Noble Ellington

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Noble Edward Ellington, Jr.​

Louisiana State Representative for
District 20 (Franklin, Catahoula, Caldwell, and two precincts
in Tensas parishes)​
In office
January 14, 2008​ – January 9, 2012​
Preceded by Lelon Kenney
Succeeded by Steve Pylant
In office
1988​ – 1996​
Preceded by Walter Fox McKeithen​
Succeeded by Lelon Kenney​

Louisiana State Senator for District 32
(Caldwell, Catahoula, Concordia, Franklin, LaSalle, and small portions of Ouachita and Rapides parishes)
In office
1996​ – 2008​
Preceded by Steve D. Thompson​
Succeeded by Neil Riser

Born May 25, 1942
Place of birth missing​
Spouse(s) (1) Peggy Marie McDowell Ellington (married 1964-1998 (divorced)​

(2) Brenda Anderson Armstrong Ellington (married 2006)​

Children Noble Ellington, III (born 1964)

Ryan Ellington (born 1967)​

Alma mater Louisiana Tech University
Occupation Cotton merchant ​
Religion Baptist

Noble Edward Ellington, Jr. (born May 25, 1942), is a wealthy cotton merchant from Winnsboro in Franklin Parish in northeastern Louisiana, who is former member of both houses of his state legislature. He served as a Democrat in the state Senate from District 32 from 1996 to 2008. He was a member of the state House for District 20 from 1988 to 1996 and again from 2008 to 2012. On December 17, 2010, near the end of his legislative career, he switched his affiliation to Republican. He had returned to the House on January 14, 2008, after an absence of a dozen years because he was term-limited from seeking a fourth consecutive Senate term.​

Late in 2007, Ellington, as a returning but still freshman member, sought to chair the House Appropriations Committee, but he ran into a bloc of opposition from conservatives, including the statewide radio talk show host Moon Griffon, then based in Monroe but later in Lafayette. The onservatives stopped Governor Bobby Jindal from recommending that House Speaker James Wilton "Jim" Tucker name Ellington as the chairman of the critical committee. They contended that Ellington is an advocate of raising taxes to fund expanded government, rather than a lawmaker committed to reducing taxes and cutting programs. Ellington had asked for the appointment on grounds that no House members from northeastern Louisiana had otherwise been named committee chairmen. Jindal had agreed to the recommendation until Tucker informed him that Ellington does not share Jindal's professed philosophy of limited government.[1]

Background

Born to Mr. and Mrs. Noble Ellington, Sr., he graduated in 1960 from Mangham High School in Mangham in Richland Parish. In 1964, he obtained a bachelor's degree from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston. Ellington has been active in such civic organizations as the Farm Bureau, the Northeast Louisiana Agriculture/Business Council, and the Chamber of Commerce. He is a past director of the Winnsboro Economic Development Corporation. He is a former bank director and hospital board member. Ellington is a patron of the restored Princess Theatre in Winnsboro. He and his sons operate Noble Ellington Cotton Company, Inc., in Winnsboro.

In his earlier years, he was a national director of the Jaycees. He sits on the board of directors of the Louisiana Baptist Children's Home in Ruston. He is a former co-chairman, now emeritus, of the American Legislative Exchange Council. Ellington is a Baptist.[2]

During his first legislative stint in the House, Ellington was named "Legislator of the Month" by the Louisiana Municipal Association. Another interest group, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, gave Ellington its "Golden Apple Award" for his support of public school]] Similarly, the Louisiana Association of Educators named him to its "Legislative Honor Roll." He has also been named "Guardian of Small Business".[2]​ ​

A bitter divorce

In 1964, Ellington married the former Peggy Marie McDowell (also born 1942) of Winnsboro, a native of Monroe. Their two sons are Noble Ellington, III (born 1964), and Ryan Fred Ellington (born 1967). The Ellingtons divorced on May 11, 1998. In their family-owned company, Noble handled the negotiation of deals with suppliers and customers, while Peggy ran the office, kept the books, and performed paperwork associated with the business. Their sons joined the business, Ryan in 1992 and Noble, III, in 1995. The company buys cotton from farmers, cotton gins, and other producers and sells to textile mills and shippers. The gross profit of the company comes from the margin made from this activity. The Ellington firm made a profit each year from 1979 through 1998.​

By August 1996, when the Ellingtons separated, they had made more than $2 million in the cotton business. They used some of their proceeds to purchase apartments, office buildings, and farms. Peggy sued Noble over the division of the company but lost her claim on appeal. After the divorce, Peggy married Chet D. Traylor, a Republican who served on the Louisiana Supreme Court from 1997 to 2009. Traylor, now of Monroe, formerly resided in Winnsboro. Peggy Traylor died on August 22, 2009, and is interred at Columbia Hills Cemetery in Traylor's native Columbia, Louisiana.[3] In June 2010, Noble Ellington, III, and Ryan Ellington sued Chet Traylor in 5th Judicial District Court for allegedly withholding information about their late mother's estate. Peggy Traylor died intestate. Chet Traylor since became romantically involved with Denise Lively Ellington, the former wife of Ryan Ellington. Noble Ellington, II, has also blamed Traylor as part of the cause of his own divorce from Peggy, his first wife of thirty-four years.[4]

