Open main menu

Arthur Thomas Colten, known as Tom Colten (October 21, 1922 – December 5, 2004),[1] was a Louisiana newspaperman and politician from the 1950s to the 1990s who rose from a small-town mayoralty position to head his state's Department of Transportation and Development under three governors from both parties. Colten was also active in the slow process of establishing a viable Republican Party in his adopted state.

Arthur Thomas "Tom" Colten
Tom Colten portrait.jpg
Tom Colten as mayor of Minden, Louisiana
Mayor of Minden, Louisiana, USA
In office
Preceded byFrank T. Norman
Succeeded byJacob E. "Pat" Patterson
President of the Louisiana Municipal Association
In office
Preceded byCharles J. Pasqua
Succeeded byWilson Moosa
Personal details
Born(1922-10-21)October 21, 1922
Detroit, Michigan, USA
DiedDecember 5, 2004(2004-12-05) (aged 82)
Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky, USA
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Jane Kimmel Colten (married 1947–2004, his death)
ChildrenConnie Colten
Craig Edward Colten
Lee Colten
OccupationNewspaper publisher; Businessman
Military service
Branch/serviceUnited States Army
Battles/warsWorld War II


Early years and newspaper careerEdit

A native of Detroit, Michigan, Colten was a United States Army veteran of World War II, with service stateside from 1942 to 1946. After the war, he received his bachelor's degree from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, where he was a member of Delta Upsilon social fraternity.

In 1947, Colten moved to Indianapolis, Indiana. In 1948, he relocated to Bogalusa in Washington Parish in southeastern Louisiana, and became business manager and stockholder of the Bogalusa Daily News, since a Wick Communications publication. He left that position in 1955 and relocated to Minden, the seat of Webster Parish in northwestern Louisiana, to become publisher of what became the daily Minden Press-Herald, which at the time consisted of two weekly papers, the Minden Press on Mondays and the Minden Herald on Thursdays. Major (not a military title) dePingre' was the editor of the papers at the time. As publisher, Colten was active in civic affairs and became well known in the community. He was initially in partnership in Minden Newspapers with Charles A. Nutter of New Orleans but purchased Nutter's half of the company on January 29, 1962. Nutter became the executive secretary of Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, Missouri.[2][3]

In 1960, Colten named Charles E. Maple as news editor of both the Press and the Herald. Maple came to Minden from Murfreesboro, Arkansas, where he had been publisher and editor of the Pike County Press, covering Pike County.[4] In 1963, Colten was named "Boss of the Year" in Minden.[5] He sold the Press-Herald in 1965 and became the executive director of the Minden Chamber of Commerce until June 1966, when he announced his candidacy for mayor.[6] Maple served a stint as the chamber director to succeed Colten beginning in September 1966.[7]

The Minden Press and the 'Minden Herald were each weeklies, but they merged into the daily Minden Press-Herald on July 18, 1966, with an accent still on local news.[8] "He [Colten] set an example for all who follow in his footsteps at the Press-Herald," said the then Press-Herald editor and publisher Josh Beavers. "He published a fine product every press run and we strive to emulate his success daily."

In 1964, Colten was named president of the Minden Chamber of Commerce.[9] That same year, he was president of the Louisiana Press Association and filed as a Republican for a Ward 4 seat on the Webster Parish School Board but soon withdrew from consideration,[10] and two Democrats ran unopposed for both seats at stake.

In 1967, as the newly elected mayor, he was named "Minden Man of the Year."[11]

Small-town politicsEdit

Unlike many northern Republican transplants to Louisiana who became Democrats so that they could participate in the state's then pivotal closed primary elections, Colten maintained Republican affiliation and could hence vote only in general elections or in special elections. In June 1966, Colten announced his candidacy for mayor of Minden, a position once held by a former Democratic governor, Robert F. Kennon. Minden has also produced five congressmen, including Democrat Jerry Huckaby, who graduated from Minden High School in 1959. But Huckaby's Fifth Congressional District, which he represented from 1977 to 1993, never included Webster Parish until Huckaby's defeat and then only temporarily.

