B. B. "Sixty" Rayburn
"Sixty" Rayburn, Sr.
Louisiana State Senator for District 12 (St. Helena, St. Tammany, Washington, and Tangipahoa parishes)
1951 – 1996
|Preceded by||H. H. Richardson|
|Succeeded by||Philip Granville "Phil" Short|
Louisiana State Representative
for Washington Parish
1948 – 1951
|Preceded by||Murphy R. Williams |
|Succeeded by||N. L. Smith |
Washington Parish Police Juror
(county commission in other states)
1944 – 1948
|Born|| August 11, 1916|
Sumrall, Lamar County
|Died|| March 5, 2008 (aged 91)|
Bogalusa, Washington Parish
|Resting place||Palestine Cemetery in Washington Parish|
|Spouse(s)||Hazel Blanchard Rayburn (1918–2001)|
|Children|| Tommie Jean Rayburn
Betty Ann Rayburn Bedwell
|Occupation||Horse rancher; Farmer; Pipefitter|
(1) Like Strom Thurmond in the United States Senate, Sixty Rayburn was the Louisiana State Senate's answer to longevity in public life.
Benjamin Burras Rayburn, Sr., known as B. B. "Sixty" Rayburn (August 11, 1916 – March 5, 2008), was a veteran politician from Bogalusa, an incorporated city in Washington Parish in southeastern Louisiana in the United States. He was a firm supporter of the region's public hospitals, highways, and its indigenous Southeastern Louisiana University.
He served as a populist Democrat in both houses of the Louisiana State Legislature from 1948 to 1996. Rayburn's political roots were imbedded in the administrations of Governor Earl Kemp Long, but he was also friendly with later chief executives John J. McKeithen and Edwin Edwards. Even his loud and raspy voice was often compared to that of Earl Long. Rayburn survived generations of social and political change in his adopted home state, including the collapse of legal segregation as well as the rise of women and Republicans to positions of authority. A raconteur, Rayburn entertained many with his lively reminiscences of the historic Long era. Rayburn was allied with organized labor and claimed to vote on a bill according to how the legislation in question would impact the "little man." Because of his longevity and power, Rayburn was known for years as the unofficial "Dean of the Louisiana Senate."
Unrelated to U. S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn, Sixty Rayburn was born to Thomas Jefferson Rayburn and the former Grace Rawls, a farming couple in Sumrall in Lamar County in southwestern Mississippi. He graduated from Sumrall High School. Thereafter, the family moved to nearby Bogalusa, where Rayburn completed the Sullivan Vocational Technical School, or "trade school," for which he later helped to secure a new campus that opened in 1971. The parents separated, and Rayburn came to Bogalusa with his mother, but the father arrived thereafter. Despite his limited formal education, Rayburn in 1959 was awarded an honorary doctorate from Loyola University of New Orleans in recognition of his expertise in state government.
Rayburn married the former Hazel Blanchard (October 27, 1918 – October 15, 2001). The couple had three children: Tommie Jean Rayburn, Betty Ann Rayburn Bedwell, and Benny Rayburn, the sheriff of Washington Parish from 1982 to 1992. Rayburn said that he could not adjust after Hazel's death: "I can't even find my socks in the morning when I get dressed," he said in an interview withThe Bogalusa Daily News. He admitted that Mrs. Rayburn did not like politics too much, but she was always helpful in taking messages and being there for him.
Rayburn earned his livelihood as a pipefitter, having been employed for thirty years at Crown Zellerbach, a paper mill, but in time he became a prosperous horse rancher and farmer. In 1944, he was elected to a single term on the Washington Parish Police Jury (equivalent to county commission in most other states). At twenty-eight, Rayburn was then the youngest police juror in the state. At the Louisiana Police Jury Convention, Rayburn first met Earl Long, who shared Rayburn's interest in politics and livestock, particularly hogs and cattle.
Three theories have been advanced as to how Rayburn acquired his popular sobriquet, "Sixty": (1) he sat in Seat 60 in a rural Mississippi school, (2) he never scored much beyond 60 percent on a school examination, or more likely (3) he was Number 60 on the ballot in his first race for office. Perhaps fittingly, Louisiana State Highway 60 (LA 60) lies through the southwest of Rayburn's hometown, Bogalusa.