In 2010, Chet Traylor launched an intra-party challenge to U.S. Senator David Vitter. Traylor claimed that Vitter's personal problems could make the incumbent Republican senator vulnerable to the challenge of the Democrat Charlie Melancon of Napoleonville in Assumption Parish.[5] However, Vitter handily defeated Traylor in a closed party primary and then Melancon in the general election on November 2, 2010.​

Controversy over second wife's state employment

In 2006, Noble Ellington married his longtime legislative secretary, the former Brenda Anderson Armstrong (born 1961). The second Mrs. Ellington sought to continue as her husband's legislative assistant. A hearing was to have been held in the 19th District Court in Baton Rouge on February 19, 2008, to see if she qualified under the state's ethics laws. However, the case was postponed.[6]

State District Judge Don Johnson issued a temporary restraining order on January 11, 2008, that Mrs. Ellington could continue in her $54,540-per-year position until a final court decision is rendered. She maintained her position while Ellington served in the Senate because she had worked for him for more than a year before the couple married and had been employed by Ellington since he entered the House in 1988. The Louisiana Ethics Board maintains that the Senate and House are separate bodies so the grandfather clause no longer applied after Ellington returned to the House.[7]

In their legal argument, the Ellingtons maintained that the legislature is a single body and that Mrs. Ellington's employment should stand.​Ellington said that his wife has "tremendous experience and a great understanding about the needs of the constituents." Then House Clerk Butch Speer said that the Ethics Board's opinion should stand: "The House's position is that we have to adhere to the code of ethics. The Ethics Board by law interprets the code, and it said that (Ellington) can't participate in the employment of his wife. But the House is also bound to follow a lawful order of the court. Under the restraining order issued by the 19th Judicial Court, the House isn't to perform any act that would interrupt her employment. Unless or until that order is lifted, she will remain employed. If the order is ever lifted, the House will follow the dictates of the Ethics Board," and Mrs. Ellington would therefore ​be terminated from her position.[8]

On May 19, 2008, the state Senate without objection approved an amendment offered by then Senate President Joel Thomas Chaisson, II, of Destrehan in St. Charles Parish that would erase the court ruling that Mrs. Ellington must resign as her husband's legislative assistant. Chaisson's amendment states that if a lawmaker's spouse is legally an assistant in one chamber of the legislature, a member then being elected to the other body does not change that assistant's employment status. The Ellingtons also called for Justice Traylor's disbarment on grounds of violating judicial ethics.[9]

Political campaigns

Ellington won the District 20 House seat in the election held on November 17, 2007. Incumbent Lelon Kenney of Columbia in Caldwell Parish was term-limited. Ellington hence defeated his runoff opponent, fellow Democrat Cleveland Webb "Cleve" Womack (1953-2018) of Jonesville in Catahoula Parish, 6,215 votes (52 percent) to 5,686 (48 percent). The district includes Franklin, Catahoula, Caldwell, and two precincts in Tensas, the smallest of Louisiana's sixty-four parishes, which is located adjacent to the Mississippi River.[10]

Ellington's former Senate District 32 includes in addition to Caldwell, Catahoula, and Franklin (also in the House district) the parishes of Concordia, La Salle Parish, and small portions of Ouachita and Rapides parishes. The House district is represented by its first ever Republican member, Neil Riser of Columbia, who was term-limited in the 2019 state election. By the time that Ellington left the Senate, the district lines had changed somewhat and included even a few precincts as far south as the northern portion of Avoyelles Parish.

In Ellington's first election to the House in 1987, he and intraparty rival Rodney R. "Rod" Elrod (born 1954) of Winnsboro led a field of seven Democrats and one independent. Ellington polled 3,640 (21 percent), and Elrod 3,063 (17 percent). Ellington then defeated Elrod in the runoff contest.[11]

Four years later in 1991, Ellington overwhelmed intra-party rival Dennis Grady Stewart (born 1953) of Rayville in Richland Parish, 13,211 (72 percent) to 5,060 (28 percent).[12] In 1995, Ellington first won his Senate seat, when the incumbent Democrat Steve D. Thompson of Winnsboro, did not seek a third term. He went into a general election with fellow Democrat Roy Eugene Hebron (born 1954) of Ball in northern Rapides Parish, 19,325 votes (48 percent) to 16,076 (40 percent). Independent candidate Paul A. Nugent received the critical 5,048 remaining votes (12 percent).[13] In the following one-on-one match with Hebron, Ellington prevailed, 21,703 (53 percent) to 19,180 (47 percent).[14]

