|Arthur Thomas "Tom" Colten|
1966 – 1974
|Preceded by||Frank T. Norman |
|Succeeded by||J. E. "Pat" Patterson|
President of the Louisiana Municipal Association
1972 – 1973
|Preceded by||Charles J. Pasqua|
|Succeeded by||Wilson Moosa |
|Born|| October 21, 1922|
|Died|| December 5, 2004 (aged 82)|
Place of interment not revealed in either of the obituaries of Tom and Jane Colten
|Political party||Republican |
|Spouse(s)||Jane Kimmel Colten (married 1947-2004, his death) |
|Children|| Connie Colten
Craig Edward Colten
Lee Arthur Colten
|Occupation||Newspaper publisher; Businessman|
|Religion|| Reared Jewish;|
Arthur Thomas Colten, known as Tom Colten (October 21, 1922 – December 5, 2004), was a Louisiana newspaperman and politician from the 1950s to the 1990s who rose from a small-town mayoralty position to head his state's Department of Transportation and Development under three governors of both parties. Colten was also active in the slow process of establishing a viable Republican Party in his adopted state.
The Michigan connection
A Michigan native, Colten was the second of four children born to Arthur Lewis Colten (originally Cohen) (1893-1938) and the former Judith Ginsberg (1894-1934), a wealthy couple engaged in textile manufacturing, first in Detroit and then in Grand Haven in Ottawa County on Lake Michigan, where the Coltens built a palatial mansion in nearby Spring Lake. Tom's father became involved in a labor dispute and was ordered by the National Labor Relations Board to reinstate employees of their Kiddie Kover Manufacturing Company who had been fired in 1937 for unionization activities. Arthur Colten became so despondent over the directive that at the age of forty-five he took his own life with a .32 caliber pistol on a Sunday afternoon in their Spring Lake home. Only fifteen at the time, Tom Colten rushed to the scene of the tragedy; his father died two hours later in a nearby hospital. Tom was only fifteen at the time. Colten feared that unionization would bankrupt his children's clothing business.
Tom's mother, Judith, was the daughter of Bernard Ginsburg; the family later changed the spelling to "Ginsberg." A Polish-American, Bernard was engaged in the iron, steel, and heavy metals business in Detroit. Judith graduated Phi Beta Kappa at twenty-one from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Judith died when Tom was only eleven years of age. After Judith's death, Arthur Colten soon married Ethel C. Mills (1894-1954), the former wife of the Chicago industrialist Ellsworth Luther Mills, Sr. (died 1959), and the mother of Tom Colten's two stepsisters. Ethel remarried after Arthur Colten's death; her third husband was a New York City sports promoter, Arthur "Artie" McGovern (c. 1888-1942).
Colten's family on both sides were active in the Jewish faith. The funeral of Tom's mother, Judith, was held at Temple Beth-El, a Reform Judaism congregation. His father was a trustee and usher at Beth-El. His maternal aunt, Golda Ginsberg Mayer Krolik (1892-1985), Judith's sister, was appointed to the Detroit Mayor's Commission on Race Relations. She was society editor of The Jewish Chronicle and the first woman editor of the University of Michigan student newspaper. She worked in the United Jewish Charities Campaign to bring to the USA twenty-two of her relatives in Europe who faced the threat of Nazism. His maternal grandmother, Ida Esther Goldman Ginsburg (1865-1901), the mother of Judith and Golda, was the founding president of the Jewish Women's Club of Temple Beth El, later named the National Council of Jewish Women. Grandfather Bernard Ginsburg was affiliated with the Jewish organization B'nai B'rith and was the president of United Jewish Charities of Detroit and vice president of the National Conference of Jewish Charities. Paternal grandfather Israel Cohen (1865-1948), who did not change his name to "Colten," was a trustee of Congregation Beth-El.
The oldest of the Colten children, Mary Colten Glodt (1920–2005), later the wife of a physician in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, took care of her three younger brothers, Arthur Thomas Colten, Jerrold Lewis Colten (1925-1998), and Richard Lee Colten (born 1931), who was only seven years of age when his father died. The household was moved from Grand Haven to 1414 Longfellow Avenue, a two-story residence in Detroit. There Tom graduated from Detroit High School and soon served in the United States Army. He was not assigned outside the USA during his military service from 1942 to 1946. After the war, he received his bachelor's degree from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, and was a lifelong promoter of his alma mater.
