Jimmy Fitzmorris

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James Edward "Jimmy" Fitzmorris​

46th Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana
In office
May 9, 1972​ – March 10, 1980​
Governor Edwin Edwards
Preceded by Clarence C. "Taddy" Aycock​
Succeeded by Robert L. Freeman

Born November 15, 1921​
New Orleans, Louisiana
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) Gloria Lopez Fitzmorris​
Children One daughter, Lisa Marie Clement

Two granddaughters​

Occupation Railroad officer; public official
Religion Roman Catholic

Military Service
Service/branch United States Army
Rank Major
Battles/wars World War II
Notes

(1) Fitzmorris graduated from the Roman Catholic Jesuit High School. In 1940, at the age of eighteen, Fitzmorris went to work for the Kansas City Railroad as a messenger boy.

(2) From 1942 to 1945, he served in the United States Army, having risen from the rank of private to major during World War II. At the end of the war, he married the former Gloria Madeline Lopez (1923-1995), and they had a daughter, Lisa Marie Fitzmorris Clement. He has two granddaughters, Madeline Gloria and Meredith Rose Clement.

(3) In 1946, he returned to KCS and thereafter became one of the youngest railroad executives in the nation. He retired from KCS in 1972 as the company vice president but continued thereafter as a consultant for the railroad.

James Edward Fitzmorris, Jr., known as Jimmy Fitzmorris or just Fitz (born November 15, 1921), is a businessman and civic leader who was the Democratic lieutenant governor of Louisiana from 1972 to 1980, during the first two of the four terms of Governor Edwin Edwards. He was the first full-time lieutenant governor in state history; in his first term, prior to implementation of the Constitution of 1974, he was the last lieutenant governor whose duties included presiding over the state Senate. Now the office is charged with promoting tourism.

In 1979, he ran third in the nonpartisan blanket primary for governor. In 1983, he was unsuccessful is his effort to regain the lieutenant governor's office from his successor, Robert L. "Bobby" Freeman, a fellow Democrat.

Background

Fitzmorris was born in New Orleans to James Edward Fitzmorris, Sr. (1894-1974), and the former Romolia Elizabeth Hanning (1896-1968). [1]

City council and first mayoral bid

Fitzmorris was a Democratic member of the New Orleans City Council from 1954 to 1966. He was councilman at-large from 1962 to 1966. In 1965, Fitzmorris challenged incumbent Mayor Victor Schiro and appeared to have a strong chance of success. He was endorsed by the "".

James H. "Jim" Brown, former Louisiana state senator, secretary of state, and insurance commissioner, maintains that Fitzmorris would have unseated Schiro had there been no Hurricane Betsy. The storm changed the dynamics of the race, as the media depicted President Lyndon B. Johnson and Mayor Schiro offering generous personal assistance to victims. Fifty people died, and thousands of homes were destroyed. The mere challenger, Councilman Fitzmorris, was by virtue of his position nearly outside the loop. "But such is politics, and after it's over you learn to laugh it off, which I did," Fitzmorris said in regard to Hurricane Betsy and the dashing of his mayoral hopes.

Opposing Moon Landrieu for mayor

Fitzmorris ran again for mayor in 1969 and led in the Democratic primary with 59,301 votes. Maurice Edwin "Moon" Landrieu finished second with 33,093, and future state attorney general and newly-elected State Senator William J. Guste, was third with 29,487 votes. Nine other candidates shared some 50,000 votes as well. In the primary runoff, Landrieu prevailed, 89,554 (53.9 percent) to Fitzmorris's 76,725 (46.1 percent). Landrieu then won the general election in the spring of 1970 over the Republican nominee, Ben C. Toledano, a member of a prominent family whose origins date to the earliest years of New Orleans. A number of Fitzmorris's organizers defected to Toledano, but the switch was insufficient to stop Landrieu's election.

