Jerry Fowler

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Jerry Marston Fowler​

Louisiana Elections Commissioner​
In office
1980​ – 2000​
Preceded by Douglas Fowler
Succeeded by Suzanne Haik Terrell​

Born April 26, 1940​
Shreveport, Louisiana, USA
Died Baton Rouge, Louisiana​
Resting place Cremation
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) (1) Sue Fowler, later Sue Weaver

(2) Mari Ann Santangelo Fowler (1937-2005)​

Relations Hendrix Marion "Mutt" Fowler, Sr. (uncle)​​
Children Susannah Fowler Craig
Margaret Fowler Abrahams
John Marston Fowler

Parents:
Wiley Douglas, Sr. and Abbie Marston Fowler​

Alma mater Red River Senior High School

Northwestern State University

Occupation Businessman; Politician; Athlete​
Religion United Methodist
Notes:

​ (1) After a brief career as a professional football player for the Houston Oilers, Fowler rode to political success in Louisiana as his father's successor in the former elected position of state elections commissioner.​

(2) Fowler benefited from a political dynasty launched by his father, Douglas Fowler, and his uncle, Hendrix M. "Mutt" Fowler, from the small northwestern Louisiana community of Coushatta in Red River Parish.

​(3) While he was imprisoned for bribery and income tax evasion stemming from misconduct in connection with his job duties, Fowler's second wife, MariAnn, was kidnapped and went missing while she was en route to Beaumont, Texas, to visit her husband in prison. She was declared legally dead in 2005.​

Jerry Marston Fowler (April 26, 1940 – January 26, 2009)[1] was a Baton Rouge businessman who served as Louisiana's state Elections Commissioner from 1980 until his defeat in the 1999 nonpartisan blanket primary. He was part of the Fowler family Democratic political dynasty. He was also a college and professional football player.

Fowler vacated the position in 2000 after twenty years and was thereafter indicted, convicted and imprisoned for bribery and income tax evasion in a scandal that grew out of acceptance of kickbacks on the purchase of voting machines. Fowler succeeded his ailing father, Douglas Fowler,[2] as Elections Commissioner. Collectively, the Fowlers, who hailed from Coushatta in Red River Parish, served forty-one years in the position, which began under the name, "Custodian of Voting Machines."​

Fowler political dynasty

​ Douglas Fowler was originally appointed voting machine custodian by Governor Earl Kemp Long. A former Red River Parish clerk of court and a one-time Coushatta mayor, Fowler was then elected to his first full term as elections commissioner in the 1959-1960 election cycle. He was reelected with minimal opposition in 1964, 1968, 1972 and 1975. (The primaries for the 1968 and the 1972 elections were held late in 1967 and 1971). To Louisiana voters, the name "Fowler" became synonymous with the management of elections – the two won a total of ten consecutive elections, and Douglas Fowler served more than a year of an appointed term.

There was also a third Fowler, Hendrix Marion "Mutt" Fowler, Sr., the younger brother of Douglas Fowler and the uncle of Jerry Fowler. "Mutt" Fowler was a mayor of Coushatta in the 1960s and a state representative from District 24, who served from 1972 to 1986. He resigned from the legislature to become executive director of the Sabine River Port Authority in Many in Sabine Parish. His contract was nonrenewed in 1989, and he was thereafter indicted for violating state bid laws. In a plea bargain, "Mutt" served forty-five days in the Sabine Parish jail.​

Early years

Fowler, the younger of the two sons of Douglas Fowler and his wife, the former Abbie Marston (1906–1976),[2] was born in Shreveport, reared in Coushatta, and graduated in 1958 from Red River Senior High School, then known as Coushatta High School. Thereafter, he played football for nearby Northwestern State University (then Northwestern State College) in Natchitoches and obtained a degree in education. He was drafted to the Oakland Raiders and then from 1960 to 1966 was an offensive tackle for the Houston Oilers. He played in four games in the 1964 season. Another north Louisiana player, Charlie Taylo. Hennigan, Sr. (1935-2017) of Minden in Webster Parish, also played for the Oilers at the time in a 7-year career from 1960 to 1966.[3]

Fowler v. Baker

​ By the time he sought to succeed his father as elections commissioner, Fowler was a 39-year-old Natchitoches businessman. He was the early favorite to win the position, considering the tendency of Louisiana voters to either reelect incumbents, particularly Democrats, or to promote the offspring of retiring politicians. His main rival in the nonpartisan blanket primary turned out to have been a previously defeated candidate for the Louisiana State Senate and the 1973 Constitutional Convention, Republican John Henry Baker of Franklin Parish. Baker had lost in 1972 to the Democratic attorney, James H. "Jim" Brown, then of Ferriday for the District 32 seat in the state Senate. Months later, Baker was also defeated for a delegate slot on a nonpartisan ballot to the constitutional convention by then sitting Representative Lantz Womack of Winnsboro in Franklin Parish.

