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Taylor Walters O'Hearn (July 6, 1907April 2, 1997) was a pioneer in the rebirth of the Republican Party in Louisianamarker during the mid-twentieth century. He and Morley A. Hudson, both of Shreveportmarker in Caddo Parish, were the first two Republicans elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives since Reconstruction. The pair served single terms from 1964-1968. O'Hearn and Hudson were joined in the Caddo delegation by Democrats Algie D. Brown, Frank Fulco, and newcomer J. Bennett Johnston, Jr., later a member of both the Louisiana State Senate and the United States Senate.

O'Hearn was born in Shreveport to Ernest O'Hearn (1880-1972) and Mattie W. O'Hearn (1886-1982). Ernest O'Hearn, who was probably born in New Orleansmarker, had been orphaned as a child when both of his parents died of yellow fever. Taylor O'Hearn was a self-employed CPA and attorney in Shreveport. He was a United States Navy veteran with service during World War II. He was a former commander of the American Legion Post 14 in Shreveport.

Like most Louisiana Republicans of his era, Taylor O'Hearn started political life as a Democrat. In 1959, he supported the segregationist gubernatorial candidate William M. Rainach of Claiborne Parish in the Democratic primary. Rainach finished a weak third, and the governorship went to Jimmie Davis, a former Shreveporter who had also served as governor from 1944-1948.

Challenging Russell B. Long, 1962

Having grown disenchanted with the national Democratic administration of President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, O'Hearn switched parties to run for the U.S. Senate in 1962. He challenged incumbent Democrat Russell B. Long, who as the oldest son of the legendary Huey Pierce Long, Jr., was already himself a near political icon in Louisiana.

O'Hearn charged that Long was practicing "the same old pork barrel. He's promising everybody everything with their own money." O'Hearn further claimed that Long was attempting to take credit for all political progress in the state. Long replied that he was "not ashamed I've fought to get things for Louisiana. I'm not ashamed to go to the White House to talk to the president to get things done for my state and its people." Critical of the Kennedy Cuban policies, O'Hearn called the failed Bay of Pigs operation a "desertion of Cuban patriots." Long denied O'Hearn's contention that he was automatically in lockstep with Kennedy policies. Long voiced opposition for instance, to Kennedy's intervention in the desegregation of the University of Mississippimarker at Oxfordmarker that fall, which had led to a violent confrontation.

Long turned aside a challenge from the "right" in his own party in the summer of 1962. He then defeated O'Hearn, with 318,838 votes (75.6 percent) to 103,066 (24.4 percent). O'Hearn carried seven north Louisiana parishes, where conservatism was running strongly at the time. He fared best in his own Caddo Parish, where he polled 64.7 percent. He also received 58.7 percent in Madison Parish (Tallulah) in northeast Louisiana. O'Hearn carried Webster (Minden)marker, Morehouse (Bastropmarker), Bossier (Bossier Citymarker and Bentonmarker), Claiborne (Homer), and La Sallemarker (Jenamarker) parishes. Madison and Claiborne parishes became staunchly Democratic after the implementation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 added large numbers of blacks to their voter rolls. In ten other parishes, all in north Louisianamarker, O'Hearn drew more than 40 percent of the vote.

Election to the Louisiana legislature

In 1964, O'Hearn ran for one of five then at-large seats in the Louisiana House of Representatives from Caddo Parish. The seats were made single-member after the 1970 census. Morley A. Hudson and O'Hearn both won, finishing ahead of three Democrats, who won the other positions. Hudson and O'Hearn were the only Republicans anywhere in Louisiana to win legislative seats that year, when fellow Shreveporter Charlton Lyons waged an active Republican Party gubernatorial campaign. Hudson in jest declared himself "minority leader" of the Louisiana House in that he led the vote totals in Caddo Parish. O'Hearn joked that he must be the "minority whip" in that he had the second-highest Republican tally. In the 1964 session of the Louisiana House, their page was a 17-year-old high school student named Louis E. "Woody" Jenkins of Baton Rougemarker. In 1972, Jenkins won election as one of the youngest legislators in state history, and in 1996, he was the narrow loser as the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate.

