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Senator BB “Sixty” Rayburn – One of a Kind

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YOU BETTER CHECK WITH SIXTY

As in most states, political figures come and go.  Some are talked about for a few years, and others are even memorialized with plaques and statues surrounding some public building. Few leave any lasting impression. But there are exceptions.  One such is former Louisiana State Senator BB “Sixty” Rayburn. 

They buried Sixty this past weekend.  He was memorialized at a small Baptist church in Rio, a token community outside of Bogalusa.  And for almost 3 hours, a litany of political heavyweights, past and present, eulogized one of a very few “transitional politicians” during the 20th century of Louisiana’s political history. 

Sixty was a product of the Long era, tutored by former Governor Earl Long, but nurtured in the populist philosophy that came from the Kingfish, Huey Long himself.  Sixty Rayburn did not have much formal education, and started off as a pipe fitter by trade. But by the toil of long service in the Louisiana Legislature, he built up the institutional knowledge that allowed him to emerge as a power to be dealt with, no matter who the governor might be. 

For almost 50 years, if you wanted to pass major legislation at the state Capitol in Baton Rouge, it was a given that you had to check with Sixty. Governors, other legislators, lobbyists, and a cross-section of interest groups regularly stood outside the office of the Chairman of the Senates Finance Committee to pay homage, seek advice and make a request.  Nobody went around Sixty. 

I personally received an early baptism in the Rayburn ways, and quickly learned to seek his advice as I wove my way through the complications any new legislator faces.  I was elected to the Louisiana State Senate in 1971, and was one of the youngest legislators making my way to Baton Rouge. 

On my first trip to the state capital following the election, I stopped off at Mike and Tony’s for lunch, which at the time was one of the capital’s local political hangouts. An aide to former Governor John McKeithen recognized me, and waived me over to his table for a visit.  “Why on earth would you want to get elected and come down here to get involved in politics?”  he asked.  I jokingly replied: “I’m going to make an effort to clean up all this mess down here.”   

Another fellow who was sitting at the table stood up, looked me straight in the eye, and said: “Well son, I’m Senator Sixty Rayburn, and I’m the fella that created all  this mess you say you’re going to clean up.” 

A rocky start for a new kid on the block like me.  For months thereafter, whenever I walked into the Senate chambers, Sixty would holler out for everyone to stand aside; for here comes the new guy who’s going to clean up all the mess.  I thought he would never get off my back. He finally took me under wing, and served as a mentor while I was trying to make my mark as a new senator.  However, it was not long after before I made another faux pas. 

Sixty was appointed to head up a joint House — Senate Transportation Committee, to review and set highway construction priorities throughout the state.  He put together a “road show” that traveled from city to city receiving input from local officials about their transportation needs.  On one particular tour, we held a hearing in Monroe, and then traveled down to Central Louisiana for a similar gathering in Alexandria the following day. 

I had made arrangements to stay at the Ramada Inn, and knew the hotel manager who was originally from my hometown of Ferriday.  He wanted to throw me a few accolades, and took the liberty, without asking me, of putting my name up on the sign on the highway outside the motel.  In big letters it read: “Welcome Senator Jim Brown.”  I was flattered when I saw the sign, but didn’t give it much of a thought.  Boy, what a mistake. 

Shortly after I checked in, the distinguished Chairman himself drove up to the Ramada Inn.  He saw the sign, and you can imagine his grumbles.  Then he came to the front desk, asked for a large convention in town, and he was probably going to have to drive a good ways to find any room at all.  Whatever good graces I built up since my first encounter with the Senator quickly washed away.  I heard about the sign on the Ramada Inn for years thereafter. 

Sixty Rayburn was so often the “go-to guy” for those of us who were trying to both make our mark as well as contribute towards any significant difference in Louisiana’s future.  Whatever the issue, if you wanted to get results, you better had checked with Sixty.  I can recall on so many occasions when Louisiana’s “best and brightest” around the Legislature would gather to try to solve a problem or reach a consensus.  Lawyers, accountants, researchers and lobbyists; no matter what their backgrounds, would at some point realize that if they were going to get their legislation passed, they better call on the Senator from Bogalusa. 

The guy with the least education often ended up being the most successful problem solver. I wish there had been a recording of the ceremony last weekend.  Former governors, a U.S. senator, former and present legislators and other public officials galore were in attendance at the Palestine Baptist Church.  We were all there to pay our respects to a former public official who crammed a lot a living  into his 92 years.  And everyone there had a story that was unique and colorful about this larger-than-life character, who always talked about the little man. 

