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John Sidney Garrett (October 29, 1921 - May 28, 2005) was a conservative Democratic member of the Louisiana House of Representatives who served from 1948 to 1972 under four gubernatorial administrations. Garrett was a successful businessman in the small town of Haynesvillemarker in Claiborne Parish just two miles from the Arkansasmarker state line. In his last term, he was defeated for reelection even though he was the Speaker of the House. In 1966, Garrett made a strong but losing primary race for the Louisiana Public Service Commission to fill the seat vacated by the election of John Julian McKeithen as governor. At the time, there were only three PSC districts; the number was increased to five under the Louisiana Constitution of 1974.

Early years, education, military

Garrett was among five sons born in Millerton, an unincorporated area of Claiborne Parish, to John H. Garrett (1890-1957) and the former Nobie Hunt (1899-1961). He graduated from Haynesville High School, attended Louisiana State Universitymarker in Baton Rougemarker, and graduated from Louisiana Tech University (then Louisiana Polytechnic Institute) in Rustonmarker in Lincoln Parish. In 1994, Garrett was honored as one of 100 "Outstanding Alumni" of Tech during the institution's centennial celebration.

During World War II, Garrett served in the U.S. Army in the European theater of operations. He was a member of the 102nd and 45th infantry divisions. He was a captain and battery commander with the field artillery.

Garrett's business ventures included Garrett's Department Store, Garrett Land and Timber Corporation, and Garrett Oil Field Service. He was the chairman of the board of directors of Planter's Bank and Trust Company.

Garrett in the legislature

Garrett succeeded the segregationist Representative William M. Rainach, who went on to serve in the Louisiana State Senate and was a 1959 Democratic gubernatorial contender. Garrett was originally a segregationist as well who like Rainach had chaired the Joint Legislative Committee on Segregation. In support of the segregationist White Citizen's Council, begun by Rainach, Garrett told an audience in Mindenmarker that the "segregation problem is the most serious you will face in your lifetime. The Black Monday (Brown v. Board of Education) ruling of the Supreme Courtmarker was a political, not a legal decision."Garrett said the Citizen's Council must operate not as "the Ku Klux Klan ... but within the laws of the state and the nation."

Otherwise, Garrett was a low-key business-oriented legislator who specialized in constituent services and maintained a wide networking of friends and supporters to retain his seat for six consecutive four-year terms. At times, his district included a portion of neighboring Webster, including the parish seat of Mindenmarker, and Bienville parishes.

In his last term, Garrett was in a two-member district with conservative Democratic Representative Parey Pershing Branton, Sr., of Shongaloomarker. In the 1967 primaries, Garrett and Branton defeated three other Democrats, former Springhillmarker Mayor Charles E. McConnell and Henry G. Hobbs of Minden, both attorneys, and James William "Tinker" Volentine (1915-1982), a Minden businessman. McConnell tried again in 1971 and lost to R. Harmon Drew, Sr. of Minden. In 1995, Volentine's granddaughter, Helaine George (later Helaine Barrington of Merryvillemarker in Beauregard Parish), was one of two Republican women who failed in an attempt to win the same House seat held at that time by the retired Minden educator, Democrat Everett Gail Doerge (pronounced DURR GHEE—1935-1998), who had first been elected in 1991.

Garrett was recommended to the House as Speaker by Governor McKeithen to fill the vacancy created by the death on November 18, 1967, of Vail M. Delony of Lake Providencemarker, the seat of East Carroll Parish.

Speaker Garrett served on the Louisiana Superdomemarker Commission during the construction of the giant sports stadium in New Orleansmarker. He was an author of the first statewide uniform teacher pay plan and supported legislation pertaining to elementary, secondary, and higher education. He authored the bill which created Lake Claiborne and worked for the appropriations to make the complex a reality.

Running for the Public Service Commission, 1966

John McKeithen appointed John S. Hunt, III, (1928-2001) of Monroemarker to the PSC seat that McKeithen vacated to become governor. Hunt's appointed term lasted a year and a half. In the summer of 1966, Garrett challenged Hunt for Democratic renomination to a full six-year term on the commission. Hunt was the son of Stewart Smoker Hunt and Lucille Long Hunt of Ruston, a sister of Huey Pierce Long, Jr., and Earl Kemp Long. Both candidates had the same first name and the common middle initial, and Garrett's mother's maiden name was Hunt, but they were not related. In the Democratic runoff, Hunt defeated Garrett 92,971 (52.8 percent) to 83,075 (47.2) percent. The two evenly split the then twenty-eight parishes in the district. Garrett had garnered the support of three of four primary rivals eliminated in the first round of voting. He carried all of the parishes bordering Arkansas except Caddo in the northwest and East Carroll in the northeast. In north central and northeastern Louisiana, he won La Sallemarker, Cathoula, Grant, Franklinmarker, Richland, and Winn, the latter the ancestral home of the Longs. He also polled majorities in Red River and Bienville parishes in northwestern Louisiana.

Garrett tried to depict Hunt, who had supported Barry Goldwater for U.S. President in 1964, as a captive of the "black bloc vote", but he failed to convince a majority of voters accordingly. Records did, however, reveal that Hunt's 9,896-vote margin was dependent on African-American voters newly enfranchised under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Hunt served a total of eight years on the commission. He was unseated in 1972 by Francis Edward Kennon (born 1938), a Minden/Shreveport businessman and himself a nephew of former Governor Robert F. Kennon.