Twice elected lieutenant governor

In 1971, Fitzmorris entered a crowded Democratic primary for lieutenant governor to fill the position being vacated by gubernatorial hopeful Clarence C. "Taddy" Aycock (1915–1987) of Franklin in St. Mary Parish in south Louisiana. Fitzmorris was placed into a runoff with three-term state Senator Jamar Adcock, a banker from Monroe in Ouachita Parish in northeastern Louisiana and a close friend of Governor John J. McKeithen. Two candidates from Webster Parish, Edward Kennon and state Representative Parey Branton of Shongaloo were among those eliminated from the race.

Fitzmorris won the runoff by a wide margin and then faced the Republican former state representative Morley Hudson of Shreveport, running on the ticket headed by later Governor David C. Treen. Fitzmorris scored a knockout over Hudson and went on to serve two terms in the state's second highest office. He polled 815,794 votes (76.8 percent) to Hudson's 218,169 ballots (20.5 percent). Hudson failed to win a single parish but fared best in his home base of Caddo Parish. (A third candidate in the race, Gertrude L. Taylor, also of Shreveport, nominee of George Wallace's former American Independent Party, received 2.7 percent of the vote.)

On November 1, 1975, Fitzmorris cruised to reelection in the first ever nonpartisan blanket primary in Louisiana. One of his minor opponents, Lance Allan Britton (born November 19, 1943), then of Baton Rouge and currently of Mansfield in DeSoto Parish, was the only Republican seeking statewide office that year because Louisiana was then an overwhelmingly Democratic state. Britton polled only 67,821 votes (6 percent), compared to Fitzmorris' 924,325 (81.7 percent). At the time, there were 54,862 registered Republicans in Louisiana. Britton hence polled only about 13,000 more votes for lieutenant governor than the number of GOP registrants.

As lieutenant governor, Fitzmorris headed the Louisiana Tourist Development Commission. He encouraged the establishment of the defunct outdoor drama, Louisiana Cavalier, which was performed in Natchitoches on summer nights during the middle 1970s. He encouraged industrial development, and by the late 1970s, Louisiana was among the more successful states in recruiting new businesses and industries.

Fitzmorris adhered strictly to timetables. When he chaired meetings, he always started exactly on time and finished accordingly. One of his chamber of commerce associates recalled that Fitzmorris ran committee meetings "railroad-style. When an agenda was scheduled for 9 a.m., he would look at his railroad watch and start the meeting at 9 a.m. sharp (not 9:01) - even if I was the only member who had shown up on time. If the meeting was scheduled for one hour, Jimmy Fitz would look at his watch again at 10 a.m. sharp and summarily close the meeting, even if a pontificating member was in mid-sentence! When people came in late, he would give them the kind of look that only railroad men give late passengers sprinting after a moving train."

Running for governor

Fitzmorris entered the nonpartisan blanket primary for governor, held on October 27, 1979, amid a large field, including then Congressman David C. Treen of Louisiana's 3rd congressional district, outgoing secretary of state Paul Hardy of St. Martinville in St. Martin Parish, Public Service Commissioner Louis Lambert of Ascension Parish, House Speaker E. L. "Bubba" Henry of Jonesboro in Jackson Parish and state Senator Edgar G. "Sonny" Mouton, Jr., of Lafayette. Fitzmorris had wide but somewhat shallow support and an impressive campaign reservoir.

Treen led the primary with 297,674 votes. Fitzmorris at first appeared headed into the general election with Treen, with 280,490 votes. Lambert had 279,014. Lambert correctly predicted that "there will be changes in the final results." Paul Hardy finished in fourth place with 225,058 votes, while Henry and Mouton trailed with 135,299 and 123,126, respectively. The official results switched the positions of Fitzmorris and Lambert: Fitzmorris polled 280,760 votes; Lambert, 283,266. Lambert hence got into the general election by a margin of some 2,300 votes greater than what Fitzmorris had received.