Until Colten, no Republican had ever before even run for mayor of Minden. The city had practically no registered Republicans, and Colten did not mention party affiliation. While Minden was overwhelmingly Democratic in registration, Senator Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona had easily won the city and Webster Parish in the previous presidential election. And the Republican senatorial candidate Taylor W. O'Hearn had won there in 1962 as well in his unsuccessful challenge to Russell B. Long.

Colten was the Webster Parish campaign manager in the general election held on March 3, 1964 for the Republican gubernatorial nominee Charlton Lyons of Shreveport.[12] Lyons lost the parish to his successful Democratic opponent John McKeithen.

The 1964 presidential election was the last before passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which empowered large numbers of African American voters, who had not previously been a deciding force in Minden politics. Though Colten ran for mayor in 1966 as a racial moderate, two years earlier he had spoken before a Minden civic group in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which he called "a threat to the economy."[13] He cited the case of Motorola, which had to discontinue aptitude tests in employee selection because African Americans had scored less well on such examinations than had whites. "This is a socialistic trend against private enterprise," Colten said.[14] With the passage of civil rights laws and court rulings outlawing segregation, blacks grew in influence in the community. Minden was 52 percent black, according to the 2010 census.

Candidate Colten claimed that he wanted to get Minden "moving," implying that the two-term incumbent, Frank T. Norman, who held the office since 1958 and had been the public safety commissioner from 1952 to 1958, had been too passive. Colten never used the "R" label. In fact, the Press-Herald on the day after the general election referred to Colten merely as "the challenger," with no mention of party affiliation. Colten received 2,044 votes (55.8 percent) to Norman's 1,622 (44.2 percent).[15] Norman had been handicapped in the race in part because a black candidate for mayor named J. D. Hampton, Jr. (1935–2015)—the first black mayoral candidate in city history—had opposed him in the Democratic primary held on August 13, 1966. Norman drew 70 percent of the vote in that exchange but fell short in November against Colten.[16][17]

First term as mayorEdit

Webster Parish historian John A. Agan wrote that "the respect Colten earned in the community where Republicans were practically nonexistent was a great tribute to his character and abilities."[18] Agan described Colten's approach to the office as "more businesslike" than had been the part-time manner of the Norman administration. Colten courted Democrats and once rode a "Democrat" donkey in a parade after losing a bet. He maintained good relations with U.S. Representative Joe Waggonner of Louisiana's 4th congressional district and Governor Edwin Edwards, all of which helped to alleviate the impact that Minden faced with curbacks at the largest nearby employer, the Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant.[19]

Once in office, Colten proposed a one-cent city sales tax to finance improvement projects, including a new city hall/civic center complex, street paving, fire stations, and parks. The tax passed by only four votes in a special election held on May 23, 1967: 1,544 to 1,540. Collection of the tax began on August 1.[20] McInnis Brothers contractors was low bidder at $740,276 for the city hall/civic center project.[21] Though there was some expansion from the capital improvements, Minden's population never increased much after the 1960 census, usually in the 12,000 to 13,000 range, but there was sluggish growth in outlying areas to the north.

Despite his Republican registration, he was strictly nonpartisan in the administration of the city. The five-man city council was all Democratic. He also understood how to use the media to his advantage and the value of continued public relations. He knew that the "earned media," as it is now called, was "free," whereas advertising cost the candidate. He wrote a paid column for the Press-Herald while he was mayor. This gave him additional "free advertising" to highlight his administration. Colten would "drop names" in the column, knowing that people he cited would probably vote to reelect him if he mentioned them.

