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Russell B. Long, 84; Louisianan Spent 38 Years in U.S. Senate

May 10, 2003|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Sen. Russell B. Long, a Louisiana Democrat who greatly influenced the nation's tax laws during nearly four decades in the U.S. Senate, died Friday night. He was 84.

Long was brought to George Washington University Hospital by paramedics and pronounced dead about 15 minutes later, said hospital spokeswoman Marti Harris. She would not disclose the cause of death.

Long was the only person ever preceded in the U.S. Senate by both parents. His father, the legendary Huey P. Long, was assassinated during his Senate term in 1935; Rose McConnell Long served out the remainder of her husband's term.

Russell Long was first elected in 1948, a day before turning 30, the minimum age for serving as a senator. He won by 10,000 votes, but no opponent ever got that close again.

Long was considered a master at Senate debate. It was often said he was one of a handful who could actually change a vote by the force of his arguments. He knew Senate rules, and his unpolished, sometimes-stuttering manner of speech and his corn-pone humor often lulled adversaries into complacency.

But most of all, Long knew the tax laws. He began serving on the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee in 1953 and was chairman of the panel from 1966 until Republicans gained control of the Senate in 1981. Although served by an able staff, Long was able without coaching to argue the finest points of tax law with corporate executives or the "liberal reformers" whom he sometimes disdained.

"He knows the tax code about as thoroughly as the pope knows the Lord's Prayer," one of those "reformers," Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.), once said of Long.

Long often was accused of using his influence over tax matters to benefit the oil and gas industry, which was a source of much of his personal wealth. But he defended his votes as aiding a major economic force in his home state.

He was a champion of tax breaks for business in general, remarking on one occasion, "I have become convinced you're going to have to have capital if you're going to have capitalism."

Back home, he told state legislators they ought to do away with business taxes to lure jobs to Louisiana. Business and industry continue to pay the bulk of state taxes.

Long's proudest accomplishments in the tax laws were the earned-income credit, which rewards poor working families for staying off the welfare rolls; the provision allowing taxpayers to earmark $1 of taxes for a presidential campaign-financing fund; and a 1975 provision giving tax breaks to businesses that help workers buy a share of the company.

As much as any other piece of legislation, that last provision reflected Long's admiration for his father, who was elected Louisiana governor and then senator on a platform of "every man a king."

"My father was the greatest man I ever knew," Russell once said. But he conceded that he and his father had different ideas about populism. "He wanted to tax it away from those who had it," the younger Long once reflected. "I wouldn't keep anybody rich from getting richer."

Russell Long's Democratic colleagues in the Senate elected him assistant majority leader in 1965.

By his own admission, he began drinking heavily and often was seen drunk on the Senate floor. That and his stubborn defense of Sen. Thomas Dodd (D-Conn.) against allegations of campaign-fund irregularities led to Long's defeat by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), for the No. 2 leadership job in 1969.

Later, the drinking stopped and Long retained much of his power.

He retired in 1986 to a Virginia farm and did some lobbying work.

Long was born in Shreveport, La., and received his baccalaureate and law degrees from Louisiana State University. He was a naval officer during World War II.

Before running for the Senate, he served as executive counsel to an uncle, Earl Long, who served two terms as governor.

Long is survived by his second wife, Carolyn; and two daughters from his first marriage, Rita Mosely and Pamela McCardell.

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