Douglas Fowler

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Wiley Douglas Fowler, Sr.

Louisiana Elections Commissioner​
In office
1959​ – December 31, 1979​
Preceded by Drayton Boucher
Succeeded by Jerry Marston Fowler

Mayor of Coushatta in Red River Parish, Louisiana​
In office
January 2, 1953​ – June 12, 1953​
Preceded by Lester Vetter​
Succeeded by Hendrix M. "Mutt" Fowler (brother)​

Red River Parish Clerk of Court​
In office
1940​ – 1952​

Born =April 26, 1906​
Coushatta, Louisiana​
Died January 29, 1980 (aged 73)​
Natchitoches, Louisiana ​
Resting place Springville Cemetery in Coushatta, Louisiana​
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) Abbie Marston Fowler (1906–1976, her death)​
Relations H. M. Fowler]] (brother)
Children Douglas Fowler, Jr. (1938–1998)​

Jerry Marston Fowler (1940-2009)​

Alma mater
Occupation Politician

Wiley Douglas Fowler, Sr., known as Doug Fowler (November 17, 1906 – January 29, 1980),[1] was a politician from rural Red River Parish in northwestern Louisiana, a loyal supporter of Governor Earl Kemp Long, and his state's chief elections officer from 1959, until declining health forced his retirement, effective December 31, 1979. Fowler laid the groundwork for a small-scale family political dynasty in Louisiana. Jerry Marston Fowler succeeded his father as elections commissioner and served until a scandal caused his defeat at the polls, effective in 2000. And one of Fowler's two brothers, Hendrix Marion "Mutt" Fowler, went into local politics, served as a state representative for fourteen years and ended his public career, also amid a scandal, as the executive director of the Sabine River Authority in Many in Sabine Parish.​

​Fowler was a native of Coushatta, of which he was briefly the mayor from January 2 to June 12, 1953. "Mutt" Fowler succeeded his brother as mayor.​ Fowler was thrice elected a the Red River Parish clerk of court, 1940, 1944, and 1948.

Running for state auditor, 1952

​ In 1952, Fowler ran unsuccessfully for state auditor on the intra-party gubernatorial ticket headed by U.S. Representative Thomas Hale Boggs, Sr., of New Orleans.[2] The incumbent L. B. Baynard in turn lost the runoff election to Allison Kolb, the choice of the successful candidate for governor, Robert F. Kennon of Minden.

In 1956, Fowler, a particular favorite of Earl Long's wife, Blanche Revere Long, ran again for state auditor but was defeated in the primary by Bill Dodd, who had served as lieutenant governor under Earl Long from 1948 to 1952. Also in that race was the incumbent Allison Kolb, who in 1967 defected to the Republican Party and ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer on February 6, 1968. The Long faction was divided over whether to back Fowler or Dodd for auditor.​ ​ Thereafter, Long rewarded Fowler for his loyalty to the Long faction and named him the third appointed "custodian of voting machines." The legislature created the unusual position — the only in the nation — at Long's request as a result of a bitter dispute that the governor was having with Secretary of State Wade Omer Martin, Jr. (1911-1990), whose office then handled elections duties. A political commentator, Alan Ehrenhalt, years later dubbed the "custodianship" as "the most ridiculous elective office in the history of state government."​

Custodian of voting machines

​ Fowler was appointed by Long as the director of the state Board of Registration, a position earlier held by Long confidant Drayton Rogers Boucher of Springhill, a former member of the state Senate from Bossier and Webster parishes. Fowler's title was changed to "custodian" in 1959, and he ran for the position in the 1959-1960 Democratic primaries. Fowler said that he deserved the appointment because "I worked hard enough for it, and no one deserved it more," and he "beat the bushes" for Long in the 1947-1948 gubernatorial cycle. That year Long defeated his old intra-party rival, former Governor Sam Houston Jones of Lake Charles. Fowler, meanwhile, defeated a number of opponents in a close Democratic primary race in 1959.​