From Indiana to Louisiana
In 1947, Colten married the former Jane Kimmel (1923-2013), and the newlyweds first settled in Indianapolis, Indiana, but in 1948 they relocated to Bogalusa in Washington Parish in southeastern Louisiana. There Colten became the business manager and stockholder of The Bogalusa Daily News. Colten left that position in 1955 and relocated to Minden in Webster Parish in northwestern Louisiana, to become publisher of what became the daily Minden Press-Herald, which at the time consisted of two separate weekly papers, the Minden Press on Mondays and the Minden Herald on Thursdays. Major (not a military title) Louis dePingre' was the editor of the papers at the time and later entered business in Minden. As publisher, Colten was active in civic affairs and became well known in the community. He was initially in partnership in Minden Newspapers with Charles A. Nutter of New Orleans but purchased Nutter's half of the company on January 29, 1962. Nutter became for a short time the executive secretary of Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, Missouri.
In 1960, Colten named Charles Maple to succeed Major de Pingre' as the news editor of both The Press and The Herald. Maple came to Minden from Murfreesboro, Arkansas, where he had been publisher and editor of The Pike County Press. In 1963, Colten was named "Boss of the Year" in Minden. He sold the Press-Herald in 1965 and became the executive director of the Minden Chamber of Commerce until June 1966, when he announced his candidacy for mayor. Maple served a stint as the chamber director to succeed Colten beginning in September 1966.
The Press-Herald was published twice weekly, but it became a daily on July 18, 1966, with an accent still on local news. "He [Colten] set an example for all who follow in his footsteps at The Press-Herald, said the then Press-Herald editor and publisher Josh Beavers. "He published a fine product every press run and we strive to emulate his success daily."
In 1964, Colten was named president of the Minden Chamber of Commerce. That same year, he was president of the Louisiana Press Association. In 1967, as the newly elected mayor, he was named "Minden Man of the Year."
Unlike many northern Republican transplants to Louisiana who became Democrats so that they could participate in the state's then pivotal closed primary elections, Colten maintained Republican affiliation and could hence vote only in general elections or in special elections. In June 1966, Colten announced his candidacy for mayor of Minden, a position once held by a former Democratic governor, Robert F. Kennon. Minden has also produced five congressmen, including Democrat Thomas Jerald Huckaby, who graduated from Minden High School in 1959. But Huckaby's 5th congressional district, which he represented from 1977 to 1993, never included Webster Parish until Huckaby's defeat and then only temporarily.
Until Colten, no Republican had ever before even run for mayor of Minden. The city had practically no registered Republicans, and Colten did not mention party affiliation. While Minden was overwhelmingly Democratic in registration, Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona had easily won the city and Webster Parish in the previous presidential election, with the editorial support of the Colten newspapers. And the Republican candidate Taylor Walters O'Hearn (1907-1997) had won there in 1962 in his unsuccessful challenge to U.S. Senator Russell Long.
Colten was the Webster Parish campaign manager in the general election held on March 3, 1964 for Republican gubernatorial nominee Charlton Lyons, a native of Vermilion Parish in south Louisiana who became an oilman in Shreveport. Lyons lost the parish to his successful Democratic opponent John J. McKeithen.
The 1964 presidential election was the last before passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which empowered large numbers of African-American voters, who had not previously been a deciding force in Minden politics. Though Colten ran for mayor in 1966 as a racial moderate, two years earlier he had spoken before a Minden civic group in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which he called "a threat to the economy." He cited the case of Motorola, which had to discontinue aptitude tests in employee selection because African Americans had scored less well on such examinations than had whites. "This is a socialistic trend against private enterprise," Colten said. With the passage of civil rights laws and court rulings outlawing segregation, blacks grew in influence in the community. Minden was 52 percent black, according to the 2010 census.
