Political Hall of Fame set in Lafayette

By James Ronald Skains
Journal Correspondent

“We’re holding our 2016 Louisiana Political Hall of Fame event on March 12 at 6 p.m. in the Cajun Dome in Lafayette,” Carolyn Phillips, longtime Executive Director of the Hall of Fame, told the Piney Woods Journal. “There were several reasons for our decision to hold the 2016 Induction Banquet in Lafayette.”

“Our Board decided that since all of 2016 Inductees were from Southwest and South Louisiana we would have a better turnout. Secondly, we really need a financial boost for the Political Hall of Fame and hopefully we will obtain a few sponsors from that area.

We have had no state funding this year. In fact I have not had a paycheck since last June. That is a consideration that I take quite seriously."

“I think the 2015 state elections turned out very well from our stand point,” Carolyn pointed out. “We now have two north Louisiana Senators who are both graduates of Winnfield High School and with some ties to the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame.

“It was a pleasure to see our Board Member Jack McFarland elected as State Representative. We expect great things from Jack. Then Senator Riser to our east is from Columbia which was the home town of former Governor John McKeithen and his son, former Secretary of State, Fox McKeithen. Both of the McKeithen’s were strong supports of the Museum and Hall of Fame.”

“The John Bel Edwards family is also a member of the Louisiana Political Fame of Fame. If you remember John Bel was here at the Induction Ceremony in 2014. Also, another consideration was that one of our real active Board Members, Randy Haynie, is based in Lafayette. Randy is a governmental affairs lobbyist with a lot of friends and connections which could give us a lot of exposure and perhaps lead to some kind of financial funding in 2016.”

The Louisiana Political Hall of Fame was created in 1987 by an Act of the Louisiana Legislature. However, no permanent funding program was put into place for the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame has become somewhat of a Louisiana Political Football in itself. At one time, the Hall of Fame in Winnfield was under the Secretary of State’s office, another time it was under the Lieutenant Governor’s office and at another time the governor’s office had input into the funding of the Museum and Hall of Fame activities.

Winnfield was the hometown of three former Governors’. The first native son to ascend to the Governor’s Mansion in 1928 was Huey P. Long. The second native son to become governor was Long’s best friend and longtime supporter O. K. Allen. The third man from Winnfield to hold the office of governor was Earl K. Long, the younger brother of Huey P. Long who was killed in the Louisiana State Capitol in September of 1935.

In addition, several other prominent Louisiana politicians with ties to the Winnfield area were elected to high office in Louisiana. Those include former Governor “Singing Jimmy” Davis and former Governor John J. McKeithen. Both the Davis family and the McKeithen families moved from Winn Parish to adjacent parishes shortly before the two former governors were born. Also, former U.S. Senator Russell Long had ties to Winnfield, as did two Congressmen, Gillis Long and Speedy Long, who were both graduates of Winnfield High School. Numerous State Representatives and State Senators have gone to Baton Rouge with direct ties to Winnfield.

The Museum is stocked full of political memorabilia from all the 100 plus people who have thus far been inducted into the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame. Some of the items of interest in the Museum include a campaign car with sound system used by Earl K. Long in the 1950’s. Another item of interest is an antique set of furniture owned and used by the late Governor Huey P. Long.

“The names of the 2016 Inductees have not as yet been released but they are an impressive group that is well known in south and southwest Louisiana,” Carolyn emphasized. “We hope that our friends here in Winnfield, as well as those throughout Louisiana, will turn out in Lafayette to support our annual induction banquet. The tickets are $100 each. We hope to get a large turn-out, as well as a few financial sponsors, and donors by holding the event in Lafayette. We held a fund-raiser in Lafayette in 2014 which was a good boost for us. The bottom line is that we are just trying to find ways to keep the Museum and Louisiana Political Hall of Fame open. I know that I have personally given nearly 20 years of my retirement years to the Hall of Fame and Museum. It truly would be heavy blow to see the Museum close.”

“We are encouraged that Mike Tinnerello’s health has improved a lot to the point where he can really help us again. We are also pleased that Mr. Ted Jones is a little closer to us at least three days a week while he is teaching at Northwestern State University,” Carolyn said in closing.

Writer’s comments: Yes, I do honestly believe that the closing of the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame Museum would be a serious disgrace and loss of an economic engine to Winnfield. I truly believe that the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame is vitally important in preserving and honoring the history of our state. With adequate funding to keep the museum open, and include hours on Saturday and Sunday afternoon, certainly more visitors would be attracted to the area. However, without funding that is impossible. I’ve never understood why the local parish or city government or Chamber of Commerce could not find some source of continuing funds to at least help the Museum stay open.