Parey Branton

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Parey Pershing Branton, Sr.


Louisiana State Representative
for Webster Parish
In office
1960–1972
Preceded by Mary Smith Gleason
Succeeded by R. Harmon Drew, Sr.

Mayor of Shongaloo, Webster Parish
In office
1972–1990

Born November 17, 1918
Shongaloo, Louisiana
Died September 15, 2011
(aged 92)
Shreveport, Louisiana]]
Resting place Union Springs Cemetery in Shongaloo
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) Georgia Porter Lusby Branton (married 1943–2011, his death)
Children Daniel Miles "Champ" Branton

Parey "Pepper" Branton, Jr.
Parents:
Marion M. and Addie Mae Martin Branton

Alma mater Louisiana State University

University of Texas at Austin

Occupation Businessman

Military Service
Service/branch United States Army Signal Corps
Battles/wars World War II
Notes
  • Branton was a leader of Louisiana conservatives though he remained within his state's then-dominant Democratic Party.
  • Branton's political career included an unlikely defeat in 1958 for a school board seat by a write-in candidate.
  • Branton and his older son, Daniel, both served as mayor of tiny Shongaloo in central Webster Parish.
  • In the last of his three House terms, Branton tried unsuccessfully to block a legislative pay raise.

Parey Pershing Branton, Sr. (November 17, 1918 – September 15, 2011), was a businessman from rural Shongaloo, Louisiana, who was from 1960 to 1972 a Democratic state representative from what is now District 10 in Webster Parish. The district, which includes the parish seat of Minden in northwestern Louisiana, is now represented by the Democrat-turned-Moderate Republican Royce Wayne McMahen, a veterinarian from Springhill.[1]

In the mid-1960s, Branton called himself a "Wallace–Goldwater–free enterprise–right-to-profit Democrat" and printed that slogan for a time on his private vehicle. He refused to support the national Democratic presidential nominees during his tenure in the legislature. Instead, he endorsed Republican Barry Goldwater of Arizona in 1964 and Alabama's former Governor George Corley Wallace, Jr., in 1968. Wallace ran on the American Independent Party banner in a vain attempt to block the election of either Richard M. Nixon or Hubert Humphrey.

Background

The oldest child of Marion M. Branton and the former Addie Mae Martin, Branton graduated from Shongaloo High School and then attended Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and the University of Texas at Austin, both for two years. With the outbreak of World War II, Branton joined the United States Army Signal Corps and attended a special school in advancedradar held near Lexington in Fayette County, Kentucky. There he met his future wife, the former Georgia Porter Lusby (1921-2013), a native of Avon in Fayette County, and the daughter of Owen Lusby and the former Lena Williams. On October 30, 1943, the couple married in Paris in Bourbon County, Kentucky.[2]

In 1948, Branton joined the staff of American Airlines in El Paso, Texas, and was later assigned to San Francisco and Los Angeles, California.[1] He returned to Shongaloo in 1951 and was employed in the personnel and payroll departments of the since closed International Paper Company in nearby Springhill.[3] He also operated a store in Shongaloo at the intersection of state highways 159 and 2. He was a member of Mt. Paran Baptist Church in Shongaloo.[4]

School board service

Prior to his legislative service, Branton was a member of the Webster Parish School Board from 1952[5] until his defeat in 1958. In his obituary, Branton, as a school board member, is said to have "pressed consistently for excellence in the classroom and efficiency in budget management and in public property maintenance."[1]

In January 1956, he was elected vice president of the board, having served under president James E. Harper (1893–1971), a banker and a former principal of Minden High School.[6]

Just days after being named school board vice president, Branton sought the position of Webster Parish clerk of court. In the Democratic primary the 24-year incumbent Thomas J. Campbell (1895–1968), member of a prominent Webster Parish political family. Branton finished third with 2,327 votes, 92 fewer than the second-place candidate, Clarence D. Wiley of Minden. The fourth-place candidate, Minden alderman Frank T. Norman, would be elected mayor some two years later in 1958.[7] Wiley went on to unseat Campbell in the runoff election and served for twenty years as clerk of court.