Colten ran a "reform" campaign, claiming that he wanted to get Minden "moving," implying that the two-term incumbent, Frank T. Norman, who had also backed Goldwater for president, had been too passive during his two terms as mayor from 1958 to 1966 and as public safety commissioner from 1952 to 1958, had been too passive. Colten never used the "R" label. The Press-Herald on the day after the general election referred to Colten merely as "the challenger," with no mention of party affiliation. Colten received 2,044 votes (55.8 percent) to Norman's 1,622 (44.2 percent).
Norman had been handicapped in the race in part because a black candidate for mayor named J. D. Hampton, Jr. (1935-2015) — the first black mayoral candidate in city history — had opposed him in the Democratic primary held on August 13, 1966. Norman drew 70 percent of the vote in that exchange but fell short in November against Colten.
First term as Minden mayor
Webster Parish historian John A. Agan wrote that "the respect Colten earned in the community where Republicans were practically nonexistent was a great tribute to his character and abilities." Agan described Colten's approach to the office as "more businesslike" than that of his predecessor. Colten courted Democrats and once rode a "Democrat" donkey in a parade after losing a bet. He maintained good relations with U.S. Representative Joe Waggonner of Louisiana's 4th congressional district, who had won his seat in 1961 over the Colten-favored Charlton Lyons, and governor Edwin Edwards, all of which helped to alleviate the impact that Minden faced with cutbacks at the largest nearby employer, the Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant, since closed.
Once in office, Colten proposed a one-cent city sales tax to finance improvement projects, including a new city hall/civic center complex, street paving, fire stations, and parks. The tax passed by only four votes in a special election held on May 23, 1967: 1,544 to 1,540. Collection of the tax began on August 1. McInnis Brothers contractors was low bidder at $740,276 for the city hall/civic center project. Though there was some expansion from the capital improvements, Minden's population never increased much after the 1960 census, usually in the 12,000 to 13,000 range, but there was sluggish growth in outlying areas to the north. The facility with a week-long celebration in 1971.
A "details" man before the term "micromanagement" became fashionable, Colten took his job seriously. He seemed to think that the votes of 2,044 people gave him a "mandate" to keep expanding his ideas and programs. Despite his Republican registration, he was strictly nonpartisan in the administration of the city. The five-man city council was all Democratic. He also understood how to use the media to his advantage and the value of continued public relations. He wrote a paid column for the Press-Herald while he was mayor. This gave him additional "free advertising" to highlight his administration. Colten would "drop names" in the column, knowing that people he cited would probably vote to reelect him if he mentioned them.
In 1969, Colten was named the vice president of the Louisiana Municipal Association, the first Republican ever to serve in that position.
Second term as mayor
In his re-election advertising, Colten stressed the resurfacing of 625 city blocks in his first four years in office as well as the construction of a newly opened central fire station, two recreation centers, and improvements at the general aviation Minden Airport near the Caney Lakes Recreation Area. He also could cite water, sewerage, and sanitation improvements as well as the building of the new City Hall and companion Civic Center.
Once again, Frank Norman was Colten's opponent, but the incumbent had the advantage because the community leadership lined up solidly behind him. Yet, Colten seemed unsure as to whether he could win again and took nothing for granted. He had considered running as an Independent in the general election but chose in the end to remain a Republican. In their 1970 rematch, Colten defeated Norman 2,381 votes (58.9 percent) to 1,661 ballots (41.1 percent).
His second term did not proceed as smoothly as his first, though he was elected for the year 1972–73 as the president of the Louisiana Municipal Association, the organization of then 322 mayors across the state. Colten was the first Republican ever to head the association. In the summer of 1973, Colten resigned as a full-time mayor and converted to part-time status so that he could accept the position of chief executive of the city's private hospital, Minden Medical Center, formerly known as Minden Sanitarium. The change meant that Colten's $12,000 annual salary was cut to $200 per month, the same as for city council members at the time. Had Colten resigned, the senior council member, Jack Batton, whose older brother, J. D. Batton had been the parish sheriff from 1952 to 1964, would have become mayor for the remainder of Colten's term. Colten hence announced that he would not seek a third term in 1974. Then he changed his mind and ran again for the full-time position. This time, Republicans contested most municipal positions.
