|Name||Richard W. Leche|
New Orleans, Louisiana , United States
|| May 15, 1898
|Died||February 22, 1965
Dec 01, 2017 04:53pm
|Info||Richard Webster Leche (May 15, 1898 - February 22, 1965) was the Democratic governor of Louisiana from 1936 until 1939. Along with Edwin Washington Edwards, Leche was one of two governors of Louisiana to be sent to prison. |
Leche was born in New Orleans, the son of Eustace Leche, a salesman, and the former Stella Eloise Richard, a teacher. After graduating from Warren Easton High School, Leche entered Tulane University in 1916. His studies were interrupted when he enlisted in the United States Army at the outbreak of the First World War. After being discharged without having seen combat, Leche briefly moved to Chicago, where he sold automobile parts. On his return to Louisiana, Leche graduated from Loyola University Law School and started a law practice in 1923.
In 1928, Leche ran unsuccessfully for the Louisiana State Senate. By 1930, Leche had joined with Governor Huey Pierce Long, Jr., and managed Long's campaign for the United States Senate in the fall of that year. When Long moved on to the Senate in 1932, he appointed Leche as secretary to his successor as governor, Oscar K. Allen. Leche's job was to keep an eye on Allen and report back to Long on a daily basis. In 1934, Long had Leche appointed as an appeals court judge in New Orleans.
After Huey Long was assassinated in September 1935, the Long organization was left without a leader and without a candidate for the 1936 gubernatorial election. After a period of backroom maneuvering, the relatively minor Leche was chosen as a compromise candidate by Longite leaders, including New Orleans mayor Robert Maestri, outgoing governor Oscar K. Allen, James A. Noe, Seymour Weiss, and Abe Shushan. Despite his relative obscurity, Leche was able to beat anti-Long candidate Cleveland Dear with the aid of the still-powerful Long political machine.
While he continued Long's program of road-building, free textbooks, and expansion of hospital and educational facilities, Leche and his administration were far less committed to wealth redistribution and social programs than Long had been. He ceased attacks on the oil industry, granted tax exemptions to new business and industry, and enacted a regressive sales tax. These policies brought Leche support from the press and the business community, two of Huey Long's staunchest foes.
Shortly after his inauguration, Leche commented, "When I took the oath of office I didn't take any vow of poverty." Corruption was to become the major feature of his administration. In a reconciliation with the administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Leche promised to cease using Long's Share Our Wealth rhetoric and to support New Deal programs. In return, Roosevelt dropped investigation of the Long machine on tax evasion charges, and restored federal patronage to Louisiana. The resulting flow of federal funds, accompanied with widespread graft and corruption, became dubbed the "Second Louisiana Purchase" by contemporaries. While some of the federal funds went to expand Louisiana State University and New Orleans's Charity Hospital, Leche and his administration took their rapprochement with Roosevelt as free license to steal as much as possible. Once the corruption became too blatant, though, Leche and several of his cronies were indicted in what were termed the "Louisiana Scandals." Beset by scandal and accusations, Leche resigned the governorship on June 26, 1939; he was succeeded by his Lieutenant Governor Earl K. Long.
Resignation did not end Leche's legal troubles. In 1940, he was convicted of using the mails to defraud; the particulars involved a scheme to sell trucks to the state Highway Department. Other charges included the use of stolen WPA resources to build private homes for himself and his allies, making a profit from the sale of "hot oil" - oil produced illegally in excess of state quotas and thus exempt from taxation - and misuse of the funds of Louisiana State University. Huey Long's prediction - "If those fellows ever try to use the powers I've given them without me to hold them down; they'll all land in the penitentiary" - proved prophetic. Sentenced to ten years in an Atlanta penitentiary, Leche was released on parole in 1945 and pardoned by Harry Truman in 1953. He then resumed his law practice until his death in New Orleans in 1965.