The old joke asks: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Answer: “Practice, practice, practice.”
How do you get to the United States Senate? Twice in history it helped to be the First Lady, married to a southern Governor.
Consider the case of Dixie Bibb Graves (pictured here).
Senator Graves represented Alabama in the Senate for less than five months in 1937 and 1938. Dixie could thank her husband for that distinction. David Bibb Graves was Governor of Alabama (also Dixie’s first cousin) and when Franklin Roosevelt tapped Senator Hugo Black for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, the Governor tapped his roommate to fill the Senate vacancy.
Governor Graves said he appointed his politically active wife to avoid giving an advantage to any of the other Alabama Democrats who aspired to run for the seat in a special election. Not everyone was convinced that his motives were so fair minded. As the Encyclopedia of Alabama points out, some “denounced the appointment as a political move by the governor to control events not only in the capitol building and the state legislature, but also the U.S. Senate.”
Thirty-five years later, another southern governor, Edwin Edwards of Louisiana, appointed his wife to fill a Senate seat that fell vacant as the result of Senator Allen Ellender’s death. Elaine Edwards served only three and a half months, a lot less time than her husband has served in jail.
Former Governor Edwards – he famously said the only way he would ever lose an election in Cajun County was “to be caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy” – continues to serve out a ten year sentence for a host of corruption charges.
Governor Edwards and Senator Edwards divorced in 1989.
Tomorrow, a final post in this series will feature two Northwest Governors who appointed themselves to the Senate. You can guess how well that turned out.