a large farming family. He attended local schools before leaving in 1910 and becoming a salesman. He then attended the University of Oklahoma and Tulane University, passing the bar exam in 1915. He practiced law in Shreveport and specialised in compensation suits. He was elected chaiman of the Louisiana Railroad Commission in 1918. That body was renamed the Public Service Commission in 1921. In the 1920s he was one of the early adopters of radio for political campaigning and also took to always wearing a white linen suit in public. He ran for governor of Louisiana in 1924 but failed, although he was re-elected to the Public Service Commission. However, in 1928 he was elected governor, campaigning under the slogan of "every man a king, but no one wears a crown." Long took the nickname Kingfish after a character on the popular Amos & Andy radio program.

Once in office Long financed a wide-ranging program of public works; over 12,000 miles of road were paved and education funding was greatly increased. The program was financed by increased taxes on the rich and on big business. Long was determined to have his own way and, bypassing the state legislature, he put considerable effort into ensuring that his own people controlled every level of the state political system. His efforts in Louisiana were the subject of an IRS investigation; he had increased annual state government expenditure three-fold and the state debt over ten-fold. In 1929 he survived an attempt to have him impeached. It was often alleged that Long had abused his power to the point where he had become a dictator of sorts; his consolidation of power was quite unprecedented.

In 1930 he was elected to the United States Senate. He went to Washington in 1932 after having ensured that Alvin Olin King was elected to replace him as governor. Long continued to be in effective control of Louisiana while he was a senator. Though he had no constitutional authority to do so, he continued to draft and press bills through the Lousiana legislature, which remained controlled by his supporters. He was vigorous in his efforts to try to combat the damages of the Great Depression.

He was a vocal supporter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1932 election, but when Long was not offered a federal post he turned against him. In 1933 he was part of the three week Senate filibuster against the Glass-Steagall Act. In 1934 he created the Share Our Wealth program, proposing heavy new taxes on the super-rich. He positioned himself to run against Roosevelt in the 1936 elections, announcing his bid in August, 1935.

On September 9, 1935 he was shot once by Carl Weiss in the Capitol building at Baton Rouge. Weiss was immediately shot dead by Long's bodyguards. (Persistent rumors allege that Weiss actually had no gun and only struck Long with his hand, and Long was accidentally shot by his own guards when they opened fire on Weiss.) Weiss was the son-in-law of Judge Benjamin Pavy, a long-time political opponent of Long. Long died the following day from internal bleeding following an incompetent attempt to close the wounds by Dr. Arthur Vidrine.

Some say that Huey should have recovered from the wounds, and that his doctors killed him. Huey's brother, Earl Long, was elected governor of Louisiana on three occasions. Huey Long's son Russell B. Long also became a Senator.

The book All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren, charting the corruption of a politician, Willie Stark, is clearly based on Long. The same is said to apply to the hero of Sinclair Lewis' novel It Can't Happen Here.

Huey P. Long was also the subject of an early documentary film by Ken Burns, who went on to direct epic documentaries about jazz, baseball, and the American Civil War.

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