Baker was initially ignored by the media after he announced that he would oppose Jerry Fowler, but he soon gained the support of most newspaper editorial boards and "good government" groups when he disclosed that he was running for the position in order to see it abolished. Baker hence proposed that the "useless" office, which then had a salary of $37,400 per year, be returned to the jurisdiction of the secretary of state, where it had been before Governor Long punished Secretary of State Wade Omer Martin, Jr., by convincing the legislature to establish a separate elections bureau free from the control of the elected secretary of state. Ironically, what Baker was proposing would have worked to the advantage of his former rival, state Senator Jim Brown, who would be elected secretary of state in that same 1979 general election, when Brown defeated Sandra Thompson.

Baker polled 175,017 votes in the primary, just enough to enter the general election against Jerry Fowler. Baker and his gubernatorial ticket mate, David C. Treen, then of Jefferson Parish, were the first Louisiana Republicans to win statewide general election slots since the implementation of the nonpartisan primary law in 1975.​ Treen went on to win a single term as governor. ​ In the second round of balloting, Fowler polled 762,324 votes (62.8 percent) to Baker's 452,189 (37.2 percent). Baker won 68.1 percent in his own Franklin Parish, which Treen lost to the Democrat Louis Lambert of Baton Rouge. Baker received 55.8 percent and 51.2 percent in his neighboring Richland and Ouachita parishes, respectively. He polled 49.1 percent in Caddo Parish (Shreveport) and ran nearly as well in Calcasieu Parish (Lake Charles),[4] where he had the support of reform former state Senator Robert Gambrell "Bob" Jones, a Democrat-turned Republican and the son of former Governor Sam Houston Jones. Fowler though could claim an impressive victory under the circumstances, and he vowed to continue the spirit of public service epitomized by his ailing father, who died weeks before his son could take the oath of office as his successor.

Easy reelection victories

Fowler faced little difficulty in being reelected in the primaries held in 1983, 1987, 1991 or 1995. In 1987, his tally exceeded one million votes: 1,079,851 (83 percent) against fellow Democrat James Alan "Jim" Rentz (1933–2011), a native of Ruston and a United States Navy veteran of the Korean War,[5] who polled 217,886 ballots (17 percent).[6] Like Fowler, Rentz was a former professional football player. He was a former employee of the Louisiana Department of Education in Baton Rouge, where he had long resided.[7]

In 1991, Republican Steve Young challenged Fowler in the primary but also fared poorly. Fowler received 940,309 votes (72 percent) to Young's 372,480 (28 percent).[8] In 1995, Fowler won again over Republican candidate Wray M. Anderson (born 1953) of Mandeville in St. Tammany Parish: 954,076 (75 percent) to 323,422 (25 percent).[9]​ Anderson was cited for failure to file a campaign finance reform.[10]

Defeat in 1999 primary

​In 1999, however, Fowler ran into insurmountable difficulties, as it turned out in the race, in which ten challengers stepped forward: five Republicans, three fellow Democrats, and two "No party" candidates. Fowler finished a strong third with 247,961 (21 percent) in the multiple-candidate field and missed a general election berth by 9,222 votes. In fact, two Republicans secured the slots in the second balloting: Suzanne Haik Terrell, a former member of the New Orleans City Council (257,182 or 22 percent) and outgoing state Representative Louis Elwood "Woody" Jenkins of Baton Rouge (305,919 or 26 percent).[11] Terrell, though the second-place finisher in the primary, went on to defeat Jenkins, who had earlier lost three high-profile races for the U.S. Senate to J. Bennett Johnston, Jr., Russell Long, and Mary Landrieu. Jenkins' loss effectively ended his political career. Presumably had Fowler obtained the second slot, instead of Terrell, he would have lost to Jenkins, considering the allegations which surfaced about abuses of his office. In 2002, Terrell lost in her bid to deny Mary Landrieu a second term in the U.S. Senate.​

Terrell, like John Henry Baker, a quarter of a century earlier, promised to work to abolish the "useless" office. And she managed to do so in her four-year term, for Terrell was the only woman elections commissioner, the only Republican elections commissioner, and the last of the three elected commissioners in Louisiana history. A political commentator, Alan Ehrenhalt, hailed Terrell's steps to abolish the office, which he dubbed the "most ridiculous elective office in the history of state government."[12] The commissioner of elections did not even keep the tabulation of election returns: that function remains within the duties of the secretary of state, which operates a website with returns dating from 1987 and partial tabulations between 1983 and 1986.

Fowler imprisoned

After Fowler left the commissioner's office, he was charged and convicted of accepting kickbacks on voting machines and income tax evasion. Much of the investigation was handled through the office of the Republican legislative auditor Dan Kyle. In November 2000, he pleaded guilty to defrauding the State of Louisiana of some $900,000 between 1991 and 1999. Many observers believed that he actually obtained $3 million illegally. Fowler's attorney said that his client spent the money gambling. Fowler was sentenced to five years in prison and served four years in the Federal Correctional Institution in Beaumont, Texas. He was then released to the Ecumenical House, a half-way house in Baton Rouge, where he served an additional number of months.​[13] ​ Fowler's 1996, 1997 and 1998 U.S. Individual Income Tax Returns, Forms 1040, reflect adjusted gross income of $157,949.54; $185,938.00 and $165,272.00, respectively. His corrected figures, including money from kickbacks, is $482,053.54; $487,891.29; and $419,312.00 in 1996, 1997 and 1998, respectively.​ ​ Ehrenhalt reflected on the Fowlers' tenure over the administration of Louisiana elections for more than four decades:​