In the Democratic runoff election held on January 9, 1960, Fowler defeated David Wallace Chennault, Sr. (1923–1980), a native of El Paso, Texas, then living in Monroe.[3][4] Chennault was the sixth of eight children of General Claire Chennault of the World War II Flying Tigers and first wife, Nell Thompson Chennault (1893-1977, whom Chennault divorced. Chennault ran on the losing intraparty ticket headed by deLesseps Story "Chep" Morrison, Sr. (1912-1964), the mayor of New Orleans who ran unsuccessfully for the second of three times in a bid to become governor of Louisiana. Fowler ran on the rival ticket headed by former Governor Jimmie Davis, who staged a comeback for a second term in the office.[5]

David Chennault died at the age of fifty-six in Houston, Texas, but he still listed a Monroe address with the Social Security Administration at the time of his passing.[6]​ ​ In the general election held on April 19, 1960, Fowler overwhelmed William C. Porter (1910-1977),[3] a Republican railroad claims agent from Alexandria, 86.8 percent to 13.2 percent. Porter had been an alternate delegate to the 1956 Republican National Convention in San Francisco, California.​

In 1963 to 1964, Fowler defeated Raymond Laborde, the mayor of Marksville in Avoyelles Parish, and later a state representative from 1972 to 1992, and commissioner of administration in the fourth and final term of Edwin Edwards. An Edwards boyhood friend, Laborde ran on the intra-party ticket headed by Chep Morrison. Laborde argued unsuccessfully at the time for the abolition of Fowler's office. All of the Morrison candidates were defeated.​ ​ Fowler was thereafter easily reelected to his administrative position in 1968, 1972, and 1975.

Later challengers

In 1971, Fowler won Democratic re-nomination over several candidates, including Jerome Sauer, who raised questions about the validity of voting machines in providing an accurate voter count.[7] Fowler then faced only his second ever Republican opponent, Edward Wilhelm Christiansen, Jr. (1923-2014), a native of Savannah, Georgia, and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who had volunteered for the United States Army Air Corps during World War II. He flew more than twenty missions as a Martin B-26 Marauder pilot in the European Theater of Operations. After the war, Christiansen flew 121 missions as a transport pilot in the Berlin Airlift. He was thereafter a fighter pilot in Germany. On leaving the military, Christiansen worked in the hotel/tourism business. For twenty years he was a manager and part-owner of the Saint Charles Inn on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans.[8] ​ Christiansen was also a former mathematics instructor at Tulane University in New Orleans. He was a delegate to the 1972 Republican National Convention held in MIami Beach, Florida. In the campaign against Fowler, Christiansen proposed that modern electronic voting devices be adopted to replace what he called "bulky, heavy, cumbersome, cantankerous" voting machines in use since the administration of Governor Robert F. Kennon. Voting machines, often called "Shoup machines" for their inventor, Ransom Shoup, were used in some of the more populous parishes, including East Baton Rouge, Caddo, and Calcasieu prior to the Kennon administration, but it was Kennon who pushed for electronic machines in all precincts.​ ​ Christiansen ran on the Republican slate headed by gubernatorial candidate David C. Treen, then of Jefferson Parish in suburban New Orleans. While Treen obtained 42.8 percent of the vote against Democrat Edwin Edwards, Christiansen polled only 265,525 votes (25.5 percent). The entrenched Fowler received 721,987 votes (71.7 percent), and the American Party nominee Louis D. Arnaud drew 28,413 votes (2.8 percent).[9]

In 1975, in the first-ever nonpartisan blanket primary in Louisiana, Fowler easily defeated two fellow Democrats who sought the elections commissioner's position, Jerome A. Sauer, who again charged that Louisiana voting machines can easily be rigged, and Delores Burrell Vanison.[10]

Accesion of Jerry Fowler

Under the Louisiana Constitution of 1974, the office of "custodian of voting machines" was renamed "elections commissioner." Fowler won a final term in the 1975 nonpartisan blanket primary, and then, in 1980, shortly after his death, the office reverted to his son. Jerry Fowler won the 1979 general election over the Republican John Henry Baker of Franklin Parish, whose somewhat unusual campaign called for the abolition of the election commissioner's position and the return of the duties to the secretary of state. Baker's proposal, defeated at the polls, was finally adopted a quarter of a century later in 2004. Baker drew the support of former state Representative and state Senator Robert Gambrell "Bob" Jones of Lake Charles, whose father both Long and Fowler had worked to defeat in 1948.

