Political 'Hall' honors eight
'Friend of Earl' award given to Arkansas native Coggins

By James Ronald Skains
Journal Correspondent

Eight people received awards at the 17th Annual Louisiana Political Hall of Fame Induction and Banquet held in Winnfield on Saturday, February 7. Selected to receive the 2009 Friends of Earl award was an Arkansas native, Miles Coggins.

"Both of my grandfathers were involved in the Hattie Carraway and Huey Long U.S. Senate race in the summer of 1934," Coggins told the Piney Woods Journal. "I grew up hearing those stories and the Long family of Louisiana really intrigued me throughout the years. It seems like that every time I come to Louisiana, I have a very special time."

Ted Jones, a member of the Hall of Fame class of 2007, noted in introducing Miles Coggins, "During the Clinton Administration, when I would go in to see Miles about anything I was trying to get done in Washington related to Agriculture, he would tell me, 'Ted, you're not going to get anything until you tell me an Earl Long story'."

Coggins was President Clinton's go-to-guy on Agricultural Policy and often traveled with the President to advise him on farming issues. Coggins was and still is an active behind the scenes political operator both in Washington and in his native Arkansas.

He was at one time the youngest Chief of Staff in the Senate hierarchy serving then Arkansas U. S. Senator David Pryor. Coggins also served as the Staff Director on the Senate Subcommittee on Agricultural Production and Price Stabilization.

Currently, Coggins serves on Arkansas Governor Beebe's Commission on Climate Change on which he chairs the Agriculture and Forestry Committee. Coggins also operates a business consulting firm in Little Rock.

Foster Campbell, the current Public Service Commissioner from North Louisiana and former candidate for Governor of Louisiana in 2007, was also one of the six inductees.

In his induction reception speech, Campbell spoke on populist themes reminiscent to the Huey P. Long days. In particular were the similarities to Huey Long's legendary battles with the Standard Oil Company and Campbell's decade-long efforts to place an oil processing tax on all foreign crude oil now being processed in Louisiana.

During the Huey Long era, Standard Oil, now ExxonMobil, had the largest oil refinery in the world within sight of the Louisiana State Capitol.

"During the Huey Long era, 90% percent of the oil processed in Louisiana was Louisiana oil for which the state received a mineral royalty," Campbell pointed out. "Today, less than 10% of the oil processed in Louisiana refineries is Louisiana oil."

The Hall of Fame class of 2009 had a decided "Cajun" flair with three of the inductees having strong roots in Cajunland. Those included Chris John, Walter Lee and Jessel Ourso.

Jessel Ourso was known as the "Black Stallion" of Iberville Parish. He was first elected Sheriff in 1964 at the age of 31 making him the youngest sheriff ever elected in Louisiana. Ourso, a veteran of the Korean War, started his law enforcement career with the Baton Rouge City Police before moving to the Louisiana State Police.

Jessel Ourso, Jr., now Parish President of Iberville Parish, said in accepting the induction award for his father said. "Even though my dad met an untimely death in 1978, I still rode my dad's political coattails into office as Parish President. He was one popular politician in Iberville Parish."

"After my daddy died, our mother called all my brothers and sisters together and told us, 'one thing that I want you all to promise me," Ourso, Jr. recalled. "Promise me that as long as I'm alive, none of you will get into politics. So I kept my promise until after she died in 2000."

The other two south Louisiana natives who were part of the class of 2009 were both present to accept their induction award. Walter Lee is currently Clerk of Court for Evangeline Parish. He was first elected in 1955, the last time Earl K. Long was elected Governor of Louisiana.

Lee has served continuously since then, making him one of the longest serving elected officials in the United States. In his acceptance of the induction award, Lee, who is in his eighties stated, "Although, I've been slowed down by a stroke and am confined to a wheelchair, I still intend to run for re-election one more time."

Chris John, a native of Crowley in Acadia Parish began his political career as a page in the Louisiana House of Representative when his dad was a member of the House. In the early 1980's, John was elected to the Crowley City Council at a very young age.

In 1987, John was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives to succeed his Dad, John John. John served two terms in the Louisiana legislature. Before being elected to the U.S. Congress in the 7th District in 1996, John ran unsuccessfully for Lt. Governor in 1996.

He served four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives until he gave up his seat in 2004 to run for U.S. Senator against current U.S. Senator David Vitter. In his short acceptance talk, John noted, "My Dad lost four races for state representative before getting elected the first time. Although I've lost two statewide political races and now work with the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, there may be a couple of political campaigns left in me."

Al Ater, former two-term State Representative and former Louisiana Secretary of State seems to be a "reluctant politician." He twice declined to run for reelection for offices that he held. In 2005, Ater became Secretary of State after Fox McKeithen passed away. However, Ater, considered a certain winner in political circles if he ran for Secretary of State, chose to return to Concordia Parish and his farm and family.

Act 789 of the 1989 legislative session may have been the most significant event in Louisiana education since Huey and Earl Long furnished free textbooks to students. On July 10, 1989 the first "Taylor Plan'' was signed into law.

This plan, known far and wide as the TOPS program was originated and guided through the Louisiana legislature by Patrick Taylor of New Orleans. The TOPS program was the first state-paid, merit based tuition program in the nation. It has now spread to 22 other states. Taylor died on November 5, 2004.

In 2008, to honor Patrick Taylor for his achievements, the Louisiana Legislature officially renamed the then "Louisiana Tuition Opportunity Program for Students" to the "Taylor Opportunity Program for Students."

Patrick Taylor was the founder and CEO of Taylor Energy Company in New Orleans. In 1985, he founded the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation, a philanthropic organization devoted to helping education, law enforcement, military, charitable groups and humanitarian efforts. Mrs. Pat Taylor, his wife accepted the induction award on his behalf. Several members of the Taylor Foundation also attended the Hall of Fame event.

Chris Fraser, Jr., longtime Jimmie Davis confidant received the "Friends of Jimmie Davis Award." The Jimmie Davis and Gene King Bands provided the entertainment for the Political Hall of Fame event.