LaHistory: Mr. Long Goes To Washington

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Thursday will mark an anniversary for the United States Senate — 86 years since the Kingfish himself took the upper chamber by storm, and left quite an impression in the world’s greatest deliberative body.

On Jan. 25, 1932, Gov. Huey P. Long was sworn-in as Louisiana’s newest U.S. senator. With his political ambitions on a national scale, Long saw the Senate as the next logical step in the pursuit of his ultimate goal, the presidency.

In 1930, Long had handily defeated Sen. Joseph E. Randsell, a three-term incumbent. A courtly planter from Lake Providence, Randsell was an aging relic of the Bourbon Democrats and no match for Long’s modern campaign machine. Out on the stump, Long and his surrogates had ridiculed the elderly senator, calling him “Feather Duster Randsell.”

While victorious in the campaign, Long was unwilling to vacate the governor’s office until it was firmly in the control of one of his trusted lieutenants. Because of his reluctance to leave Baton Rouge, Long actually left the Senate seat vacant for nine months. After a power struggle with Lt. Gov. Paul Cyr, he installed Senate President Alvin King in the Mansion and set out for Washington.

Wearing a gray, double breasted suit, Long strode confidently into the chamber, exclaiming to colleagues that “the Kingfish has arrived!” He introduced himself to the Republican Majority Leader by spinning him around in his chair and slapping the venerable senator on the chest. During all of this, Long was puffing on a large cigar, defiantly breaking the Senate’s smoking ban on the floor.

Traditionally, new senators are escorted into the chamber by their home state counterpart. In Long’s case, Sen. Edwin S. Broussard, a bitter political enemy, refused to accompany him. Minority Leader Joe Robinson stood in Broussard’s place as Long took the oath from Vice President Charles Curtis. Long repaid the courtesy by leaving his smoldering cigar on Robinson’s desk.

His introduction to Congress complete, Long had enough of the stuffy Senate and boarded the first train back to Baton Rouge the next day.

(Sources: Huey Long, T. Harry Williams, and Kingfish, Richard D. White

— By Mitch Rabalais

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