In September 1974, some five hundred persons marched on City Hall to protest high utility bills in Minden. The dissidents were responding to the hastily formed Committee for Lower Utilities, headed by Steve Fomby, later a member of the Webster Parish School Board. Some complained that meter readers were staying in their trucks and estimating the readings. A convenience store owner said that if her excessive billing were repeated, she would have to close her doors. Electricity in Minden is sold by the municipality, which uses profits to finance a portion of city government costs. Colten and the city council did not attend the rally against the utility bills. Colten was on city business in Baton Rouge at the time but said he would have cancelled the trip had he known about the rally.
Defeat in 1974
The utilities issue as well as the vacillation over full- and part-time status of the mayor are widely believed to have brought about the defeat of Colten. Several other city council members that year were also defeated, including Sanitation Commissioner Lonnie Lester "Red" Cupples (1914-1980) and Utilities Commissioner Fred T. "Tony" Elzen, Sr. (1922-2012)
With one exception, the Republican ticket went down to defeat. Colten was unseated by the Democrat J. E. "Pat" Patterson, 3,186 votes (62.5 percent) to 1,914 (37.5 percent), a businessman who had formerly owned Tidecraft Boats. Republican Felix R. Garrett (1922–1987), a university educator, won election as city utilities commissioner in 1974, having unseated his former Minden (Louisiana) High School classmate, the Democrat Fred Elzen. Four years later, Garrett took an open seat on the city council, when it converted to single-member districts.
Future Minden Mayor Bill Robertson was elected without opposition in the 1974 general election as the city's last sanitation commissioner. Robertson had narrowly defeated Patrick Cary Nation (1918–2005), a retired football coach and educator, in the Democratic runoff election held on September 26, 1974.
In 1989, another Republican, Paul A. Brown, formerly of New Orleans, was elected mayor but served only a year. He was seriously injured in an accident on the Minden High School football field, was unable to serve as mayor, and died six years later. Brown was succeeded in 1990 by Bill Robertson, an Arkansas native who won a sixth and final consecutive term in the 2010 general election. Colten and Brown had three things in common: they were Republicans, neither was a Minden native, and each had been executive director of the chamber of commerce before he ran for mayor.
Building the Louisiana GOP
As Colten left the office of mayor, the city council presented him with a plaque, "Minden's Best Damn Yankee Republican Mayor." Colten was not the first Republican mayor in Louisiana. That designation went to Jack Breaux, who was elected mayor of Zachary in East Baton Rouge Parish in the spring of 1966.
Though his Minden newspapers had endorsed Charlton Lyons for governor in 1964, He did little to encourage other Republicans to run for office and once opposed a Republican candidate for sheriff by convincing the Webster Parish Republican Executive Committee to set the filing fee so high that it would discourage the candidate from running — it did not, however, in that case. Colten hence favored offering only serious candidates, not obscure placeholders to fill a ballot.
Colten also sometimes got involved in Democratic primary fights — particularly the "battle of the Montgomerys" for one of the thirty-nine seats in the Louisiana State Senate in 1967 and 1971. He favored (though he could not vote in the primary at the time) John W. "Jack" Montgomery, a Springhill native and Minden lawyer who was challenging two-term State Senator Harold Montgomery of Doyline in Webster Parish. Jack Montgomery won in 1967, but Harold Montgomery returned to victory in 1971. The Montgomerys were not related, had different political philosophies but maintained cordiality toward each other.
Harold Montgomery told a reporter in 1975 that he could not understand why Colten, a Republican, had undercut him, when Harold Montgomery, unlike Jack Montgomery, had frequently supported Republican candidates, including Charlton Lyons, who opposed John J. McKeithen in the 1964 gubernatorial election and then Senator Goldwater for the presidency later that same year. Harold Montgomery was one of the state senators who had sometimes quarreled with McKeithen. McKeithen supported Jack Montgomery.
In 1975, out of the office of mayor and back in his previous role as the executive director of the Minden Chamber of Commerce, Colten was named to a two-year term to the advisory council of the Small Business Administration by administrator Thomas S. Kleppe, a former U. S. Representative from North Dakota and later the United States Secretary of Agriculture.
