RABALAIS: The Bogalusa Senator Known As Sixty

The Louisiana Legislature has seen many characters pass through its halls. But none were quite like Benjamin Burras Rayburn, who represented Washington and St. Tammany parishes for more than 45 years.

According to his obituary in The Times-Pic, Rayburn, also known as “Sixty,” had varying stories about how he obtained his famous nickname. Most folks in Washington Parish say he got the moniker because in his first election, his ballot number was 60.

Born in Mississippi, Rayburn spent his early years across state lines before moving to Bogalusa. He attended the city's technical college, which still credits the construction of their current campus to Rayburn’s work with the capital outlay budget.

Rayburn worked as a pipe fitter at Bogalusa’s paper mill and raised horses and cattle on the side. First elected to the Legislature in 1948, he bonded with then-Gov. Earl Long over their shared passion for farming and livestock. (Rayburn’s passion for animals even led him to help author legislation that created the School of Veterinary Medicine at LSU, the only program of its kind in the state.)

According to Morgan Peoples’ and Michael Kurtz’ Earl K. Long: the Saga of Uncle Earl and Louisiana Politics, Rayburn was a frequent visitor to Long’s “pea patch farm” in Winnfield, and even helped secure the governor’s release from a state mental hospital in 1959. Long repaid Rayburn’s loyalty by approving a new charity hospital for Bogalusa.

Rayburn was the longtime chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, enjoying enormous control on the state’s purse strings. Press accounts from the 1970s and 1980s contain lengthy reports about his power over the budgeting and capital outlay processes. By then, Rayburn had become the Legislature’s senior member, often recounting stories of his adventures with “Mr. Earl” for freshmen lawmakers.

In the 1990s, Rayburn and other lawmakers were accused of taking bribes in order to protect the video poker license of a Slidell businessman. The legislators were indicted and stood trial, and Rayburn was the only defendant that was found innocent on all charges. This legal saga is recounted in detail in Tyler Bridges’ Bad Bet on the Bayou: The Rise of Gambling in Louisiana and the Fall of Governor Edwin Edwards.

Even though he was acquitted, Sixty still lost his bid for re-election in 1995. And despite being retired from politics from then on, the former lawmaker often made appearances at committee hearings and community meetings to lobby for his pet projects until he died peacefully in 2008, at the age of 91.

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