Reformers, embarrassed by the triviality of the title "custodian of voting machines" managed in the 1970s to change the name to Commissioner of Elections. But they did not change the duties much: Louisiana's citizens continued to go to the polls every four years to pick a constitutional officer whose job consisted largely of buying and repairing machinery and remembering to deliver it to the right polling place when it was needed.​
​ It was not only a cushy job, it was also the personal possession of a single family. When Long created the post, he promoted the candidacy of a loyal crony, Douglas Fowler, who held it from 1960 until his retirement in 1979. Then Fowler's son, Jerry, a former lineman for the Houston Oilers, took over and won reelection four times.​

The odds are the job would still be a Fowler fiefdom if the second occupant of the office had not been caught looting the till in 1999. A legislative auditor found that Jerry Fowler had been taking kickbacks on the purchase of voting machines and occasionally paying friends of his to haul them around even when there was no election scheduled. Fowler was indicted on eight counts of malfeasance in office, entered a guilty plea, and was sentenced to prison for five years[12]
​​

Abduction of Mari Ann Fowler

​ During his incarceration, Fowler's second wife, Mari Ann Fowler (born April 12, 1937), disappeared on Christmas Eve 2002. She was abducted from the parking lot of a fast-food outlet in Port Allen in West Baton Rouge Parish, where she had stopped while headed to Beaumont to visit her husband for the holiday. The abduction was partially photographed by a security camera. Never found, she was declared legally dead by a Louisiana state court judge in May 2004.​[14]

At the time she vanished, Mrs. Fowler was an education consultant. A former teacher, she had worked more than a quarter of a century for the Louisiana Department of Education in various capacities, including assistant state superintendent for research and development. She first attended Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond but received her bachelor's degree in English and speech from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (then the University of Southwestern Louisiana). She also held a master's degree in educational supervision from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and a doctorate in education administration from Nova Southeast University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

On August 27, 2005, Fowler held a memorial service for his wife in the Holy Ghost Catholic Church in her native Hammond in Tangipahoa Parish. In addition to her husband, MariAnn was survived by her then 90-year-old mother, Rose Santangelo (1914–2006)[2] and a sister, Jo Ann O'Neil, both of Hammond; a son from a previous marriage, John A. Pritchett (born 1959), and two granddaughters, Chelsea Pritchett and Baylea Pritchett, all of Brusly in West Baton Rouge Parish.[15]

Fowler's death

Fowler died in a Baton Rouge hospital at the age of sixty-eight of heart failure following surgery. He was cremated. A memorial service was held at University United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge on January 29, 2009, which was also the 29th anniversary of the date of death of Fowler's father.

Fowler was survived by three children from a previous marriage to Sue Fowler, later Sue Weaver of Natchez in Natchitoches Parish: Susannah Fowler Craig and husband Stewart, of Baton Rouge, Margaret Fowler, of Los Angeles, California, and John Marston Fowler and wife Jennifer, of Baton Rouge. He was also survived by his paternal uncle, "Mutt" Fowler. In addition to his parents, he was predeceased by his brother, Dr. Wiley Douglas Fowler, Jr. (1938–1998), and a paternal uncle, John R. Fowler (1912–1990).[16]

References

  1. Former NFL lineman Jerry Fowler dies after complications from surgery at 68. The Canadian Press (January 26, 2009). Retrieved on January 27, 2009.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Social Security Death Index. Rootsweb.ancestry.com. Retrieved on January 29, 2009.
  3. [​http://www.jt-sw.com/football/pro/rosters.nsf/Annual/1964-hou 1964 Houston Oilers]. Jt-sw.com. Retrieved on August 21, 2019.
  4. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, December 8, 1979.
  5. James Alan "Jim" Rentz. The Baton Rouge Advocate, February 15, 2011. Retrieved on February 15, 2011.
  6. Secretary of State, Election Returns, October 24, 1987.
  7. "Rentz challenging Fowler," Minden Press-Herald, October 23, 1987, p. 3A.
  8. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, October 19, 1991.
  9. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, October 21, 1995.
  10. 2000 - 172 W. Anderson, Domino.ethics.state.la.us, accessed August 21, 2019
  11. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, October 23, 1999.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Alan Ehrenhalt (August 30, 2001). The most ridiculous elective office in the history of state government is about to pass out of existence. Jewishworldreview.com. Retrieved on February 15, 2011.
  13. Inmate Locator: Jerry Marston Fowler. Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved on August 21, 2019.
  14. The Disappearance of Mari Ann Fowler. Redditt.com. Retrieved on August 21, 2019.
  15. MariAnn Fowler. The Shreveport Times (August 20, 2005). Retrieved on August 21, 2019; no longer on-line.
  16. Jerry M. Fowler obituary. The Baton Rouge Advocate]]. Retrieved on January 29, 2009.

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