In 1948, while Long won his first full-term as governor, Rayburn was also elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives. He left the lower chamber in 1951, when he won a special election to fill a vacancy in the state Senate created by the resignation of H. H. Richardson.
In time, Rayburn's District 12 (so numbered in 1972) included Washington Parish and portions of St. Helena, St. Tammany and Tangipahoa parishes. In 1983, he was placed in the same district as a colleague, W. E. "Bill" Dykes of St. Helena Parish, who was moved from adjacent District 11. Dykes did not run against the dominant Rayburn. Sixty Rayburn remained in the Senate until 1996, having been defeated in a tight election in 1995 by the Republican Philip Granville "Phil" Short (a real estate agent and a retired lieutenant colonel in the United States Marine Corps. Short, who was reared in Shreveport, polled 21,222 votes (51 percent) to Rayburn's 20,676 (49 percent). The Republicans targeted Rayburn and eleven other Democratic senators that year.
In his last successful election in 1991, Rayburn (24,326 votes or 65 percent) easily defeated Republican Gerald "Jerry" Creel, Sr. (8,424 or 22 percent), and Independent Roy L. Crawford, (4,701 or 13 percent). In 1987, Rayburn had defeated Roy Crawford, then running as a Democrat, 31,903 (75 percent) to 10,377 (25 percent).
Short resigned the District 12 seat three years later in 1999 to accept a position with the Marines and subsequently left Louisiana. Coincidentally, both senators who preceded and succeeded Rayburn served only three years of their term, resigned, and necessitated special elections. Rayburn's district appeared to have turned solidly Republican in the election of February 6, 1999, when the sole Democratic candidate, Stanley Middleton, polled only 9 percent of the ballots cast. Short was hence succeeded by Democrat-turned-Republican Jerry Thomas, who won the seat outright in the first round of balloting with 51 percent of the vote. In the balloting for full term on October 23, 1999, Thomas defeated Middleton, his only opponent, 76-24 percent. Democrat Ben Nevers won the seat with 43 percent of the primary ballots, because the second-place candidate, Republican Richard Tanner, who trailed with 21 percent, withdrew from the general election when the arithmetic of the race indicated a likely Democratic takeover because more than 70 percent of the primary ballots had gone to Democratic candidates. Nevers was unopposed in 2007; so the Rayburn seat returned to its traditional Democratic moorings. Rayburn's Senate seat is now in Republican hands.
Rayburn and Earl Long
In 1959, Rayburn acted as a lieutenant for Earl Long and helped to get the governor sprung from a mental institution where he had been confined by his wife, Blanche Long. Ironically, it was Jesse Bankston, later the longtime Democratic Party state chairman, who had signed the original commitment papers because he thought that he was acting in his friend Long's best interest. Rayburn, however, remained loyal to Long even as family members, concerned about the governor's drinking and public relationships with Bourbon Street strippers, had Bankston, then the state director of hospitals, commit Long to Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville. With Rayburn's help, Long worked from his hospital bed to fire Bankston and then get released.
Upon Rayburn's death, Bankston said that the veteran lawmaker had excelled in speechmaking but was also strong on Democratic issues involving education and labor. The two had long since reconciled their differences over Long's hospitalization.
Former Senate secretary Mike Baer, himself a native of Rayburn's Bogalusa, declared the former lawmaker the "last of the Red Hot Poppas," a term that Earl Long had applied to himself in the 1950s to refer to politicians traveling from one community to another with sound trucks for stump speaking, rather than reliance on slick television advertising. Baer noted that Rayburn could stop a bill by making a familiar argument that the proposed law would "hurt the poor people. ... Even the author of a bill often withdrew it or voted against his own bill after Sixty spoke against it."
Defender of charity hospitals
Much of Rayburn's power came through his chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee, where he stressed his desire to "protect the little man" and the poor from budget cuts in social services and the state's public hospitals known as "charity hospitals" and other social services.
Rayburn said in a 2006 interview with the Bogalusa Daily News that he supported unpopular tax hikes in 1948 which helped to defeat the Long statewide slate of candidates in 1952, but those levies still finance the state's charity hospital system. Rayburn worked to secure a charity hospital for Bogalusa. He pushed for the air conditioning of Charity Hospital of New Orleans, known as "Big Charity". Rayburn himself once sought treatment at Big Charity when he contracted spinal meningitis. Rayburn said the system is essential in Louisiana because many of its residents cannot afford medical insurance. When Governor Charles E. "Buddy" Roemer, III, tried to close the charity hospital in Amite in Tangipahoa Parish, Rayburn blocked him by merely returning the appropriation to the spending bill. In effect, he showed that the chairman of the Finance Committee could trump the governor.
