James H. Boyce

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James Harvey "Jimmy" Boyce, Sr. (October 6, 1922 - May 15, 1990), was a Baton Rouge businessman and a pioneer in the development of the Republican Party in Louisiana. He served as state party chairman from 1972 to 1976. He was also involved in philanthropic endeavors and was a benefactor of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.[1]

Boyce was born in Carrollton in north central Missouri, to Clarence George Boyce and the former Nora Clark, both natives of Iowa. Clarence Boyce did levee construction work along the Mississippi River and relocated his family to Baton Rouge. Young Boyce graduated from Baton Rouge High School and Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana. He also attended Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge for a year.

From 1942 to 1943, Boyce was a pilot in the United States Navy. He married the former Jane Thibaut (September 11, 1921 - May 9, 2012), a daughter of Bronier Lastrape Thibaut and the former Katherine Rice from the village of Napoleonville in Assumption Parish. Jane was the valedictorian of Napoleonville High School and thereafter a 1942 graduate in chemistry of Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg, Virginia, where her great-aunt was on the faculty. During World War II, Jane Boyce worked as one of the first female chemists at the Standard Oil (since Exxon-Mobil) refinery in Baton Rouge. Thereafter, she was active in the Baton Rouge civic community and the Roman Catholic diocese.[2]

James Boyce became well-known in Baton Rouge business and professional circles as the city's Caterpillar Company dealer, a position from which he retired in 1984. He sat on many civic boards, including the Baton Rouge Airport Commission, National Bank Board, Junior Achievement, the Better Business Bureau, and the National Alliance of Business, a creation of the administration of U.S. President Richard M. Nixon.

Like most Louisiana Republicans, Boyce was originally a Democrat. Voter registrars often advised new registrants to remain within the Democratic fold or be unable to vote in competitive races except for U.S. president, constitutional amendment elections, or tax referenda. Therefore, the Democratic registration as late as 1960 was often in excess of 98 percent.

In 1963, while still a nominal Democrat, Boyce went with a group of mostly Republican conservatives to urge then U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona to seek the presidency in 1964. Goldwater was at first reluctant to take on the challenge but nevertheless declared his candidacy early in 1964, when the Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson had been president for only two months and the favorite for a full term of his own.

Boyce switched parties and became the campaign treasurer for the gubernatorial election of his friend, Charlton Lyons of Shreveport. Boyce and his wife attended Republican National Conventions held in San Francisco in 1964 and in Miami Beach in both 1968 and 1972.

Boyce was elected state chairman to succeed the Lafayette businessman Charles C. de Gravelles. With Boyce's guidance, the Louisiana GOP offered Roy C. Strickland as an unsuccessful candidate against the Democrat Gillis William Long in the Eighth Congressional District in 1972. Strickland said that Boyce was "one of the initial sources of funding for my campaign, he was the financial heartbeat for many of the candidates, without him and his seed money, a lot of us would have never gotten off the ground."

Under Boyce's tutelage, the Louisiana GOP participated in the 49-state sweep for Nixon, having lost the presidential vote only in West Feliciana Parish. Moreover, under Boyce the still fledgling party did capture its first two seats in the United States House of Representatives since Reconstruction, with the election in 1972 of David C. Treen in the New Orleans suburbs and William Henson Moore in a 1975 special election, which was a rerun of the regular November 1974 general election in the Baton Rouge district.

Boyce told Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report that Louisiana Republicans were "so badly outnumbered that we can't find enough candidates to run in local elections," a problem that still plagued the party early in the 21st Century. Boyce said that his party may have won more legislative seats in the general election held on February 1, 1972, had Republican located more competitive candidates in districts receptive to a two-party message.

Boyce said that the party could not find a suitable candidate to challenge U.S. Senator Russell B. Long in 1974, who defeated Insurance Commissioner Sherman A. Bernard of Jefferson Parish in the Democratic primary. He discouraged finding "sacrificial lamb" candidates or "going through the motions of running. The candidate's feelings get hurt. We have to have a good candidate and financing for him."

Boyce said that Louisiana Republicans would not be hurt by the Watergate affair because it had "so little to lose." But Watergate caused missed opportunities for southern Republicans. Therefore, the reelection of Treen to Congress in 1974 and the victory of Moore in 1975 were gratifying to the Louisiana GOP.

Boyce was Episcopalian, but his wife was Catholic. There are three Boyce sons: James H. Boyce, Jr. (born 1943), John Clark Boyce (born 1945), and Jerry Thibaut Boyce, Sr. (born 1950). Namesake grandson James Boyce, III (born 1968) is an LSU graduate and the owner of several convenience stores and two consumer loan companies in Ascension Parish.

Within twenty years of Boyce's death, the Louisiana Republican Party had slowly emerged as the dominant political institution in the state, having controlled all statewide constitutional offices, majorities in both houses of the legislature, six of seven U.S. representatives, and one of two U.S. Senate seats.

References

  1. http://www.braf.org/page10243.cfm
  2. Jane Thibaut Boyce. Baton Rouge Morning Advocate. Retrieved on May 11, 2012.
  • Billy Hathorn, "The Republican Party in Louisiana", (Master's thesis, Northwestern State University at Natchitoches, 1980)
  • Jane Thibaut Boyce to Billy Hathorn, March 5, 2007
  • Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, October 26, 1974, p. 2962


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