Fitzmorris tries to void primary election

Five days after the primary, on November 2, 1979, Fitzmorris filed suit against Lambert in a bid to nullify the primary results so that Fitzmorris could face Treen in the December 8 general election. "I do not understand how in just a few days, I could have lost over 2,000 votes, while Mr. Lambert gains as many," said Fitzmorris. The suit listed thousands of alleged acts of election fraud and irregularities in twenty parishes. To win the suit, Fitzmorris had to prove that there enough votes cast under questionable circumstances to make a difference in the total. Fitzmorris declared that he believed "in miracles" and expressed confidence that the election could be re-staged, or the results nullified.

The suit was heard by the only Republican judge in East Baton Rouge Parish, Douglas Gonzales, Sr., a former federal attorney. Gonzales threw out three hundred Lambert votes in three precincts in St. Helena Parish because Lambert's total in each precinct increased by one hundred votes between election night, October 27, and the release of the final tabulation on October 30. Gonzales, however, dismissed the suit and told the lieutenant governor: "You have proven your courage and integrity, but the facts have not proven your case." Gonzales added that he took his action "with a sad heart." After attempts at appeal, Fitzmorris realized that he would not achieve his lifelong dream of becoming governor. He told the media: "I am now more convinced than ever that this election was stolen from Jimmy Fitzmorris." The Fitzmorris-Lambert rivalry aided Treen in securing support in the general election against Lambert. The dispute created a major issue of the governor's race: election reform.

Endorsing Treen in 1979

Treen and Louis Lambert hence went into the gubernatorial general election. Fitzmorris, Hardy, Henry, and Mouton, all losing Democrats in the primary, then surprised the Louisiana political world by endorsing Treen. Still, Treen won by just ten thousand votes. Lambert said that he believed that Fitzmorris' suit had cost Lambert the governorship. After the election, Treen appointed Fitzmorris as a special assistant for industrial development, a speciality that Fitzmorris had developed during his eight years in the "light governor" position.

Freeman succeeds Fitzmorris

Democratic State Representative Robert Freeman of Plaquemine in Iberville Parish was elected to succeed Fitzmorris as lieutenant governor in 1979. He defeated fellow Democrat (later Republican) Jim Donelon of Metairie in Jefferson Parish, a suburb of New Orleans. In 1998, Donelon, then a state representative, would be the Republican candidate against popular Democratic U.S. Senator John Breaux. In 2006, Donelon became the state insurance commissioner.

Failed 1983 comeback attempt

In 1983, Freeman sought reelection, and Fitzmorris tried to regain the lieutenant governorship. In the October 22, 1983, primary, Freeman led a four-candidate field, but Fitzmorris ran strongly enough to qualify for a general election berth on November 19.

Freeman prevailed in the general election with 627,224 votes (59.7 percent) to Fitzmorris' 424,091 (40.3 percent). Some 400,000 who had balloted in the primary did not participate in the lieutenant governor's general election.

The governor's race that year between Treen and Edwin Edwards, who made his third-term comeback, was decided in the primary, with Edwards an easy winner. The irony was that Fitzmorris had won twice as lieutenant governor with Edwards at the top of the ballot. In 1983, however, Edwards supported Freeman. It was a political oddity that was devastating to Fitzmorris. He never politically recovered from the defeat.

Fitzmorris as civic leader

Fitzmorris had been close to Chep Morrison, who from 1946 to 1961 was the mayor of New Orleans. Morrison and a young son died in an airplane crash in Mexico. Fitzmorris was a board member of the Chep Morrison Memorial Scholarship Fund. In 1965, he was presented with the Morrison Memorial Award.

Fitzmorris has also been a leader in civic affairs for many years. In the early 1950s, he was a member of the New Orleans Board of Public Welfare. He is a member of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater New Orleans. He has won the "Leadership award" of the Leukemia Society. In his early years as lieutenant governor, he was chairman of the state employees division of the United Fund. He is a Roman Catholic.

References

  1. James E. Fitzmorris, Sr.. Ancestry.com. Retrieved on August 19, 2019.