Huey Long, Democratic Governor of Louisiana
The term corrupt is controversial when it comes to politicians because one man’s corruption is another man’s patriotism (in some cases, anyways). Huey Long was the poor man’s man, or at least that is what he proclaimed himself to be, His motto was “Every man, a king.”
In some ways, Huey Long may be the most controversial politician to take office in the 20th century. He was elected as a Democrat to the governorship of Louisiana in 1928, and held the office until 1932 when he took a seat in the United States Senate. While governor, Long was heralded as a hero to some, while others considered him a dictator and a threat to the country. Granted, a lot of people would be thinking about Franklin D. Roosevelt over the next decade as well.
The issue for Long was income inequality. This was a huge deal in those days because of the Great Depression, which kicked off a year into Long’s governorship. During his tenure, Long sought to redistribute wealth, and would do so through any means, including a vast network of ‘cronies’ he helped into positions of power through political patronage. He also used threats and bribes to beat his wealthy and entrenched rivals. While he was elected to the Senate in 1930, he wouldn’t take his seat until 1932, after his term as governor was over.
A year into his term as governor, the Louisiana legislature tried to impeach him, charging him with corruption, bribery and ‘blasphemy’. The Louisiana House passed several of the charges and passed the proceedings off to the Senate, but Long was able to get one-third of the Senate to sign a commitment to vote against any charges regardless of any evidence. In return for their vote, they were given state jobs or cash. The debate in both houses of State Congress was heated, often leading to brawls on the House Floor.
There are also other ways Huey Long was corrupt. He sought to pass an extravagant tax on newspapers that published articles that went against him and he intimidated his opponents by threatening their relatives who worked in state government.
Outside of his political corruption, his personality often rubbed people the wrong way, and he was kind of a jerk. At one party in 1933, he urinated on the trousers of a fellow guest, who then punched him in the eye.
His efforts to redistribute wealth, while protecting his political base and economic power, led to a lot of enemies. Through vast public works projects and high taxes on the wealthy, he changed Louisiana’s political landscape. His actions caught up to him on September 8, 1935, when he was assassinated by the son of one of his long-time political rivals. He died on September 10.