For almost 50 years, he served as the catalyst who build coalitions to keep the ship of state moving forward. I don’t know whether or not they will build any memorials to remember Sixty Rayburn.  I’m sure there will be some highway named after him.  But in the state capital, when the debate gets bogged down on important legislation and stumbling blocks cannot be overcome, there will be both participants and observers who will wish there was someone they could turn to.  Someone who knew how to simmer and mix the stew of legislation.  Someone to get the debate off center. You can just see and hear one of the old heads, thinking back and wishing they could say: “Hey, if we want to get this worked out, we better check with Sixty.”Â 

******

“Oh Lord, when I die, please let me be buried in Louisiana, so that I can stay active in politics.”Â 

– Former Governor Earl Long

****** 

 

7 Responses
  1. JENNIFER VIDRINE

    GREAT REMEMBRANCE OF SENATOR SIXTY RAYBURN. THANK YOU FOR SHARING YOUR MEMORIES. EVEN I, REMEMBER HIM. THEY DON’T MAKE POLITICIANS LIKE HIM ANYMORE….OUR LOST!

  2. Martha Kane

    I knew sixty Rayburn all my life, I grew up in Washington Parish. He was an out and out crook. Everyone who dosen’t know that is very, very naive or an out and out fool. He was so crooked I’m sure he had to be screwed into the ground. He did a lot more to damage Louisiana for a much longer time than Edwin Edwards, and all the real crooks in LA. Now he is finally where he won’t be able to bully, bribe, talk his way around the law and otherwise use his power to commit the thievery he used to make so much money. None of us will need money in the end, but I sure hope they buried him in a fireproof suit. His death will go farther to improve the ethics of Louisiana politicians and the justice system than all the laws and rules and regulations all the present and future governers and legislators all put together.

  3. S. W. LeJeune

    Sixty Rayburn was a colorful guy but represented the “down side” of Louisiana politics. He was a master of abusing the system for his own short-sighted gains and is one of the major contributors to all the problems we are having to deal with today.
    He spoke the truth Jim; he did cause much of the mess.

  4. Alicia Harvin

    First of all, let me start by saying my mom taught me that if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all. It only hurts. Second, have you ever thought that
    B.B. “Sixty” Rayburn has a family who loved him dearly and would be outraged by the cold, callus things you have said? I know this because he was my grandfather, whom I admired greatly! And I was and still am proud to say I am a part of the “Rayburn” family. I hope you have a family, as going through life with no one sometimes makes you heartless(kind of the way you are sounding). I am glad to know that there are two perfect people in this world, you and Jesus Christ. So being perfect, I am sure you have a Lily White past and reputation so that when you die, your family will not have to look at comments such as yours about their loved one. By the way, on the subject of “use his power to commit the thievery he used to make so much money”, I persoanlly know what was in his bank account and I would be willing to bet that you have more in yours. If these things were so important to say, why wait until he is dead and gone and cannot defend himself? Meant that much to you, huh? Apparently you did not know the true “Sixty” Rayburn well at all, as he would have given the shirt off his back to help anyone(even you). He would even take calls from people outside his parish, and try to help them, not to mention the help he provided to his fellow parishioners. That is what he was elected to do and I think he did a fine job! You must have been one of the ones he could not help(as there were times when he could not)and thus your reason for such harsh words. Don’t know. What I do know is that I think you need to mind your own affairs and let us grieve like a family in mourning should! God Bless You and I will keep you in my prayers.

  5. I worked in the senate while in school at LSU and worked around Sixty Rayburn. He was the Godfather of the Senate and ruled it. He reminded me of John Wayne. There were a lot of characters around the capital (EWE ’83) but none had quite the presence as BB.

  6. Myra Breland

    My grandmother is JACKIE RAYBURN which was “sixty’s” neese! He was my GREAT GREAT uncle! i really dont appreciate the things you have said!

  7. Thomas Drew Rayburn

    You hatin folks must have been in that 20-25 percent that didn’t vote for Sixty when he was gettin reelected for 40 damn years. I understand that there will always be poor bastards who love to hate, but damn, the man devoted his life to serving the people; even the people, like you, who had nothing but bad things to say about him. Now if you want to talk trash on a man while he is alive thats one thing. The man has passed on from this world and I’m telling you to let him rest in peace. People like you will always find something to dislike or you will make shit up about those who serve you. Bunch of ungrateful bastards. The man aint here to defend himself so im gonna do it for him. Lejeune kiss us Rayburn’s asses; Kane, you aint worth the shit you type. Have some respect and decency would you? The man did everything he could to help folks out from the bottom up. And so there is no confusion here, Im Doc Rayburn’s grandson, Sixty was my great uncle. I love my family. You need to look in the mirror the next time you decide to criticize someone. Because I know damn well yall aint accomplished half of the things in yalls life as Sixty. That one man has done more for that state than the two of you could ever hope to pull off.
    P.S. Hate him all you want, He was still better than you

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