In 1969, Colten was named the vice president of the Louisiana Municipal Association, the first Republican ever to serve in that position.[22]

Second term as mayorEdit

In his re-election advertising, Colten stressed the resurfacing of 625 city blocks in his first four years in office as well as the construction of a newly opened central fire station, two recreation centers, and improvements at the general aviation Minden Airport off the Caney Lake Road. He also could cite water, sewerage, and sanitation improvements as well as the building of the new City Hall and companion Civic Center.[23]

Once again, Frank Norman was Colten's opponent, but the incumbent had the advantage because the community leadership lined up solidly behind him. Yet, Colten seemed unsure as to whether he could win again and took nothing for granted. He had first considered running as an Independent in the general election but chose in the end to remain a Republican. In their 1970 rematch, Colten defeated Norman 2,381 votes (58.9 percent) to 1,661 ballots (41.1 percent).[24]

His second term did not proceed as smoothly as his first, though he was elected for the year 1972–73 as the president of the Louisiana Municipal Association, an association of then 322 mayors across the state. Colten was the first Republican ever to head the association.[25]

In the summer of 1973, Colten resigned as a full-time mayor and converted to part-time status so that he could accept the position of chief executive of the city's private hospital, Minden Medical Center, formerly known as Minden Sanitarium.[26] The change meant that Colten's $12,000 annual salary was cut to $200 per month, the same as for city council members at the time. Had Colten resigned, the senior council member, Jack Batton, whose older brother, J. D. Batton had been the parish sheriff from 1952 to 1964, would have become mayor for the remainder of Colten's term.[27] Colten hence announced that he would not seek a third term in 1974. Then he changed his mind and ran again for the full-time position. This time, Republicans contested most municipal positions.

In September 1974, some five hundred persons marched on City Hall to protest high utility bills in Minden. The dissidents were responding to the hastily formed Committee for Lower Utilities, headed by Steve Fomby, later a member of the Webster Parish School Board. Some complained that meter readers were staying in their trucks and estimating the readings. A convenience store owner said that if her excessive billing were repeated, she would have to close her doors. Electricity in Minden is sold by the municipality, which uses profits to finance a portion of city government costs.[28] Colten and the city council did not attend the rally against the utility bills. Colten was on city business in Baton Rouge at the time but said he would have cancelled the trip had he known about the rally in advance.[29] The utilities issue as well as the vacillation over full- and part-time status of the mayor are widely believed to have brought about the defeat of Colten. Several other city council members that year were also defeated, including Sanitation Commissioner Lonnie Lester "Red" Cupples (1914–1980) and Utilities Commissioner Fred T. "Tony" Elzen, Sr. (1922–2012)[30]

With one exception, the Republican ticket went down to defeat. Colten was unseated by the Democrat J.E. "Pat" Patterson, 3,186 (62.5 percent) to 1,914 (37.5 percent), a businessman who had formerly owned Tidecraft Boats. Republican Felix R. Garrett (1922–1987), a university educator, won election as city utilities commissioner in 1974, having unseated his former high school classmate, the Democrat Fred Elzen.[31] Four years later, Garrett took an open seat on the city council, when it converted to single-member districts.[32]

Future Minden Mayor Bill Robertson was elected without opposition in the 1974 general election as sanitation commissioner. Robertson had narrowly defeated Patrick Cary Nation (1918–2005), a retired coach and educator, in the Democratic runoff election held on September 26, 1974.[33]

In 1989, another Republican, Paul A. Brown, formerly of New Orleans, was elected mayor but served only a year. He was seriously injured in an accident on the Minden High School football field, was unable to serve as mayor, and died six years later. Brown was succeeded in 1990 by current Mayor Bill Robertson, an Arkansas native who won a sixth consecutive term in the 2010 general election. Colten and Brown had three things in common: they were Republicans, neither was a Minden native, and each had been executive director of the chamber of commerce before he ran for mayor.