After the Democratic primary for school board was held in 1958, opposition arose to Branton when the school board transferred Douglas Tillman Newsom (1917-1968) from the principalship of Shongaloo High School to that of Dubberly High School in Dubberly in south Webster Parish. Newson's exodus from Shongaloo stalled the development of the agriculture department at the school, and voters retaliated against Branton. In a newspaper advertisement, Branton called for public school teachers, to have "religious convictions and high professional and moral standards." He also spoke out against school consolidation in rural areas,[8] In the November 4, 1958, general election, Branton was unseated by his fellow Democrat, A. J. Burns Sr. (1907–1976), who ran as a write-in candidate post-primary. Burns prevailed, 269 votes (55.5 percent) to 216 votes (44.5 percent).[9]

Three legislative elections

Fresh from his defeat as a school board member, Branton entered the 1959 Democratic primary for the Webster Parish seat in the Louisiana House. The incumbent, Ernest Dewey Gleason, died shortly after announcing plans to seek a third term. Governor Earl Kemp Long appointed Gleason's widow, Mary Smith Gleason, to fill the remaining months of the term, as insufficient time existed for a special election, which would have coincided with the regular primary schedule. Mrs. Gleason did not seek a full term, but her son, William Ernest "Cotton" Gleason (1919-1980), an educator, entered the race. Other primary candidates included businessman Frank Burnett Treat, Jr. (1923–1994), and attorney Henry Grady Hobbs (1923-2012), both of Minden.[10]

Branton trailed Hobbs by 130 votes in the December primary, but in the runoff election held on January 9, 1960, he defeated Hobbs by 16 votes, 4,300 (50.01 percent) to 4,284 (49.99 percent). A Branton campaign advertisement proclaimed "Remove All Doubt. There Will Be No Question if You Elect an Avowed Segregationist," a claim that Hobbs would not pursue the same segregationist policies in the legislature as would Branton. A native of Sarepta in central Webster Parish, Hobbs was an attorney for sixty years, eighteen as the Minden city attorney. He was active on the Webster Parish Library Board, having overseen as the board president the construction of the current library in Minden during the middle 1990s.[11]

In 1962, Branton joined his House colleague, Representative Wellborn Jack (1907-1991) of Shreveport, in supporting a change in the system of how Louisiana allocates its electoral votes. The two argued that Louisiana should adopt the framework used currently only by Maine and Nebraska by which one elector is allotted for each congressional district to the winner by plurality in that district, and two at-large electoral votes are assigned to the top vote-getter statewide, plurality or majority. The plan was not adopted. It could have enabled Louisiana to choose split electors, as Alabama did in 1960. Branton said the plan would dilute the voting power of minority groups in large eastern and Midwestern cities.[12][13]

In his three terms in the House, Branton served on the committees of Appropriations, Judiciary D, Wildlife and Fisheries, Public Education, and State Retirement, of which he was for a time the chairman.[1]

Branton was unopposed for his second legislative term in the 1963 primary. Though he had favored the Democrat George Wallace in the early phase of the 1964 presidential election, he switched to Goldwater after Wallace withdrew from consideration at the national party convention. Branton incorrectly predicted that Goldwater would lose the electoral vote of Louisiana because of a combination of white party loyalists, African-American voters, and machine politics in many parishes in the southern portion of the state. He urged Goldwater to seek voters whose first choice had been Wallace.[14]

In the 1966 legislative session, Branton listed the establishment of Louisiana State University in Shreveport, which began in 1967, with the later Health Sciences Center, a medical school, were his highest priorities.[15]

In 1966, Branton entered the race for the Louisiana Public Service Commission held by the appointed John S. Hunt. In addition to Hunt, others in the race were fellow Representative John Sidney Garrett of nearby Haynesville in Claiborne Parish and former lawmaker Wellborn Jack, who described himself as one opposed to all kinds of "federal encroachment." Though Branton finished in sixth place, he did receive a plurality in his own Webster Parish.[16] In the party runoff on September 24, Hunt prevailed over Garrett.[17]

In 1967, Branton faced a stiff renomination fight for state representative. His main opponent, Charles McConnell, a Springhill attorney and former mayor and school board member, carried the support of Governor John J. McKeithen, an easy winner in his own primary for a second term against conservative U.S. Representative John Rarick of Louisiana's 6th congressional district. The McConnell campaign cited criticism of Branton by the influential State Representative Robert Munson, a moderate Democrat from Rapides Parish and a McKeithen floor leader who in 1966 had said, "If I had represented Rapides Parish like he represents Webster, I couldn't look myself in the face."[18]

Minden attorney Henry Hobbs, who had lost narrowly to Branton in 1960, was eliminated in the 1967 primary and endorsed McConnell in the runoff campaign. Branton nevertheless prevailed in the runoff held on December 16: 7,619 votes (52.6 percent) to McConnell's 6,857 (47.4 percent).[19] From 1968 to 1972, Branton and neighboring Representative John S. Garrett represented a combined Webster and Claiborne Parish district. Garrett was renominated in the first primary and was thereafter tapped by McKeithen to succeed House Speaker Vail M. Delony of Lake Providence in East Carroll Parish.[20]