In 1978, Colten accepted the position in Baton Rouge of general manager of the newly formed trade association, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, under president Ed Steimel, which had lobbied for the state right-to-work law in 1976. On November 1, 1985, Colten was appointed by the Louisiana Republican State Central Committee, of which he had previously been an elected member, to the paid executive director position. The party chairman at the time was George Despot of Shreveport.
Department of Transportation and Development
In 1980, Governor Treen appointed Colten as the assistant secretary to Paul Hardy who had been newly named as the secretary for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. Hardy was a former Louisiana secretary of state who had been an unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate in 1979.
When Hardy left the top transportation post, Treen elevated Colten to secretary of the department. His services were then retained by Governor Edwin Edwards. He also served a second stint as assistant secretary of DOTD under Governor Buddy Roemer, with Neil Lassion Wagoner (1936-2018) of Baton Rouge as the secretary. Colten in effect was came the point man on state highways, and elected officials depended on his expertise.
Colten was an elected delegate to the Louisiana Constitutional Convention of 1973. He was a former chairman of the Northwest Louisiana Clearinghouse Review Board. He was chairman of the board of directors of the Friends of Louisiana Public Broadcasting. He was a member of the Governor's Property Tax Study Committee, the Joint House-Senate Study Committee on Industrial Inducement, the East Baton Rouge Industrial Development Board, the State Deferred Compensation Commission, the Louisiana Tourism Commission, and the Southern Rapid Rail Transit Commission.
Retirement in Kentucky
Upon retirement from the transportation secretary's position in 1993, Colten and his wife, Jane, moved to the capital city of Frankfort, Kentucky, to be near their younger son, Lee Arthur Colten (born 1958), a conservationist for the State of Kentucky, and his wife the former Marianna Mahoney. Mrs. Colten was a native of DuQuoin, Illinois, the daughter of Roberta Pyatt and Maurice Edward Kimmel, and like her husband a graduate of DePauw University.
In Frankfort, Colten was a member of Rotary International, the Blue Grass Area Development District, and the Frankfort and the Kentucky chambers of commerce.
Colten died in Frankfort and is interred there with his wife at a site never revealed in their obituaries. Though reared in a Jewish household in Michigan, he became a member of the Minden Presbyterian, Broadmoor Presbyterian in Baton Rouge, and the South Frankfort Presbyterian Church in Kentucky. In addition to his wife and son Lee, Colten was survived by a daughter, Connie Colten Cross (born 1951) of Austin, Texas; another son, Craig Edward Colten (born 1952), is a geography professor at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. His sister Mary Glodt, was the wife of a physician in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, befor she resided in her later years in Houston, Texas. Another survivor is Colten's younger brother Richard of Upper Saddle Ridge, New Jersey.
Colten was not the only Minden mayor with newspaper experience. David William Thomas, who served from 1936 to 1940, and W. Jasper Blackburn, who filled a one-year term from 1855 to 1856, had extensive experience in journalism as well. J. Frank Colbert (1882-1949), the mayor from 1944 to 1946, was a former editor of the Minden Democrat and The Signal-Tribune, forerunners to the Minden Press-Herald. Former Mayor Connell Fort was also a newspaperman during a part of his career.
Then Mayor Bill Robertson said on Colten's death: "He made so many things possible. He is responsible for our civic center and so many other positive things that have happened in Minden."
In 2018, Terry Gardner, a Democrat-turned-Republican, became the fourth member of the GOP to hold the Minden mayoral office.
- Billy Hathorn, "Arthur Thomas Colten, Minden's "Best Damn Yankee" Republican Mayor: Biography and Analysis," North Louisiana History, Vol. 50 (Spring 2019), pp. 39-40; hereinafter cited as NLH.
- NLH, pp. 39-43.
- NLH, p. 48-49.
- NLH, p. 44-45.
- NLH, p. 46-49.
- Minden Press, January 29, 1962, p.1.
- Minden Herald, February 1, 1962, p. 2.
- Minden Press, November 14, 1960, p. 1.