Building a Republican Party in LouisianaEdit

As Colten left the office of mayor, the city council presented him with a plaque, "Minden's Best Damn Yankee Republican Mayor."[34] Colten was not the first Republican mayor in Louisiana. That designation went to Jack Breaux, who was elected mayor of Zachary in East Baton Rouge Parish in the spring of 1966.[35]

Though his Minden newspapers had endorsed Charlton Lyons for governor in 1964,[36] Colten approached city government from a nonpartisan basis. This discouraged Republicans who wanted to expand their party into a viable political force in the city and state. He did little to encourage other Republicans to run for office and once opposed a Republican candidate for sheriff by convincing the Webster Parish Republican Executive Committee to set the filing fee so high that it would discourage the candidate from running—it did not, however, in that case. Colten hence favored offering only serious candidates, not obscure place names to fill a ballot.

Colten also sometimes got involved in Democratic primary fights—particularly the "battle of the Montgomerys" for one of the thirty-nine seats in the Louisiana State Senate in 1967 and 1971. He favored (though he could not vote in the primary at the time) Jack Montgomery, a Springhill native and Minden lawyer who was challenging two-term State Senator Harold Montgomery of Doyline, also in Webster Parish. Jack Montgomery won in 1967, but Harold Montgomery returned to victory in 1971. The Montgomerys were not related.

Harold Montgomery told a reporter in 1975 that he could not understand why Colten, a Republican, had undercut him, when Harold Montgomery, unlike Jack Montgomery, had frequently supported Republican candidates, including Charlton Lyons, who opposed John McKeithen in the 1964 gubernatorial election and then Senator Goldwater for the presidency that same year. Harold Montgomery was one of the state senators who had sometimes quarreled with McKeithen. McKeithen supported Jack Montgomery, a Minden lawyer.

In 1972, Colten and State Representative Roderick Miller of Lafayette were among the few dissenting members of the Louisiana Republican State Central Committee who cast votes in opposition to a resolution calling upon the party to exercise responsiveness to the needs of African Americans, blue collar workers, young people, and the poor. The measure, approved by a vote of 87 to 9, came just five weeks after the Republican gubernatorial nominee, David C. Treen polled only 2 percent of the ballots among black voters.[37]

In 1975, out of the office of mayor and back in his previous role as the executive director of the Minden Chamber of Commerce,[5] Colten was named to a two-year term to the advisory council of the Small Business Administration by administrator Thomas S. Kleppe, a former U.S. representative from North Dakota and later the United States Secretary of Agriculture.[38]

In 1978, Colten accepted the position in Baton Rouge of general manager of the newly formed trade association, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, under president Edward J. Steimel, which had lobbied for the state right-to-work law in 1976.[39] On November 1, 1985, Colten was appointed by the Louisiana Republican State Central Committee, of which he had previously been an elected member, to the paid executive director position. The party chairman at the time was George Despot of Shreveport.[40]

Department of Transportation and DevelopmentEdit

In 1980, Governor Treen appointed Colten as the assistant secretary to Paul J. Hardy, who had been newly named as the secretary for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. Hardy was a former Louisiana Secretary of State who had been an unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate in 1979.[41] When Hardy left the top transportation post, Treen elevated Colten to secretary of the department. He served a second stint as assistant secretary of DOTD under Governor Buddy Roemer, with Neil Lassion Wagoner (1936-2018), a native of Winnfield who graduated with a degree in petroleum engineering from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston.[42] as the secretary. Colten in effect was the point man on state highways, and elected officials depended on his expertise. In the fourth administration of Democratic Governor Edwin Washington Edwards, Colten was from 1992 to 1993 the public relations officer for the highway section of DOTD. [43]

Late in 1972, Colten had been appointed by Governor Edwin Edwards as one of 27 delegates to the Louisiana Constitutional Convention, which began deliberations in Baton Rouge on January 5, 1973. Another 105 delegates were elected from their respective state House districts.[44] Colten was a former chairman of the Northwest Louisiana Clearinghouse Review Board. He was chairman of the board of directors of the Friends of Louisiana Public Broadcasting. He was a member of the Governor's Property Tax Study Committee, the Joint House–Senate Study Committee on Industrial Inducement, the East Baton Rouge Industrial Development Board, the State Deferred Compensation Commission,[45] the Louisiana Tourism Commission, and the Southern Rapid Rail Transit Commission.