Fowler and his friend, former state Senator B. B. "Sixty" Rayburn of Bogalusa in Washington Parish, were two Earl Long "cronies" who survived in office far beyond the Long gubernatorial terms, which closed in 1960. Rayburn recalled that he and Fowler "toured the state together with Earl Long in Long's comeback campaign for a third term in 1956. He was a very close, dear friend of mine. ... He was just a fine a man as I have ever known." Earl Long's nephew, then U.S. Senator Russell Long, said that "few people can claim to have served their state harder, more faithfully, and for a longer period than Doug Fowler. As commissioner of elections, he was an exemplary state official who won reelection time after time."​

Jerry Fowler, meanwhile, later ran afoul of the law, was defeated for a sixth term in the 1999 primary, and served time in a federal prison in Texas for bribery and income tax evasion. Jerry Fowler's second wife, Mari Ann, disappeared one Christmas weekend when she went to visit her husband in prison, was never located, and has been declared legally dead.​

Fowler's death

​ Fowler was a widower for the last four years of his life. His wife, Abbie Marston Fowler, was born on September 22, 1906 and died on July 20, 1976, as a result of severe injuries sustained in an automobile accident in Baton Rouge on December 4, 1975. Fowler and his driver, Fred Schlesinger, a state employee, were also injured in the accident but recovered. The insurance company acknowledged that the other driver, an employee of Western Union Telegraph Co., was liable for the accident, and compensation was paid to both Fowlers and to Schlesinger. The two Fowler sons later sued for damages after their mother's death. They retained the services of the Natchitoches attorney and then state Senator Donald G. "Don" Kelly, a Democrat.​

Fowler died at seventy-three of emphysema and pneumonia in the Natchitoches Parish Hospital in Natchitoches. His funeral was held on February 1, 1980, in his home church, First United Methodist of Coushatta. In addition to Jerry Fowler, Douglas Fowler was also survived by his elder son, Dr. Wiley Douglas Fowler, Jr. (November 15, 1938 – October 2, 1998), then of Jacksonville, Florida, and since deceased; two brothers, "Mutt" Fowler, then a Coushatta insurance agent, and John R. Fowler (March 3, 1912 – May 21, 1990), then a Coushatta drug store owner; two sisters; eight grandchildren; several nieces and nephews, including Katherine Ann "Kathy" Fowler (1946-2006) and H. M. "Buddy" Fowler Jr. of Coushatta.

Fowler, his wife, and older son are all interred in the family plot at Springville Cemetery in Coushatta.

In 1999, Fowler was inducted posthumously into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield. In its obituary of Fowler, The Baton Rouge Advocate said that the former commissioner's favorite sport was not football, which his son played, but "politicking."​[11]

References

  1. The Social Security Death Index erroneously lists Douglas Fowler's death date as "March 1980", but his tombstone says January 29, and the newspaper article on his death was published on January 31, 1980.
  2. Minden Press, December 28, 1951, p. 1.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Social Security Death Index. ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com. Retrieved on June 6, 2010.
  4. Minden Press, January 11, 1960
  5. "Chep Morrison and Ticket Here Monday", Minden Herald, September 17, 1959, p. 1.
  6. Ancestors of Claire Lee Chennault. familytreemaker.genealogy.com. Retrieved on June 6, 2010.
  7. Minden Press-Herald, November 6, 1971.
  8. "Edward Wilhelm Christiansen, Jr.", The New Orleans Times-Picayune. Retrieved on August 31, 2014. 
  9. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, February 1, 1972.
  10. Minden Press-Herald, November 3, 1975, p. 1.
  11. "Douglas Fowler succumbs at 73," The Baton Rouge Advocate, January 31, 1980.

Other sources:

The Shreveport Times, January 31, 1980.​
Shreveport Journal, January 22, 1972.​
William J. "Bill" Dodd, Peapatch Politics: The Earl Long Era in Louisiana Politics (Baton Rouge: Claitor's Publishing, 1990).​ ​ ​​​​​