Russell Long

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Russell Billiu Long (1918-2003), the older son of Huey Pierce Long, Sr., and Rose McConnell Long, was a Democrat from Louisiana who served in the United States Senate from December 31, 1948, until his retirement on January 3, 1987. As the long-time chairman of the Senate Finance Committee (1965-1981), Long was a key player in the writing of the national tax code at a time when federal spending with the advent of the Great Society and the costs of the Vietnam War began to accelerate in a dramatic fashion.

A native of Shreveport and a long-time resident of Baton Rouge, Long first won his Senate seat in 1948, when he defeated future governor of Louisiana, Robert F. Kennon of Minden, in the Democratic primary special election to fill the two years remaining in the term of Senator John H. Overton, who died in office. (There was an interim senator, William C. Feazel, a Long supporter.) One day shy of his thirtieth birthday, Long then handily defeated the Repubican nominee, Clem S. Clarke, a Shreveport oilman and supporter of Thomas Dewey for president. Leander Perez, a Louisiana political boss from Plaquemines Parish and then the head of the state party central committee, attempted to assign the Democratic designation to Clarke, rather than Long, but he was forced to yield to the powerful Long forces. At the time Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, not U.S. President Harry Truman, was the official Democratic presidential nominee in Louisiana and three other former Confederate states. Had Clarke been permitted to run under the Thurmond and the Dewey banners, it was speculated that he could have defeated Long and sidelined a long political career in the making. Instead, Long ran on the Thurmond and Truman tickets. The Longs endorsed Truman in his successful election against Dewey and Thurmond.

In the 1962 general election, Long defeated Taylor Walters O'Hearn of Shreveport, who two years later became one of the first two Republicans elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives since Reconstruction. In 1974, the Republicans could not recruit a candidate to oppose Long because of the likelihoof of failure, explained the then party chairman James H. Boyce. In 1980, in his last Senate race, Long defeated Woody Jenkins of Baton Rouge, then a Democrat who ran again for the Senate in 1996 as a Republican against current Senator Mary Landrieu. As a youth, Jenkins had been a page for O'Hearn and Republican Morley A. Hudson in the Louisiana House, in which Jenkins himself served from 1972 to 2000.

Long was known for a humorous quote about taxation. One version says, "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that fellow behind that tree!" Long retired from the Senate, and the Democrat John Breaux won the seat, which he held for three terms. Long became a high-powered lawyer-lobbyist on leaving the Senate. From 1972 until 1987, his senatorial colleague was fellow Democrat J. Bennett Johnston, Jr., of Shreveport, who also became a lobbyist on retirement from the Senate. From 1948 until 1972, Long's Louisiana colleage was Allen J. Ellender, a Democrat from Terrebonne Parish, who like Long was known for his opposition to the Joseph McCarthy communist investigations of the 1950s..

Though a partisan Democrat, Long struck up a close friendship with at least two Republican senators, Clifford Hansen of Wyoming and Bob Dole of Kansas. Hansen, in an interview long after he had left Washington, said that Long, with whom he served on the Finance Committee, took a special interest in western ranchers and how they were impacted by the tax code and federal regulations. After a divorce from their first wives, Long and Dole both married women from North Carolina and maintained a close friendship over the years. In 1980, Dole cut a commercial for the Long senatorial campaign, when Long was opposed by Woody Jenkins. Oddly, in 1996, Jenkins narrowly lost the Senate race to Landrieu while Dole, as the Republican presidential nominee, was losing Louisiana to U.S. President Bill Clinton. In 1981, Dole succeeded Long as chairman of the Finance Committee when the Republicans gained a Senate majority for the first time since 1954.

On Long's death, former Senator Johnston delivered an impassioned eulogy of his friend, as did Long's grandson, Russell Long Mosley. The Russell B. Long Federal Building and Courthouse in Baton Rouge is named in his honor.

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