Retirement in KentuckyEdit

Upon retirement from DOTD in 1993,[46] Colten and his wife, the former Jane Kimmel (1923–2013), moved to the capital city of Frankfort, Kentucky, to be near their younger son, Lee Arthur Colten (born 1958), a conservationist for the State of Kentucky, and his wife the former Marianna Mahoney. Jane Colten was a native of DuQuoin, Illinois, the daughter of Roberta Pyatt and Maurice Edward Kimmel, and like her husband a graduate of DePauw University.[47]

Colten was a member of the Frankfort Rotary International, the Blue Grass Area Development District, and the Frankfort and the Kentucky chambers of commerce.[48]

Colten died in Frankfort and is interred there, but the grave location was not announced. He was a member of the Minden Presbyterian Church, Broadmoor Presbyterian in Baton Rouge, and the South Frankfort Presbyterian Church in Kentucky. In addition to his wife and son Lee, Colten was survived by a daughter, Connie Colten (born 1951) of Austin, Texas; another son, Craig Edward Colten (born 1952), a geography professor at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge; a sister, Mary Colten Glodt (1920–2005), then of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and last residing in Houston, Texas, and a younger brother, Richard Colten (born c. 1931) of Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.[48]

Colten was not the only Minden mayor with newspaper experience. David William Thomas, who served from 1936 to 1940,[49] and W. Jasper Blackburn, who filled a one-year term from 1855 to 1856, had extensive experience in journalism as well. J. Frank Colbert, mayor from 1944 to 1946, was a former editor of the Minden Democrat and the Signal-Tribune, forerunners to the Minden Press-Herald. Former Mayor Connell Fort was also a newspaperman during a part of his career.

Mayor Bill Robertson said on Colten's death: "He made so many things possible. He is responsible for our civic center and so many other positive things that have happened in Minden."[48]


