WATERGATE, LOUISIANA, AND RICHARD NIXON!
Monday, June 27th, 2022
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
WATERGATE, LOUISIANA, AND RICHARD NIXON!
This month marks the 50-year anniversary of the Watergate break-in. Those of us who remember we’re often mesmerized by the full press coverage the event produced. I was commuting to Baton Rouge each day in 1972 as a delegate to the constitutional convention. Driving to and from the state capital, I was glued to my radio as events unfolded that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Nixon was the first and so far the only president to resign from office. Those too young to remember the events surrounding Watergate missed one of the most riveting episodes in American history. Nixon survived a number of bitter political fights, but he had always been able to bounce back. However, it was his own words in secret recordings that he personally authorized in the Oval Office that finally led to his downfall.
Throughout his political career, the 37th President made a number of trips to Louisiana. Nixon’s first visit was with his wife Pat in 1941, shortly after they were married. “I remember how we were moved by the wonderful food and the good music, but most of all by the warmth of the hospitality,” he often recalled. He made fast friends with Al Hirt and clarinetist Pete Fountain, both of whom he later invited to perform at the White House.
Nixon lost his first bid for President in a close race with John F. Kennedy in 1960. About 10,000 votes could have changed the outcome, and some political observers still feel the election was stolen from Nixon by election shenanigans in Chicago. Two years later, he tried for a political comeback, running for governor of California, but was defeated by then-Governor Pat Brown, whose son later became the state’s governor. Nixon told reporters he was through with politics, and they “wouldn’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”
But rumors surfaced a few years later that he again might be interested in the Republican nomination. I was class president at Tulane Law School in 1966 and had the chore of arranging speakers. At the suggestion of my law school roommate Bill Weinberg, I wrote Nixon asking him to address the Tulane student body. To my surprise, he accepted. Over a light lunch at the Tulane Student Center, he quizzed me about Louisiana politics and asked a number of questions about my background and future plans. I found him engaging, funny, and quite the dominating figure one would expect of a former Vice President.
I introduced him to the packed crowd, and it was obvious from his remarks that he was running for President again. He invited me to join him for a Republican Party fundraising dinner that evening, and future Governor Dave Treen joined us. Treen and I both felt like we were listening to the next President.
As the evening ended, his chief of staff asked if I would consider joining the campaign by heading up a Nixon for President young voters group being formed in New Hampshire, the first primary state. I was tempted but chose instead to begin a new family and a new law career in the Crescent City.
My only other meeting with Nixon was in July of 1972 at the St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in the south Louisiana town of Houma. We both were there for the funeral of Louisiana Senator Allan Ellender. An hour before the funeral, over a thousand people were packed into the street in front of the entrance. Metal barriers had been set up to keep the crowd at bay, and the church was surrounded by state troopers, local police officers, and numerous Secret Service agents. It became obvious why there was so much security. The President and Mrs. Nixon were to join a long list of dignitaries to eulogize the Senator.
When the President entered, he was led by the Secret Service to a seat directly in front of me. I introduced myself and reminded him of his visit to Tulane, and the offer to go up to New Hampshire. He said that I had missed a great opportunity.
Watergate would prove otherwise. But he also told me that if I had to be living and working somewhere, Louisiana was one of the best places to be. He sure was right about that.
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also look over a list of books he has published at www.thelisburnpress.com.