Monday, November 10, 2008

WHERE WERE YOU?


Stump Speaking
Former La. Gov. Earl K. Long


This is a more-or-less faithful retelling of the great “Date Debate” that occurred during a race for the Louisiana House of Representatives back in the fall of 1951. However, due warning is hereby given that being as how the story involves politics in my home state, no claim is made, either explicit or implied, as to whether “more” or “less” predominates.

A much sharper looking version of this piece is currently appearing in USADeepSouth. http://www.usadeepsouth.com/ Check out the site. You'll find a lot of southern oriented writing including poetry, fiction, non-fiction, memoir, and some that sorta fits kinda in-between those categories somewhere or other.

Bayou Bill

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WHERE WERE YOU?
by Bill Fullerton

It’s no secret that politics ranks second only to football as Louisiana’s favorite sport. This was especially true in the years after World War II when populist Democrat “Uncle” Earl Long seemed to move in and out of the Governor’s Mansion on a four-year rotation. With each parish (county) having at least one member of the House of Representative (Senate districts were, theoretically, based on population) there was a nice farm system for those who wanted into the game.

Two such men faced off in the second primary of the race for the house seat from bucolic Grant Parish that fall. W. T. “Brandy” McCain, who’d served in the house from 1940-48, wanted the job back. W. L. “Willard” Rambo, related to the politically powerful Long family by marriage, opposed him.

Back in those days, campaigning consisted of going door-to-door, showing up at any event where three or more voters might gather, the usual deal making, and a lot of “stump speaking.” The only available “mass media” in that rural area of north Louisiana was the local weekly paper, The Colfax Chronicle, which came out each Thursday. About a month before the election, at the bottom of the standard full-page ad extolling Willard Rambo’s candidacy, was a simple question: “Brandy McCain, where were you the night of…”followed by an otherwise insignificant date a few years previous.

The exact date used in the ad is lost to the ages, or the Chronicles’ archives. That’s okay because the exact date wasn’t important. The important thing was McCain having no idea what he’d been doing back then.

Next week, the Rambo ad concluded with a note asking McCain who he’d been with that night. By now, just about everyone in the parish was considering possible answers. After all, McCain had been in the state legislature back then. No telling what he’d been doing.

This put McCain in a bind. Any response would be a week late and might focus even more attention on the issue. For the rest of the campaign he tried, with uneven results, to deal with his inability to answer the weekly questions.

The next question, “Brandy McCain, just what were you doing on the night of…?” kept folks talking, not about the McCain campaign, but about what he might have done years earlier.

By election day, voters went to the polls still unsure where McCain had been that night, or what he’d been doing, or who he’d been doing it with, or why he wouldn’t say. Rambo won.

A few months later, the two men, who while not close friends, were long-time acquaintances, ran into one another at a watering hole on the road to Baton Rouge. After the usual exchange of family news, local gossip and talk about politics, McCain asked Rambo the obvious question, “Willard, what the hell was I doing that night? My wife’s still giving me funny looks.”

It’s reported, though not verified, that Rambo grinned, picked up the check, and said, “Brandy, if you don’t know, how the hell do you expect me to? I’ve no earthly idea. My wife thought those questions might stir things up a bit. As usual, Mary Alice was right.”


note: Since posting this piece, I've come across a Wikipedia article about Willard Rambo. It's well-done and informative. Here's the link: http://http//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._L._Rambo

another note: An e-mail arrived yesterday from Jim Brown who served as Lousiana's Sec. of State, Insurance Commissioner, and member of the State Senate (not at the same time). To folks outside the state, he's probably best known as the father of CNN's Campbell Brown. He said he'd enjoyed this piece and asked if I'd add a link to his site. http://http//www.jimbrownla.com/blog/index.php I was, of course, just a tad puffed up by this notice and more than happy to oblige.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Dominique said...

I got a kick out of this story. Sounds like McCain took it all in stride as part of the game. Today, things would probably escalate into a series of negative ads and counter ads...if it all didn't end up in court, eh?
Thanks for the chuckle!

4:05 PM  
Anonymous Casey Quinn said...

I guess sometimes any answer is better then no answer! Funny how media and mudslinging can pick one thing and never let it go.

9:02 PM  
Blogger Usiku (oo-SEE-koo) said...

Sharing our writing has many benefits. These moments when we are reminded of the impact we can have are like nice tailwinds.

10:29 PM  

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