By Jeremy Alford and Mitch Rabalais
In the spring of 1971, Congressman Hale Boggs of New Orleans, then the House Majority Leader, was making moves on Capitol Hill. A well respected member of Congress, Boggs had served in the Democratic leadership since 1962. Notably, he had helped guide President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs through the House and even served on the Warren Commission.
But on April 5 of that year, Boggs rose and gave a floor speech denouncing the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its powerful director, J. Edgar Hoover. A New York Times report on the speech noted that he compared the FBI’s methods to “the tactics of the Soviet Union and Hitler’s Gestapo.” Boggs called on Attorney General John Mitchell to demand Hoover’s resignation. In his remarks, Boggs specifically charged that the FBI had wiretapped congressional offices and stationed agents on college campuses to spy on students.
According to media reports, political observers were shocked that the majority leader had chosen to publicly attack Hoover, long considered to be the most powerful man in Washington. In a recorded phone call with President Richard Nixon, House Minority Leader Gerald Ford’s only explanation was that perhaps Boggs was “either drinking too much, or he’s taking some pills that are upsetting him mentally.”
Ford rose to defend Hoover on the floor, while the attorney general said that Boggs should apologize. Nixon, subsequently had the majority leader removed from high-level meetings and restricted his access to classified information.
Back in Louisiana, then-Gov. John McKeithen personally called Hoover and assured him that the state government did not share the views of the majority leader. Meanwhile, Congressman John Rarick of St. Francisville told reporters that he thought Boggs’ remarks were part of an organized, left-wing conspiracy against the FBI.
Boggs, for his part, doubled down on his charges against Hoover in press interviews and statements. Days after his floor speech, Boggs told CBS News, “The country cannot survive under a man who in his declining years has violated the Bill of Rights of the United States.”
While Boggs never backed away from the charges, the controversy eventually ended when he mysteriously disappeared in October, 1972, while campaigning for a Democratic congressional candidate in Alaska.
Documents declassified since Hoover’s death have since proven that Boggs’ accusations against the FBI were, in fact, true.
Movement In The Race For House Speaker
In recent internal House elections, at least, the job of speaker has been filled by a few unlikely contenders — or rather, the guy no one saw coming.
That’s why the decision by Rep. Johnny Berthelot, R-Gonzales, a quiet and unassuming maybe-candidate for speaker, not to run for re-election helps make the developing field perhaps a little more solid than it was when the summer started.
House Natural Resources Chairman Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, continues to raise money aggressively heading into the peak of election season. The chairman recently held a fundraiser in Lafayette that was attended by 250 people, including a few government relations pros who made the drive from Baton Rouge.
Sources close to Bishop’s bid saymore than $100,000 was raised for his re-election campaign. The event served as a venue for the chairman to discuss his real goals.
“There was some heavy speaker campaigning in his message,” one attendee told LaPolitics. “And there were quite a few House members there to support him.”
Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Albany, is said to be making some inroads in his quest for the big gavel. A handful of prominent business leaders have taken an interest in his candidacy, and some of those boosters are beginning to meet with lawmakers on Mack’s behalf.
The real factor to watch for is when the leading candidates and their backers start merging with the interests and intentions of the gubernatorial candidates, which may already be happening, at least on some level.
Also said to be looking at the top post are GOP Reps. Lance Harris of Alexandria, Alan Seabaugh of Shreveport, Barry Ivey of Central and a host of others.
Open Legislative Seat In Cajun Country
In an unexpected twist of legislative politics, a state House seat based in Lafayette will not have an incumbent in place by the time this fall’s elections roll around.
Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, has resigned from her post and is now the new chief of staff for Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin.
Already there are three contenders eyeing the seat, including former candidate and businessman Gus Rantz, energy executive Jim Dore and Jonathan Goudeau, a former law enforcement official and entrepreneur.
Rantz has decent name recognition from being on the ballot previously, but Dore is said to be wearing out his shoe leather. This could be a heated contest, with Goudeau serving as the wildcard.
Either way, it looks like Republicans will retain House District 31.
They Said It
“People are not that stupid.”
— Gov. John Bel Edwards, on any suggestion the state was better off under the previous administration, during a recent campaign stop in Lafayette.
“While everybody says there’s no place for politics — and it’s true — when lives and property are at stake, there is in Louisiana. There’s always politics.”
— Columnist Stephanie Grace, commenting on election politics and storm response, on WWNO.
For more Louisiana political news, visit LaPolitics.com or follow Alford and Rabalais on Twitter via @LaPoliticsNow.