- "Colten is selected new chamber director," Minden Press-Herald, February 25, 1975, p. 1
- Minden Press-Herald, June 12, 1966, p. 1.
- "Maple Named to Chamber Post," Minden Press-Herald, August 1, 1966, p. 1.
- Minden Press-Herald, July 18, 1966, p. 1.
- Minden Press, March 16, 1964, p. 1.
- Minden Press-Herald, October 2, 1970, p. 1.
- Minden Herald, March 5, 1964.
- Minden Herald, November 8, 1962.
- "Gubernatorial HQ's Open for Campaign," Minden Press, February 3, 1964, p. 1.
- "Civil Rights Bill Cited as Threat to Economy," Minden Herald, April 30, 1964, p. 1.
- Minden Herald, April 30, 1964.
- "Tom Colten Elected Mayor of Minden: Challenger Takes Seven of Ten City Precincts to Win in General Election," Minden Press-Herald, November 9, 1966, p. 1.
- The Minden Press-Herald, August 15, 1966, p. 1.
- John Agan (2002). Minden: Perseverance and Pride. Mount Pleasant, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing Company, 148–149. ISBN 0-7385-2388-7. Retrieved on January 23, 2015.
- John A. Agan (2014). Lost Minden. Arcadia Publishing Company. Retrieved on March 9, 2015.
- John Agan, Lost Minden, pp. 125-126.
- "Sales tax Squeezes Out Narrow Victory," Minden Press-Herald, May 24, 1967, p. 1.
- Minden Press-Herald, September 10, 1969, p. 1.
- "Tom Colten Installed as LMA V-P," Minden Press-Herald, March 24, 1969, p. 1.
- "Colten Formally Announces as Candidate for Minden Mayor," Minden Press-Herald,, October 2, 1970.
- "Colten Winner in Minden Mayor's Race," Minden Press-Herald, November 4, 1970, p. 1.
- "Mayor Colten Will Assume Top LMA Post" Minden Press-Herald, April 28, 1972, p. 1.
- "Colten Becomes Part-Time Mayor," Minden Press-Herald, year-end review edition, January 1, 1974, p. 1.
- "City Council Appoints Colten Part-Time Mayor," Minden Press-Herald, August 7, 1973, p. 1.
- "Electric Bill Rally Draws 500 to Civic Center," Minden Press-Herald, September 18, 1974, p. 1.
- "Mayor and City Council Won't Attend Utility Bill Rally," Minden Press-Herald, September 17, 1974, p. 1.
- Minden Press-Herald, September 17, 1974, p. 1.
- Minden Press-Herald, November 4, 1970.
- *Minden Press-Herald, November 8, 1978, p. 1.
- Minden Press-Herald,', September 28, 1974, p. 1.
- Minden Press-Herald, January 2, 1975, p. 1.
- The Baton Rouge Advocate, January 27, 1980.
- Minden Press, January 11, 1964.
- "Colten gets SBA term," Minden Press-Herald, October 28, 1975, p. 3A.
- "Colten slated," Minden Press-Herald, January 31, 1978, p. 1.
- "Colten Assumes GOP Post," Minden Press-Herald, October 21, 1985.
- A Democrat-turned-Republican, Hardy was later elected lieutenant governor in 1987 — the first Republican elected to that position since Reconstruction.
- Joey White, "Colten: Roemer's future depends on Oct. 7 vote?," Minden Press-Herald, October 6, 1989, p. 1.
- Minden Press-Herald, June 24, 1982, p. 1.
- "Colten to leave DOTD: Former Minden Mayor to retire Friday," Minden Press-Herald, January 10, 1993, p. 1.
- Jane Kimmel Colten. The Baton Rouge Advocate" (November 13, 2013). Retrieved on December 9, 2019.
- "Colten left lasting mark on Minden: Former mayor, Press-Herald owner will be laid to rest Friday," Minden Press-Herald, December 8, 2004, p. 1.
- NLH, pp. 78-79.
- John Agan, Webster Parish historian, "Echoes of Our Past: Mayor David Thomas," Minden Press-Herald, May 22, 2008.