J. Kelly Nix
|James Kelly Nix|
Louisiana Superintendent of Education
1976 – 1984
|Preceded by||Louis J. Michot|
|Succeeded by||Thomas Clausen|
|Born|| October 6, 1934|
Oak Grove, West Carroll Parish, Louisiana, USA
|Died|| February 4, 2020|
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
|Resting place||Oak Grove Cemetery|
|Spouse(s)|| (1) Martha Jo'Ann McCurdy Nix (married 1958, divorced)
(2) Pamela Theresa Gross Nix (married 2006)
|Children|| From first wife:|
Kevin Patrick Nix (deceased)
Elizabeth Ann Nix, formerly Elizabeth Bond (deceased)
|Residence||Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA|
|Alma mater||Oak Grove High School|
|Occupation|| Businessman; former educator|
United States Army service
James Kelly Nix, known as J. Kelly Nix (October 6, 1934 – February 4, 2020), was a businessman in the capital city of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who was from 1976 to 1984 the state Superintendent of Education, then an elected position. The superintendent is now appointed by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, based on a recommendation from the governor.
Nix was born and reared in Oak Grove in West Carroll Parish in northeastern Louisiana. He is interred at Oak Grove Cemetery, as are his parents, T. J. Nix (1904-1971) and Lillian O. Nix (1905-1973).
Nix graduated in 1953 from Oak Grove High School; he had only six classmates. He served in the United States Army from 1955 to 1957. In 1958, he received a Bachelor of Arts in Government and Public Administration from what is now the University of Louisiana at Monroe, then known as Northeast Louisiana State College, and a master's and further graduate studies in 1961 at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. From 1962 to 1965, after he left LSU, he was a researcher for the Public Affairs Research Council, a "good government" interest group headed at the time by Ed Steimel, later the executive director of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. From 1965 to 1968, he taught public administration at the college level. From 1969 to 1971, Nix was the executive director for the North Delta Regional Planning and Development District in Monroe.
Nix and his first wife, the former Martha Jo'Ann McCurdy (born 1936), a native of Lake Providence in East Carroll who lives in Baton Rouge, had four children, two still living, Emily Celeste Nix and Jennifer Kathleen Nix Marionneaux, and her husband, Brad Paul Marionneaux. Their son, Kevin Patrick Nix (1965-2012), was a paramedic in Houston, Texas, until his death at the age of forty-seven. Another daughter, Elizabeth Ann Nix, is also deceased.
After his divorce, Nix in 2006 wed the former Pamela Theresa Gros Babin of New Orleans. He has a stepdaughter, Denise T. Babin Scherer.
In 1971, Nix left the Delta Economic Development District to enter the political area. He was the manager of field organization for former U.S. Representative Gillis Long of Louisiana's 8th congressional district, since disbanded, in Long's second unsuccessful attempt to win the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. The victor and subsequent governor, Edwin Edwards, invited Nix in 1972 to become his executive assistant. In 1974, Edwards elevated Nix to chief executive assistant with duties including liaison with the state congressional delegation, which once again included Representative Gillis Long, who returned to Congress for a second stint from 1973 until his death in 1985, and also two Republican members, David C. Treen and William Henson Moore of Baton Rouge.
In 1975, Nix unseated fellow Democrat Louis J. Michot of Lafayette, who served a single term as state education superintendent. In 1979, he defeated in a multi-candidate field his strongest challenger, another fellow Democrat, Thomas Clausen of Baton Rouge, who used the yellow school bus as his campaing prop. Clausen succceed Nix as superintendent in 1984. The Louisiana school superintendent, though no longer elected, is considered a powerful position in the state, having once been held by such figures as T. H. Harris, Shelby M. Jackson, Bill Dodd, and recently John White.