  1. ^ "Social Security Death Index". Retrieved June 6, 2010.
  2. ^ Minden Press, January 29, 1962, p.1
  3. ^ Minden Herald, February 1, 1962, p. 2
  4. ^ Minden Press, November 14, 1960, p. 1
  5. ^ a b "Colten is selected new chamber director", Minden Press-Herald, February 25, 1975, p. 1
  6. ^ Minden Press-Herald, June 12, 1966, p. 1
  7. ^ "Maple Named to Chamber Post", Minden Press-Herald, August 1, 1966, p. 1
  8. ^ Minden Press-Herald, July 18, 1966, p. 1
  9. ^ Minden Press, March 16, 1964, p. 1
  10. ^ "Colten Withdraws from Ward 4 School Race", Minden Herald, July 30, 1964, p. 1
  11. ^ Minden Press-Herald, October 2, 1970
  12. ^ "Gubernatorial HQ's Open for Campaign", Minden Press, February 3, 1964, p. 1
  13. ^ "Civil Rights Bill Cited as Threat to Economy", Minden Herald, April 30, 1964, p. 1
  14. ^ Minden Herald, April 30, 1964
  15. ^ "Tom Colten Elected Mayor of Minden: Challenger Takes Seven of Ten City Precincts to Win in General Election", Minden Press-Herald, November 9, 1966, p. 1
  16. ^ The Minden Press-Herald, August 15, 1966, p. 1
  17. ^ John A. Agan (2002). Minden: Perseverance and Pride. Columbia, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing Company. pp. 148–149. ISBN 0-7385-2388-7. Retrieved January 23, 2015.
  18. ^ John A. Agan (2014). "Lost Minden". Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing Company. p. 124. ISBN 978-1-4671-1319-9. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  19. ^ John Agan, Lost Minden, pp. 125–126
  20. ^ "Sales tax Squeezes Out Narrow Victory", Minden Press-Herald, May 24, 1967, p. 1
  21. ^ Minden Press-Herald, September 10, 1969, p. 1
  22. ^ "Tom Colten Installed as LMA V-P", Minden Press-Herald, March 24, 1969, p. 1
  23. ^ "Colten Formally Announces as Candidate for Minden Mayor", Minden Press-Herald, October 2, 1970
  24. ^ "Colten Winner in Minden Mayor's Race", Minden Press-Herald November 4, 1970, p. 1
  25. ^ "Mayor Colten Will Assume Top LMA Post", Minden Press-Herald, April 28, 1972, p. 1
  26. ^ "Colten Becomes Part-Time Mayor", Minden Press-Herald, year-end review edition, January 1, 1974, p. 1
  27. ^ :"City Council Appoints Colten Part-Time Mayor", Minden Press-Herald, August 7, 1973, p. 1
  28. ^ "Electric Bill Rally Draws 500 to Civic Center", Minden Press-Herald, September 18, 1974, p.1
  29. ^ "Mayor and City Council Won't Attend Utility Bill Rally", Minden Press-Herald, September 17, 1974, p. 1
  30. ^ Minden Press-Herald, September 17, 1974, p. 1
  31. ^ Minden Press-Herald, November 4, 1970
  32. ^ *Minden Press-Herald, November 8, 1978, p. 1
  33. ^ Minden Press-Herald, September 28, 1974, p. 1
  34. ^ Minden Press-Herald, January 2, 1975, p. 1
  35. ^ Baton Rouge Sunday Advocate, January 27, 1980
  36. ^ Minden Press, January 11, 1964
  37. ^ "Treen Replaces Stagg as Committeeman", Minden Press-Herald, March 6, 1972
  38. ^ "Colten gets SBA term", Minden Press-Herald, October 28, 1975, p. 3A
  39. ^ "Colten slated", Minden Press-Herald January 31, 1978, p. 1
  40. ^ "Colten Assumes GOP Post", Minden Press-Herald, October 21, 1985
  41. ^ A Democrat-turned-Republican, Paul J. Hardy was later elected lieutenant governor in 1987—the first Republican elected to that position since Reconstruction.
  42. ^ "Neuil L. Wagoner obituary". The Baton Rouge Advocate. October 31, 2018. Retrieved November 1, 2018.
  43. ^ Joey White, "Colten: Roemer's future depends on Oct. 7 vote?", Minden Press-Herald, October 6, 1989, p. 1
  44. ^ "[Harmon] Drew, Colten to Represent Area at Constitutional Convention," Minden Press-Herald, December 27, 1972, p. 1.
  45. ^ Minden Press-Herald, June 24, 1982, p. 1
  46. ^ "Colten to leave DOTD: Former Minden Mayor to retire Friday", Minden Press-Herald, January 10, 1993, p.1
  47. ^ "Jane Kimmel Colten". Baton Rouge Morning Advocate. Retrieved November 15, 2013.
  48. ^ a b c "Colten left lasting mark on Minden: Former mayor, Press-Herald owner will be laid to rest Friday", Minden Press-Herald, December 8, 2004, p. 1
  49. ^ John Agan, Webster Parish historian, "Echoes of Our Past", Mayor David Thomas, Minden Press-Herald, May 22, 2008
Preceded by
Frank T. Norman
Mayor of Minden, Louisiana

Arthur Thomas "Tom" Colten

Succeeded by
Jacob E. "Pat" Patterson
Preceded by
Charles J. Pasqua of Gonzales
President of the Louisiana Municipal Association

Arthur Thomas "Tom" Colten

Succeeded by
Wilson Moosa of Eunice