Decades before wild-haired Bernie Sanders, there was Louisiana Democratic Gov. Huey Long. He served as the state’s 40th governor from 1928 to 1932.

Long was a tyrant and dictator. A hypocrite who lectured others, but filled his pocketbook.

He also ruined lives if you betrayed or didn’t show loyalty to him. Even if death Long continues to haunt the family of the man who supposedly assassinated him.

Tyrant

Writing at National Review, Ellen Carmichael, whose family stood opposed to Long and his regime, discusses how corruption, intimidation, and surrounded every bit of Long’s legacy:

Dr. Carl A. Weiss Jr. died on August 1, 2019. It’s not typically considered newsworthy by the New York Times when a retired orthopedic surgeon passes away at the age of 84, but Weiss was more than a physician. He was the son of the man who shot Huey P. Long.

Or so we were taught. As a child growing up in Louisiana in the 1990s, I learned that there was absolutely no doubt that in the 1930s, the state’s best governor and all-around great man died at the hands of a political opponent out for blood. That story, like so much about Long, is a lie.

The myth of Long’s assassination is just one in a long line of tales meant to lionize the former governor and U.S. senator, painting over his lengthy track record of corruption and brutality in his pursuit for power. Huey P. Long, historian Arthur Schlesinger explained in a 1986 Ken Burns documentary about the populist politician, was the closest thing to a dictator the U.S. has ever seen.

“It’s a mistake to regard Huey Long as an ideological figure, a man committed to a program,” Schlesinger said. “I think Huey Long’s great passion was for power and money, and he stole a lot of money and accumulated a lot of power and destroyed all those who got in the way of these two ambitions.”

Many Louisianans have instead chosen to remember Long as the flamboyant politician who gave pencils to poor schoolchildren and built sparkling new bridges across the waterways of the swampy state. Some fetishize his authoritarian regime as the zaniest chapter in Louisiana’s colorful history, ignoring the long-term damage he caused in both governance and reputation to the state.

Carmichael listed a few of Long’s hypocrisies:

  • State funds to own a “luxurious wardrobe” after bashing J.P. Morgan Jr. for owning hundreds of suits.
  • Forced through the building of a new governor’s mansion.
  • Made himself “chief legal counsel for the state in its lawsuits against private businesses.”
  • Billed them so much he could own many residences.
  • Every state employee had “to direct 5 to 10 percent of each paycheck to his ‘deduct box,’ a mysterious fund that subsidized his political machine.

Long’s Death Was Not an Assassination

Long forced every single public employee to swear allegiance to him. Carmichael’s great-great-grandfather Walter Burke stood as an anti-Longite. He testified against Long, whose henchmen threatened Burke’s family.

Others suffered worse, which led to Long’s supposed assassination:

Though many people were hurt at the hands of Long and his cronies, perhaps none suffered more gravely than the Pavy and Weiss families. Benjamin Pavy was an anti-Longite judge in St. Landry Parish whose judicial district Long gerrymandered in hopes of preventing him from winning reelection. Judge Pavy had planned to retire, but for insurance, Long allegedly began spreading a rumor that Pavy had “Negro blood,” hoping to delegitimize him in the eyes of voters.

On September 8, 1935, Long was making the rounds at the Louisiana state capitol in Baton Rouge, a regular occurrence for the then–U.S. senator who still maintained total control of the state, both through a constant physical presence and by extension through his vast network of political cronies working on his behalf. Dr. Carl Weiss, Sr., a 29-year-old physician married to Judge Pavy’s daughter, lived near the capitol and decided to confront Long after wrapping up his house calls for the day.

When he challenged the Senator about his harassment of Judge Pavy, Long allegedly dismissed the young doctor by using a racial slur. According to sworn testimony consistent with forensic evidence, Weiss responded by punching Long in the jaw. Long’s bodyguards panicked, showering Weiss with bullets. After sustaining 61 gunshots, Dr. Weiss died, leaving behind a young wife and 3-month-old son, Carl, Jr.

During the altercation, Long, too, was shot in the abdomen, but he was well enough to walk down the capitol steps, hail a cab, and ride to the hospital without medical assistance.

According to Bayou Brief, Weiss’s patients testified that he was of sound mind and normal demeanor during his visits that day, and Weiss had even scheduled a surgery for the next morning. Additionally, two hospital nurses revealed in sworn testimonies that Long only said Weiss punched him in the jaw. And most importantly, his bullet wound was inconsistent with the gun Weiss carried as security on his house calls — a gun that Weiss’s son says was not even in his possession during the argument with Long.

It is almost certain that when Weiss punched the senator for allegedly using a slur about his family, Long’s bodyguards overreacted, firing their guns needlessly and indiscriminately into the skirmish. Long was simply caught in the crossfire.

In 2019, Weiss still stands as Long’s murderer despite everyone knowing his innocence. Colonel Frances Gavemberg, a man who fought organized crime “swore in an affidavit” in 1993 that he knew who killed Long. The case reopened in the 1990s, but the police maintained the status quo.

I agree with Carmichael. Louisiana has to exonerate Weiss’s name. His son Dr. Carl Weiss Jr. died last month after spending his life trying to clear his father and wash away the tarnish on the family name.

It is a shame that this has continued for 87 years.

Ellen Carmichael is the president of The Lafayette Company, a political-communications firm, and performs PR work for Legal Insurrection.

 
 
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