Ellington handily won reelection to the Senate on October 23, 1991, when he defeated his first and only Republican opponent, Larry Bruce Minton (born 1945 of Pineville in Rapides Parish),[15] In 2003, Ellington won his last Senate term in an easy contest with fellow Democrat James "Jim" Hearns (born 1952) of Columbia, 27,021 (80 percent) to 6,497 (20 percent).[16]

Party bolt

On December 9, 2010, Ellington announced that he was likely to switch to Republican affiliation to seek renewed membership in the state House of Representatives in 2011. Three other Democrats announced that same month that they had switched affiliation, John Alario of Westwego in Jefferson Parish, Fred Mills of St. Martinville, and Simone Champagne of Iberia Parish, following the departure two years earlier of John R. Smith of Leesville. On December 17, 2010, Ellington made the switch official; his move gave the state GOP its first majority in the Louisiana House since Reconstruction.[17] With Ellington's switch, the Louisiana House of Representatives then had fifty-three Republicans, four members with no party affiliation, and forty-eight Democrats.

Ellington explained that this party switch is "historically significant, but the truth is I've been a conservative for my entire career, so it won't affect the way I vote. ... I found myself farther and farther away from what has become the liberal philosophy of the national party. My way of thinking, which falls along a more conservative line, has been shrinking within the party. At least nationally, the Republican Party seems to fit my philosophy more than the current Democratic Party."[18]

Then Speaker Jim Tucker, who had opposed Ellington's committee chairmanship in 2008 at the request of Governor Jindal, expressed "excitement" to having Ellington in the new legislative majority. "We as Republicans can continue to push for smaller, more efficient government, and we have the numbers to pass legislation that can do that if we stick together. ... It's incredible that when I started in the House [in 2001] that we have more than doubled our numbers and indicative of where the state in going. It's also a tribute to those who preceded us to helped build the party in this state, in particular [Senator] David Vitter," said Tucker.[18]

Then Louisiana Republican Chairman Roger F. Villere, Jr., issued this statement on Ellington's defection: "For more than one hundred years, the Louisiana House of Representatives has remained under Democrat control, but today that has all come to an end. In just three short years a 16-seat Democrat majority has been erased and Representative Ellington's decision to become the 53rd Republican in the House gives the GOP our first controlling majority in that body since Reconstruction. This is a great and historic day for the Republican Party of Louisiana and I'm pleased to welcome Representative Ellington to the new conservative majority in the House."[18]

Later years

Ellington changed his plans and did not seek reelection to the House in the nonpartisan blanket primary held on October 22, 2011. Voters chose a Republican successor in the House seat, Steve Pylant of Delhi, the outgoing sheriff of Franklin Parish. Pylant defeated Ellington's previous opponent, Cleve Womack, 9,119 votes (56.3 percent) to 7,066 ballots (43.7 percent).[19]​ ​ In 2012, Ellington was appointed to a $150,000 position in the Louisiana Department of Insurance as the chief deputy commissioner. He served under elected commissioner Jim Donelon, a former Democrat who turned Republican in 1980. Ellington would have succeeded to the insurance commissioner's position were Donelon to vacate the post that he has held since 2006.[20] Ellington said that he would remain deputy commissioner until at least 2016.

In February 2015, Ellington, along with Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and former state Representative Jock Scott, was among the new inductees into the uisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.[21]

References

  1. The Ouachita Citizen, January 13, 2008.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Louisiana State Senate, District 32[1]; no longer on-line.
  3. Obituary of Peggy Marie Traylor. Mulhearnfuneralhome.com. Retrieved on July 10, 2010; no longer on-line..
  4. "Ellingtons paint different picture of Vitter challenger Traylor," The Alexandria Town Talk, accessed July 21, 2010; no longer on-line.}}
  5. "Monroe's Traylor to challenge Vitter," The Monroe News-Star, July 10, 2010.
  6. The Monroe News-Star, August 2, 2008.
  7. Nepotism Case Fight On Hold Until March. KTBS-TV (Shreveport) (February 20, 2008). Retrieved on September 5, 2019.
  8. The Monroe News-Star, January 29, 2008.
  9. Traylor Should be Disbarred, Say Ellingtons. Lincolnparishnewsonline. Retrieved on September 5, 2019.
  10. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, November 17, 2007.
  11. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, October 24, 1987.
  12. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, October 19, 1991.
  13. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, October 21, 1995.
  14. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, November 18, 1995.
  15. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, October 23, 1999.
  16. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, October 4, 2003.
  17. Bill Barrow (December 18, 2010). Louisiana Republicans take first House majority since Reconstruction with latest party switch​. The New Orleans Times-Picayune.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Greg Hilburn (December 18, 2010). Ellington switches: First GOP House majority since Reconstruction. The Monroe News-Star.
  19. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, October 22, 2011.
  20. Former state Rep. Noble Ellington hired as No. 2 official at state Department of Insurance. Therepublic.com (February 8, 2012). Retrieved on February 8, 2012; no longer on-line..
  21. Greg Hilburn (November 29, 2014). Caldwell, Ellington elected to Political Hall of Fame. The Monroe News-Star. Retrieved on December 1, 2014.

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