In 1968, Branton opposed pay increases for assistant district attorneys in his own 26th Judicial District, a measure introduced by his colleague Walter O. Bigby of Bossier City. In taking that position, Branton disagreed with Speaker John S. Garrett, who viewed the matter as "local" and endorsed earlier by the police juries of both parishes. According to Branton, the state could not "afford such increases in salary of politicians. I think the raise is ridiculous at a time when the state of Louisiana is looking for additional salary increases to the working people ... and school teachers." He noted too that the assistant district attorneys are part-time employees, and most have their own law practices.[21]

After his last election to the House, Branton joined two Democratic colleagues from Shreveport, Algie D. Brown and Frank Fulco, in opposition to approved legislative pay raises. The trio filed suit in East Baton Rouge Parish in a failed bid to prevent the then state Treasurer Mary Evelyn Parker from allowing the expenditure of funds to underwrite the raises. Branton noted that his own legislative check had more than doubled, from $204.73 net monthly to $429.72, an amount he considered too large for a citizen legislator.[22]

In 1970 in the wake of school desegregation, Branton and colleague Ford Edwards Stinson, Sr. (1914-1989), of Bossier Parish urged the repeal of the Louisiana compulsory attendance law. Branton claimed the law should end so that parents are not legally required to send their children into "deplorable school conditions."[23]

Bid for lieutenant governor

Branton relinquished his legislative seat after three terms to run for lieutenant governor in the 1971 Democratic primary. He was paired on an intra-party ticket with state Senator [[[John Schwegmann]], a supermarket chain owner from Jefferson Parish in the New Orleans suburbs, who ran for governor. Schwegmann was an outspoken conservative who had long been critical of excessive state spending and expanded government. The Schwegmann-Branton ticket fared poorly. Schwegmann finished in fifth place in the primary. Branton placed sixth in the lieutenant governor's race with 53,295 votes.

Branton was seeking to succeed conservative Lieutenant Governor Clarence C. "Taddy" Aycock of Franklin in St. Mary Parish in south Louisiana. Aycock was running for governor that year and finished a notch behind Schwegmann. Branton was weakened in his campaign by the presence of a second candidate from Webster Parish. The developer Francis Edward "Ed" Kennon, Jr., of Minden, a nephew of former Governor Robert F. Kennon, also ran for lieutenant governor. So were two bankers, Jamar Adcock of Monroe and P. J. Mills of Shreveport, both outgoing members of the state legislature. Pete Heine, a local politician from Baker in East Baton Rouge Parish, was also in the running. Kennon polled 162,944 votes, more than three times as many ballots as Branton received. The winner of the lieutenant governor's race was former New Orleans City Council member James E. "Jimmy" Fitzmorris, Jr. The next year, Edward Kennon defeated John S. Hunt in a race for the Louisiana Public Service Commission, a position that Kennon held from 1973 to 1984.

Branton was philosophically aligned with state Senator Harold Montgomery of Doyline in Webster Parish, another staunch conservative often at odds with his party's leadership. Branton was also personally and philosophically close to his successor, R. Harmon Drew, Sr., of Minden, another conservative Democrat. In 1995, Branton was an honorary pallbearer at the funerals of both Montgomery and Drew, who died a day apart.[24]

Race for Louisiana Senate, 1975

In 1975, when Montgomery declined to seek a fourth nonconsecutive term in the state Senate, Branton ran in an eight-candidate, all-Democratic field for the seat. Trailing in the first-ever nonpartisan blanket primary held in Louisiana, Branton failed to secure a general election berth. His former legislative colleague, John S. Garrett, went into the second election with Foster Lonnie Campbell, Jr.]], then a young educator from Haughton in south Bossier Parish. Campbell emerged the overwhelming winner over Garrett. Other primary candidates had included Minden educator Ralph Lamar Rentz Sr. (1930–1995), who had run against Drew for the state House seat in 1971.[25]

1992 suit to block school bond issue

In 1992, two years after Branton had left the office of mayor of Shongaloo, he and another resident, J. W. Eason, filed suit to block a school bond election in Shongaloo. Election returns revealed that more votes had been cast in the bond issue election than were the number of property owners in the jurisdiction. However, the Branton suit went no where; the United States Supreme Court had already ruled that non-property owners, or renters, may vote in property tax elections.[26]

Family information

Branton resided with his wife in the historic Bond House in Shongaloo built in 1909 and located less than a mile from the farm on which he was reared. The Brantons operated a general store near their home and were involved in cattle and oil and natural gas leasing. Mrs. Branton also operated a beauty shop.[2]