As a House member, Rayburn began work in 1948 on the Washington-St. Tammany Charity Hospital in Bogalusa, which opened in January 1951, shortly before he entered the Senate. Mike Baer described Rayburn as "the last of the great populists in this state. He carried on the Long legacy until he left the Senate He was truly for 'the poor man' and championed universal tax-funded health care."
In 1973, Rayburn served as chairman of the Committee on Revenue, Finance and Taxation at the state Constitutional Convention, which produced the Louisiana Constitution of 1974. He served at the convention with future Governor Roemer and future Secretary of State and Insurance Commissioner James H. "Jim" Brown as well as such lawmakers as state Representatives Richard Harmon Drew, Sr. (1917-1995), of Webster Parish and Frank Fulco of Caddo Parish.
Rayburn advocated pay-as-you-go for state projects and insisted that local government fund its own projects. "We've run a Cadillac on a Ford budget for so long, the people are spoiled. Sooner or later, we’re going to run out of gas," Rayburn said to the recollection of Mike Baer.
Rayburn served on a number of committees: Conservation, Education, Transportation and Public Works, Industrial Relations, Labor and Capital, Long-range Highway, Retirement, Interim Emergency Board, Bond Commission, and as Chairman of both the Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.
Even with the election in 1979 of David C. Treen as the state's first Republican governor since Reconstruction, Rayburn maintained his reputation as a populist Democrat and an ally of organized labor. He strongly supported the scandal plagued Democratic Governor Edwards in the 1970s, the 1980s, and the early 1990s.
In 1973, Rayburn was made an honorary member of the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association in recognition of his years of service to the cause of "the health of man and his domesticated animals" in Louisiana, and for his work in the establishment of Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine in Baton Rouge. He was the first lay person to have received this honor.
Rayburn, who owned racehorses, was president of the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association from 1966 to 1998. Association secretary-treasurer Tom Early declared the former senator responsible for every piece of legislation that benefited the horse-racing industry in Louisiana for decades: "He was our go-to guy in the legislature." One of Rayburn's legislative and constitutional convention colleagues, Donald G. Kelly of Natchitoches, shared his interest in racehorses. Rayburn was also a member of the Louisiana Cattlemans Association.
Rayburn switched sides on segregation and worked with African American politicians in the 1970s. "I used to have some friends in the Ku Klux Klan, I admit that. ... But things have changed, and Rayburn rides with the waves," he said in a speech in 1977.
From 1960 to 1988, his House colleague from Washington Parish was Lawrence A. Sheridan of Angie, chairman of the House Retirement Committee. Sheridan was unseated in 1987 by the Democrat and later Republican Jerry Thomas, a physician from Franklinton.
Allegations against Rayburn refuted
Rayburn's lengthy career ended amid allegations of scandal in the early 1990s. The New York Times reported that Rayburn's colleague Larry S. Bankston of Baton Rouge, a son of Jesse Bankston and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had met in Bankston law office with Fred Goodson, the owner of a video poker truck stop in Slidell in St. Tammany Parish.. According to a Federal Bureau of Investigation affidavit, Bankston and Goodson discussed a plan to protect the financial interest of the video poker owners. The legislators in exchange would receive hidden payments from the truck stops. There were to be monthly payments in the amount of $5,000 made to Rayburn's daughter, Tommie Jean, in exchange for Rayburn's assistance in protecting video poker interests.
Accused of having taken bribes to protect the video poker interests, Rayburn was found not guilty, but he had already lost his bid for a twelfth full Senate term. "I’ve sold a lot of things in my life, but I’ve never sold a vote, and I want them to prove it," Rayburn told his jury. Bankston, however, would up serving 3.5 years in prison for taking bribes from Goodson.
