About Earle C. Clements, U.S. Senator
Earle Chester Clements (October 22, 1896 – March 12, 1985) was a politician from the US state of Kentucky. He represented the state in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and was its 47th Governor, serving from 1947 to 1950. For three decades, he was the leader of a faction of the state's Democratic Party that stood in opposition to the faction led by two-time governor and senator A. B. "Happy" Chandler.
After following his father into the local politics of his home county, Clements agreed to chair the gubernatorial campaign of Thomas Rhea in 1935. Already committed to Rhea, he turned down an offer from Happy Chandler to chair his campaign, beginning the rift between the two men. Clements went on to the Kentucky Senate in 1941. In 1944, he was selected as Democratic floor leader of the senate and successfully campaigned for a larger budget than that proposed by Republican governor Simeon Willis. His stand against Willis made him popular in the Democratic Party, and he went on to serve two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1944 to 1948.
In 1947, Clements succeeded Willis as governor, defeating Harry Lee Waterfield, Chandler's preferred candidate, in the Democratic primary. As governor, Clements raised taxes and used the revenue to increase funding for the state park system and construct and maintain more roads. He also achieved advancements in education, including some progress toward desegregation. In 1950, Clements was elected to the U.S. Senate. He resigned as governor to accept his Senate seat. While in the Senate, he served as chairman of the Senate Democratic Reelection Committee and as Democratic party whip under party leader Lyndon Johnson. He was defeated by Thruston Morton in his re-election bid in 1956; a lack of support from Chandler (then serving his second term as governor) contributed to Clements' defeat. At Johnson's insistence, Clements resumed chairing the Senate Democratic Reelection Committee in 1957 and 1959.
Clements had supported Bert T. Combs for governor against Chandler in 1955, and did so again against Harry Lee Waterfield in 1959. Combs defeated Waterfield and rewarded Clements by appointing him state highway commissioner. In 1961, Clements and Combs split over a proposed deal to lease dump trucks from a Louisville car dealer. State newspapers charged that the deal was payback to the dealer, a Combs supporter. When Combs canceled the deal Clements took it as a public rebuke and soon after resigned to work on the presidential campaign of his friend, Lyndon Johnson. Following his split with Combs, Clements allied himself with the Chandler faction, opposing Combs' lieutenant governor, Wilson Wyatt in his bid to unseat Senator Thruston Morton. Clements' influence declined rapidly after the split with Combs, and by the 1963 gubernatorial race, he was unable to deliver his home county for Chandler in the primary against Edward T. Breathitt. Clements died in his hometown of Morganfield, Kentucky on March 12, 1985.