Branton was elected without opposition as the mayor of Shongaloo in 1972, just as his legislative term was ending.[27] As mayor, a position that he held until 1990, Branton worked for establishment of the Shongaloo Civic Center, a public meeting hall located across the highway from his own home. Mrs. Branton acted as manager of the civic center.[1][2] In 1973, the Webster Parish Police Jury in a six-to-five vote named Branton its federal funds coordinator.[28] In that capacity, he developed an emergency medical services plan for the parish.[29]

In 2001, Branton's son, Daniel Miles "Champ" Branton (born March 26, 1949), a Democrat, was elected mayor of Shongaloo but now resides with his wife, the former Renee Brazzel, in Monroe in Ouachita Parish. A second son, Parey P. "Pepper" Branton, Jr. (born December 1951), resides in Shongaloo.[1]

Branton died at the age of ninety-two in a hospital in Shreveport. In addition to his wife and sons, he was survived by his brother, Harold Matthew Branton (1921-2012), an LSU graduate, a retired United States Army lieutenant colonel and veteran of three wars, and subsequently a real estate broker and insurance salesman in Shreveport and Kerrville, Texas,[30] and a sister, Mutelle Branton Cobb Thompson (1923-2013)[31] of Springhill. He was predeceased by a second sister, Dorothy Marie Branton Patton (1924-2011) of Shreveport. Services were held on September 18, 2011, at Mt. Paran Baptist Church. Parey and Georgia Branton are interred at Union Springs Cemetery in Shongaloo.[1][2]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Parey P. Branton. The Shreveport Times (September 16, 2011). Retrieved on September 2, 2020.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Georgia Branton (1921-2013). The Shreveport Times (November 5, 2013). Retrieved on September 2, 2020.
  3. Minden Herald, October 20, 1955, pp. 1, 12.
  4. Branton in Race for Clerk's Office," Minden Herald, October 20, 1955, p. 1.
  5. Minden Herald, August 1, 1952, p. 11.
  6. Minden Herald, January 12, 1956, p. 1.
  7. Minden Herald, January 19, 1956, p. 1.
  8. Minden Herald, October 30, 1958, p. 6.
  9. "Burns Wins Over School Board Head: Gets 55 Percent of Votes for Victory over Branton," Minden Herald, November 6, 1958, p. 1.
  10. 'Minden Press, January 4, 1960.
  11. Henry Hobbs obituary (January 2, 2013). Retrieved on September 2, 2020.
  12. "Branton Predicts Finances, Integration Will Top Legislative Session," Minden Press, May 14, 1962, p. 1.
  13. "Rep. Branton Has the Answe," Minden Herald (editorial), February 1, 1962, p. 2.
  14. "Branton says Goldwater has uphill battle to win state's electoral vote," Minden Herald, July 27, 1964, p. 1.
  15. Harry Taylor (May 1966). Legislators support med bonds. Shreveport Journal. Retrieved on September 2, 2020.
  16. Minden Press-Herald," August 15, 1966, p. 1.
  17. Minden Press-Herald, September 26, 1966.
  18. McConnell advertisement, Minden Press-Herald, December 12, 1967, p. 1; cited from The Shreveport Times, July 8, 1966.
  19. Minden Press-Herald, December 18, 1967, p. 1.
  20. Minden Press-Herald, December 19, 1967, p. 1.
  21. "Rep. Branton Calls Pay Boost to Assistant DA's 'Ridiculous," Minden Press-Herald, June 21, 1968, p. 1.
  22. "Branton refuses payment under recent pay raise," Minden Press-Herald, July 29, 1969, p. 1.
  23. "Branton Urges Compulsory School Repeal," Minden Press-Herald, May 27, 1970, p. 1.
  24. Harold Montgomery obituary, December 19, 1995; R. Harmon Drew obituary, December 20, 1995, both in The Shreveport Times.
  25. The Minden Press-Herald, November 3, 1975, p. 8.
  26. Bonnie Koskie, "School bond issue settled: Bid accepted in District ," Minden Press-Herald, March 31, 1992, p. 1.
  27. Minden Press-Herald, February 17, 1972, p. 1.
  28. "Police Jury Names Branton Federal Funds Coordinator," Minden Press-Herald, October 3, 1973, p. 1.
  29. Minden Press-Herald, February 2, 1974, photo caption, p. 1.
  30. Harold Matthew Branton. Findagrave.com. Retrieved on September 2, 2020.
  31. Mutelle Branton Cobb Thompson. The Shreveport Times. Retrieved on September 2, 2020.