The defeat of Speaker Garrett

In the 1971 closed primary (the last for legislative races in state history), Garrett was surprisingly defeated in his bid for a seventh term by a largely unknown insurance agent named Louise Brazzel Johnson (1924-2002) of Bernicemarker in Union Parish. Garrett, placed in new District 11 (Union and Claiborne parishes) was the most high-profile of numerous legislative veterans defeated in an anti-incumbent year. Previously, it had been thought an impossible task for an inexperienced candidate to oust a senior lawmaker, particularly one who wore the title of "Speaker."

Mrs. Johnson was best known for her opposition to the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. She did not consolidate a hold on the Claiborne-Union district because she ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate in 1975, having lost to the more liberal Democrat, former Senator Charles C. Barham of Ruston. Johnson was then defeated for a second House term in the 1979 nonpartisan blanket primary by fellow Democrat Loy F. Weaver, a banker and former agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigationmarker and the Drug Enforcement Administration from Homermarker, the man who had succeeded her in 1976.

The 1975 state senate campaign

In 1975, former Representative Garrett entered an eight-candidate, all-Democratic field in a bid to succeed the retiring conservative State Senator Harold Montgomery of Doylinemarker in Webster Parish. Garrett stressed his past support for education, including the four-year status of Louisiana State University at Shreveport and Southern University at Shreveport as well as the establishment of Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center Shreveportmarker. He also urged the implementation of a statewide community college system.

Garrett outspent his opponents in the race, having raised $25,248 in the primary, including three $1,000 contributions from Minden contractors James Madden and James M. Winford and from Garrett's aunt, Mrs. A.C. Smith of Minden.

The since defunct Shreveport Journal endorsed Garrett's principal opponent, Democrat Foster L. Campbell, Jr., at the time a business teacher at Haughton High School in Bossier Parish. The Journal editorially charged that Garrett as a representative "voted for millions of dollars in new taxes and pork barrel political bond issues . . . for the prevailing wage law of 1968 [which] set the gears of inflation . . . and has resulted in all state projects costing an estimated additional 20 percent . . . "

Garrett, in a newspaper advertisement, accused the Campbell family of seeking to create a political dynasty, with various Campbells having been the Webster Parish school superintendent or a district judge or an appeals court judge.

In the showdown on December 13, 1975, Campbell defeated Garrett by a large margin, 15,739 to 6,417. The third-place primary candidate, Minden businessman Houston R. Morris, who had run unsuccessfully for state representative in 1971, endorsed Garrett in the general election, as did other rivals Patrick H. "Pat" Jones and Wade Baker. Garrett's former legislative colleague, Parey Branton, and the Minden educator, Ralph Lamar Rentz, Sr. (1930—1995), also ran for the state senate, but both trailed in the primary results.

In 2002, Campbell, after twenty-six years in the Senate was elected to the PSC, a race that Garrett had lost in the 1966 Democratic primary runoff. Campbell was also an unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial candidate in the 2007 jungle primary, having placed a weak third.

One of Garrett's grassroots supporters was Buster L. Benefield, a former member of the Webster Parish Democratic Executive Committee from Minden and, later, Bossier Citymarker. Benefield knew Garrett since they were boys growing up in Claiborne Parish. He described his friend as "wealthy, honest, and he and his wife were just good people. It was my privilege to campaign for him."

Garrett's obituary

Garrett's hobbies included the raising of horses, cattle, and bantam chickens. He was a judge for poultry shows nationwide, a member of the American Bantam Association, and a past president of the American Poultry Association. He was a member of the Millerton Masonic Lodge #245, a 32 degree K.C.C.H. Scottish Rite Mason, and an El Karubah Shriner.



John Sidney Garrett (1921-2005)


Garrett died in the Homer Memorial Hospital in Claiborne Parish. He was survived by his wife of fifty-eight years, the former Meredith McEachern (born 1926); three sons, Richie Garrett and his wife Susan of Monroemarker, Mark Garrett and his wife Patty of New Orleansmarker, and Tommy Garrett and his wife Kelley of Haynesville; six grandchildren, and two brothers.

Services were held in the Haynesville United Methodist Church, with the Reverend Henry Stone officiating. Garrett was the chairman of the church's administrative board, the leader of the church finance committee, the teacher of the men's Sunday school class, and a singer in the choir. Burial was in a large family plot at the large Old Town Cemetery south of Haynesville.

References

  1. "Rainach Addresses Citizens Council", Minden Herald, April 19, 1956, p. 1
  2. Minden Press-Herald, December 19, 1967, p. 1
  3. Advertisement, Minden Press-Herals, December 9, 1975, p. 3, reprinted from Springhill Press
  4. Minden Press-Herald, December 8, 1975, p. 1
  5. Shreveort Journal editorial, reprinted as Foster Campbell advertisement in Minden Press-Herald, December 12, 1975, p. 11
  6. Minden Press-Herald, December 15, 1975, p. 1
  7. Minden Press=Herald, November 3, 1975, p. 8
  8. Minden Herald, January 19, 1955
  9. Statement of Buster L. Benefield of Bossier City, Louisiana, 2006
  • John S. Garrett obituary, Shreveport Times, May 29, 2005
  • http://www.politicsla.com/archives/2005/may.shtml
  • Members of the Louisiana Legislature, 1880-2004 (Baton Rouge: Secretary of State)
  • http://www.latech.edu/specialcollections/collections/m134.shtml
  • http://ssdi.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/ssdi.cgi



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