Rayburn later returned to the state Capitol to lobby for legislation to protect thoroughbred horse racing and to maintain hog-dog competitions, which animal rights groups oppose. In such contests, dogs are used to hunt wild hogs. Rayburn noted that it was Earl Long who took him on his first hog hunt in 1948, a sport for which Rayburn developed a passion. Of Long, Rayburn said, "He was just my type of person. He was down to earth. He liked hogs, cattle and people."
Death at ninety-one
On March 5, 2008, Rayburn died at St. Tammany Parish Hospital north of New Orleans. He had been hospitalized in February and was diagnosed with lung cancer. In his last years, Rayburn tinkered with tractors, cut hay, and hunted quail. Friends and family said that he maintained those practices until weeks before his death. Rayburn was a member of the Masonic lodge and a Shriner. Rayburn was preceded in death by his parents, wife, son, a grandson (died at two days in 2000), one sister, Polly R. Rizan, and three brothers, John Daniel Rayburn, Thomas D. "Doc" Rayburn, and Robert B. "Bob" Rayburn. All three brothers died separately in 1966. Survivors included his daughters, Tommie Jean and Betty Ann; son-in-law, William Bedwell; daughter-in-law, Cidette Lewis Rayburn (born 1946), the widow of former Sheriff Rayburn, all of Bogalusa, and five grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.
Services were held on March 8 at his home congregation, Palestine Baptist Church in Washington Parish. Interment was at the church cemetery, which is adjacent to Rayburn's farm. Republican Governor Bobby Jindal ordered flags on state buildings flown at half staff on March 7 to honor Rayburn.
Then Louisiana State Senate President Joel Chaisson, a Democrat from Destrehan in St. Charles Parish, who began his legislative career during Rayburn's final term in the chamber, said that the Senate has "lost a dear friend and former colleague, (and) the people of Louisiana have lost a dedicated, compassionate public servant. Throughout his decades of service, Sixty prided himself as the voice of the little people, rightly reminding us at every opportunity that Louisiana belongs to everyone.... We will miss his wit, frankness and great oratorical style. We will not forget his love for Louisiana."
Former Governor Treen of Mandeville recalled Rayburn as a legislator who was always reliable: "I remember that he was very straightforward - dependable. You knew where he was, and where he was going."
Former Republican Governor Murphy J. "Mike" Foster, Jr., who served as a Democrat with Rayburn in the state Senate, called his former colleague: "bigger than life, a great orator, and a powerful member of the legislature."
Imprisoned former Governor Edwards released a statement: "His repeated re-election is proof of his service to his constituents. A giant has moved from the political scene, and he will be missed. I extend my sympathy to his family and friends and regret I will not be able to attend his services."
In 1993, Rayburn was among the first dozen inductees into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield, along with former Governors Edwin Edwards, Huey Pierce Long, Jr., and Earl Long; former U.S. Representative Thomas Hale Boggs (1914-1972) of New Orleans, and former New Orleans Mayor Ernest "Dutch" Morial.
On August 31, 2006, the Washington Correctional Institute in Washington Parish was renamed the B.B. "Sixty" Rayburn Correctional Center. In 1978, Senate Concurrent Resolution 135 named the LSU Veterinary School as the Rayburn School of Veterinary Science.
Rayburn's memorabilia are in a substantial collection in the Rayburn Room of Center for Southeast Louisiana Studies of the Linus A. Sims Memorial Library at Southeastern Louisiana University.
- Bogalusa Daily News Online
- "Ex-Sen, 'Sixty' Rayburn dies at 91," Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, March 6, 2008.
- Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, November 18, 1995.
- Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, October 19, 1991.
- Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, October 24, 1987.
- Members of the Louisiana State Senate, 1889-2004, August 2013
- Louisana Senate Dist. 12 Election Returns. Ourcampaigns.com (October 23, 1999). Retrieved on November 4, 2013.
- Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, October 23, 1999.
- Lawrence A. Sheridan obituary, The Bogalusa Daily News, April 9, 2001.
- Adam Nossiter. "Gamblers Bought Off Louisiana Legislators, Affidavits Say", The New York Times, August 23, 1995.
- ES&S, Diebold lobbyists. bbvforums.org (May 21, 2005). Retrieved on June 25, 2013.
- Longtime state Sen. B.B. "Sixty" Rayburn dead at 91. KALB-TV (March 6, 2008; no longer on-line).
- Rayburn Collection and Photo Collection. Southeastern Louisiana University. Retrieved on September 13, 2019.