O'Hearn's priority as a legislator was to promote the construction of a north-south interstate highway link in Louisiana, later the popular I-49. Billy J. Guin of Shreveport, one of the Republican candidates who was defeated in Caddo Parish at the time that O'Hearn was elected to the legislature, recalled that it was O'Hearn who first proposed the highway. Later, state Senator Johnston carried forward with the idea, proposing, at first, road tolls to move the project forward.

In 1966, O'Hearn lost an attempt to win a newly-created judgeship in Caddo Parish. He was defeated, 64-36 percent, in the general election by Democrat James A. "Dee" Alexander. After Republicans scored gains in Caddo Parish in 1964, the Democrats took successful steps to drive them from local office. The vehicle used was the Caddo Democratic Association, which supplied campaign funds for any local Democratic nominee facing GOP opposition in a general election. The association had total success in its mission for five years—from 1966 until 1971. Woody Jenkins said that he remembers O'Hearn and Hudson as men of high principles and solid role models for future generations of conservative legislators.

Defeat in 1968

After his failure to win the judgeship, O'Hearn served the year and a half left in his legislative term. He ran unsuccessfully for reelection in 1968. O'Hearn polled 15,150 votes to lead the Republican ticket in the at-large state House races in Caddo Parish, but he was 5,475 votes below the lowest-ranking Democratic candidate. Two other unsuccessful Republican state House candidates from Caddo Parish in 1968, Benjamin Franklin O'Neal, Jr. (1922-2004) and Arthur W. "Art" Sour, Jr. (1924-2000), would return to reverse their defeats and win House seats from single-member districts in 1972. Morley Hudson, who did not seek reelection in 1968, issued a statement on behalf of all the losing Republican candidates: "We did not lose; we taught thousands of our voters that they could vote for two-party government." In Baton Rouge, another Republican legislator, Edward Clark Gaudin, also was defeated, but he too rebounded to victory in 1972.

O'Hearn charged that election laws had been violated at three black precincts in Shreveport—that Democrats passed out campaign literature at the door of one polling place and were less than the required 200 feet minimum from the two other precincts. O'Hearn said that he contacted Caddo Parish Sheriff James M. Goslin, and the Shreveport public safety commissioner, George W. D'Artois, both Democrats. Each told him that the matter was out of his jurisdiction. O'Hearn never again sought public office.

O'Hearn's obituary

A balded, bespectacled man with black-rimmed eyeglasses and a stern facial expression, he bore a striking resemblance to the popular comic character actor Richard Deacon (1921-1984), who starred as "Fred Rutherford" on Leave It to Beaver and as "Mel Cooley" on the original The Dick Van Dyke Show.

O'Hearn was a member of the First Baptist Church of Shreveport. He was an avid fisherman, musician, and photographer.

O'Hearn died in Granburymarker, in Hood Countymarker, southwest of Fort Worthmarker, Texasmarker, in 1997 at the age of eighty-nine.

Survivors included his wife of fifty-two years, Gladys Bookout O'Hearn (June 20, 1910September 6, 2001); one son, Patrick T. O'Hearn (born 1930) of Palm Springs, Californiamarker; one daughter, Jerry O'Hearn Meier and husband Kenneth Fredrick Meier (both born 1932) of Granbury; nine grandchildren, ten great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild. Gladys O'Hearn, a Shreveport native and a graduate of Northwestern State Universitymarker (then College) in Natchitochesmarker, was the executive secretary for many years of the Arkansas-Louisiana Citgo Company. Mrs. O'Hearn was also preceded in death by Paul A. Kennon, her son from a previous marriage.



Taylor and Gladys O'Hearn are interred in Forest Park Cemetery on St. Vincent Avenue in Shreveport. O'Hearn's parents are also buried in Forest Park but not in the same section of the cemetery.

References

  • Hathorn, Billy, "The Republican Party in Louisiana, 1920-1980," Master's thesis (1980) at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches
  • Alexandria Daily Town Talk, November 2, 3, 6, 7, 1962
  • Shreveport Journal, March 4, 1964, February 7, 1968
  • [276900]
  • [276901]
  • [276902]
  • Gladys O'Hearn obituary, Shreveport Times, September 7, 2001
  • Taylor O'Hearn obituary, Shreveport Times, April 3, 1997



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