In his second term as superintendent under then Governor David Treen, Nix sided against those pursuing the creation science agenda in the writing and teaching of science. The Louisiana Balanced Treatment Act, signed into law in 1981 by Treen, required public school districts to offer equal consideration of creation and the theory of evolution. Nix deemed the act unconstitutional and refused to enforce it. The United States Supreme Court subsequently held in 1987 in Edwards v. Aguillard that creation science constitutes a religion and is prohibited in public education under the court's interpretation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Scandal involving two of Nix's assistants rocketed his administration in July 1981. Charles E. Thompson, the deputy superintendent for special education, was a native and former superintendent of Tensas Parish, also in northeastern Louisiana. Henry Leroy Smith, Jr. (1931-2012), originally from North Carolina, was from 1976 to 1982 the assistant superintendent for special education. Thompson and Smith were indicted on ten counts by a grand jury in Baton Rouge in an alleged kickback scheme. The two were charged with shaking down the International Management System of Missouri to pay a percentage of its contract price from the state of Louisiana into a pool or a "kitty" in which the money was divided among Thompson, Smith, and a third man, Edward G. Ackal, a businessman from Lafayette, whose company Educational Products Corporation was engaged in the sale of goods and services to the state government.
The grand jury claimed that Thompson, Smith, and Ackal conspired to split $360,000 of an $889,000 contract to International Management System. The contract was issued to test thirty thousand preschool children to determine how many qualified for expanded special education under terms of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, signed into law by U.S. President Gerald Ford in 1975. All three were found guilty of defrauding the taxpayers, lost their appeals before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, and served prison sentences.
Defeat in 1983
The creation science dispute and the Thompson-Smith-Ackal scandal may have worked against Nix politically. He was unseated as superintendent in the primary election held on October 22, 1983, by his previous rival, Thomas Clausen. In that same election Edwin Edwards unseated Republican David Treen for the governorship. Upon leaving the superintendency in 1984, Nix became the president of J. Kelly Nix and Associates, a firm involved in commercial real estate in both Louisiana and Mississippi.
- J. Kelly Nix obituary. The Monroe News-Star (February 7, 2020). Retrieved on February 8, 2020.
- "Louisiana: J. Kelly Nix", Who's Who in American Politics, 2007-2008 (Marquis Who's Who:[New Providence, New Jersey, 2007), p. 668.
- J. Kelly Nix obituary. Cox Funeral Home in Oak Grove, Louisiana. Retrieved on February 8, 2020.
- Oak Grove High School (Class of 1953). tree52.com. Retrieved on February 8, 2020.
- J. Kelly Nix. Parlouisiana.org. Retrieved on February 8, 2020.
- Kevin Patrick Nix obituary. The Baton Rouge Morning Advocate. Retrieved on February 8, 2020.
- J. Kelly Nix. Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame. Retrieved on February 8, 2020.
- Pamela Winnick (2005). A Jealous God: Science's Crusade Against Religion. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers. Retrieved on February 8, 2020.
- Henry L. Smith. Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, February 5, 2012. Retrieved on February 8, 2020.
- "Nix keeps deputies on payroll," Minden Press-Herald, July 31, 1981, p. 1.
- UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Edward G. ACKAL, Henry L. Smith and C. E. "Ed" Thompson, Defendants-Appellants. No. 82-3243. United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. May 23, 1983. Rehearings and Rehearing En Banc Denied July 18, 1983. openjurist.org. Retrieved on February 8, 2020.
- Click Edward G. Ackal, Henry L. Smith, and Charles E. Thompson for prison release dates of December 20, 1985, January 2, 1986, and January 23, 1986, respectively. Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved on February 8, 2020.
- Billy Hathorn, "Education in Tensas Parish, Louisiana: Desegregation, Re-Segregation, and the Continuing Decline in School Enrollments, 1970-2017" North Louisiana History, Vol. 49 (Winter-Spring 2018), pp. 34-35, 44.
- J. Kelly Nix's overview. linkedin.com. Retrieved on February 8, 2020.