Governor Sam Jones

Velmer Smith- Beauregard Daily News - Sunday - August 1, 2004

He was a native son of Beauregard Parish, but no evidence remains of the old home place. No historical markers point to the birth place of Sam Jones in Merryville or North Pine Street, site of his home in DeRidder.

His place of birth was a log cabin in the piney woods of Merryville, July 14, 1897. He graduated as valedictorian of his class at DeRidder High School and worked as a waiter while attending Louisiana State University. He could not afford to attend LSU Law School, so he studied law on his own at night while serving as Deputy Clerk of Court for Beauregard Parish. In 1921 he was elected the youngest delegate to the Louisiana Constitutional Convention. In 1922 he passed the state bar exam with "high honors.”

At that time he was appointed DeRidder City Attorney and City Judge by Governor John Parker. He also served as Assistant District Attorney for Imperial Calcasieu Parish under District Attorney John Robiro of Jennings. In 1917 he volunteered for the U. S Army and was discharged as a sergeant in 1919. At the close of World War I, he was commissioned a second lieutenant and retired as a reserve major in 1957.

Sam was a resident of this area until the age of 27. Subsequently, he established residence in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where he resided until his death in 1978. He was known as a great orator and is best remembered locally for dedicating our USO to the use of the men at Camp Polk, December 1, 1941.

Described as a small man, about 5 feet and 8 inches in height and weighing 150 pounds, Sam in no way was hindered by his size from waging the most vigorous, aggressive campaign for governor against five candidates, including Huey Long's brother, Governor Earl Long. He never missed an engagement and made a total of 682 speeches. Governor Long called him "Sweet-smelling little Sam.”

While campaigning, his opponents referred to Jones as "High Hat Sam.” Jones referred to politicians as corrupt and ignorant. One of his promises was that state police would cease to be a political gestapo, modeled on Hitler's best effort. Governor Jones ran on a platform that called for the trial of every "thief and crook” in the state. He promised to restore honesty and decency in the government of Louisiana.

After winning the election, the big blowout for Sam Jones' inauguration included over 125,000 people. Frances McElveen remembers making the journey by train from DeRidder to Baton Rouge to be part of the celebration. Cattle were donated for the event. A thousand head were needed to feed the crowd as well as 250,000 buns and 300 barrels of lemonade.

Governor Sam Houston Jones addressed a joint session of the Louisiana Legislature on May 20, 1940, calling for reorganization of government, honest elections, and elimination of governmental abuses.

He advocated a constitutional amendment to do away with poll taxes. A law legalizing voting machines was requested. The reform governor admonished the 1940 Legislature to make public payrolls and contracts open to public view and to repeal the right of the state police to hold citizens without bond.

Among the reforms Governor Jones asked the joint session of the legislature to enact:
  • Restore home rule to parishes and municipalities;
  • Establish Civil Service as governmental policy;
  • End the system of "deducts,” "deadheads,” and "double-dippers;”
  • Prevent the Executive Department from placing close relatives of legislators on the payroll;
  • Prohibit judges from participating in partisan politics.
Governor Jones told the 1940 joint session: "I opposed the outgoing regime because of its tendency toward dictatorship and because of its unconstitutional and undemocratic methods used. To me these were paramount issues because the methods used were destructive of democracy itself. But, I believe in benefits and services to the people on a safe and sane basis. I have had the audacity to say that the regime which commenced in 1928 came about as a result of the faults, defects, and omissions of the administrations which preceded it." He reminded the legislators that it was possible to have humanitarianism without dictatorship.

The governor called for an increase of old-age pensions to $30 per month from its $11 level, reduction of auto licenses from $15 to $3, and repeal of the sales tax. He also asked for increased educational facilities, particularly trade schools, and a free hot-lunch program.

Governor Jones' achievements were not limited to reforming Louisiana government. He is credited with:

*Having a profound influence on establishment of the Public Affairs Research Council (PAR), the Council For A Better Louisiana (CABL), and Gulf South Research Institute (GSRI).

Spearheading an industrial revolution in Louisiana by bringing new payrolls to the state that varied from defense plants to petrochemical complexes.

Making Louisiana the center for massive military installations and attracting shipbuilding facilities to Louisiana.

Warning his fellow citizens against a policy that permitted unrestricted shipment of natural gas outside the state.

Heading committees for rehabilitation of prison parolees.

Sam Jones served as governor from 1940 to 1944. He succeeded in transforming the government of Louisiana from its scandals and spoils system to one which embraced civil service. His campaign, against a political machine that held sway over Louisiana politics for 12 years, attracted national attention.

Three times he was marked for assassination - once in Lake Charles as he campaigned for a candidate for judge and twice in his own campaign for the governorship.

During his administration as governor, the number of factories increased from 1800 to 2500 and workers from 71,218 to 138,000. Cargo handled by the ports of New Orleans and Lake Charles increased from 20 million tons to 34 million tons.

Governor Sam Jones set down his political philosophy in 1943 when he said: "Good politics begets good business.” He said: "I believe that the curing of economic ills is the best way to remove the social and political ills, and I believe that in politics and government, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” A rarity in Louisiana politics, he was a genuine reform governor.

There are those who are proud of Sam Houston Jones, native son of Beauregard Parish, governor, and elder statesman whose outstanding contribution to his state was his fearless and long struggle for honest and clean, local and state government.

Not only was Sam Jones born in Merryville, he grew up in DeRidder and married a DeRidder girl, Louise Gambrell Boyer. Sam was one of nine children born to his parents, Robert Jones of Sugartown and Susie Frazar of Longville, who are buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in DeRidder.