Albert Benjamin "Happy" Chandler, Sr. (July 14, 1898 – June 15, 1991) was a politician from the U.S. state of Kentucky. He represented the state in the U.S. Senate and served as its 44th and 49th governor. Aside from his political positions, he also served as the second Commissioner of Major League Baseball from 1945 to 1951 and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. His grandson, Ben Chandler, is a former congressman from Kentucky's Sixth District.
A multi-sport athlete during his college days at Transylvania College, Chandler briefly considered a career in professional baseball before deciding to pursue a law degree. After graduation, he entered politics and was elected as a Democrat to the Kentucky Senate in 1928. Two years, later, he was elected lieutenant governor, serving under Governor Ruby Laffoon. Chandler and Laffoon disagreed on the issue of instituting a state sales tax and when Chandler, the presiding officer in the state senate, worked to block the legislation, Laffoon's allies in the General Assembly stripped him of many of his statutory powers. The tax then passed by a narrow margin. Knowing that Laffoon would try to select his own successor at the Democratic nominating convention, Chandler waited until Laffoon left the state—leaving Chandler as acting governor—and called the legislature into session to enact a mandatory primary election bill. The bill passed, and in the ensuing primary, Chandler defeated Laffoon's choice, Thomas Rhea. He then went on to defeat Republican King Swope by the largest margin of victory for a Kentucky gubernatorial race to that time. As governor, Chandler oversaw the repeal of the sales tax, replacing the lost revenue with new excise taxes and the state's first income tax. He also enacted a major reorganization of state government, realizing significant savings for the state. He used these savings to pay off the state debt and improve the state's education and transportation systems.
Convinced that he was destined to become President of the United States, Chandler challenged Senate Majority Leader Alben Barkley for his U.S. Senate seat in 1938. During the campaign, President Franklin D. Roosevelt came to the state to campaign for Barkley, and Chandler lost a close race. The following year, Kentucky's other senator, Marvel Mills Logan, died in office, and Chandler resigned as governor so his successor could appoint him to the vacant seat. A fiscal conservative and disciple of Virginia's Harry F. Byrd, Chandler opposed parts of Roosevelt's New Deal and openly disagreed with the president's decision to prioritize European operations in World War II over the war in the Pacific. In 1945, Chandler resigned his senate seat to succeed the late Kenesaw Mountain Landis as commissioner of baseball. His most significant action as commissioner was the approval of Jackie Robinson's contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers, effectively integrating Major League Baseball. He also established the first pension fund for Major League players, earning him the title "the players' commissioner". Baseball owners were upset with Chandler's governance, however, and did not renew his contract in 1951.
Following his term as commissioner, Chandler returned to Kentucky and won a second term as governor in 1955. The major accomplishments of his second term were enforcing the integration of the state's public schools and establishing a medical school at the University of Kentucky which was later named the Chandler Medical Center in his honor. Following his second term as governor, his political influence began to wane as he made three more unsuccessful runs for governor in 1963, 1967, and 1971. His endorsement of dark-horse candidate Wallace G. Wilkinson was seen as critical to Wilkinson's successful gubernatorial campaign in 1988. Wilkinson later resisted calls to remove Chandler from the University of Kentucky board of trustees following Chandler's use of a racial epithet during a board meeting in 1988. Chandler died June 15, 1991, a month before his ninety-third birthday. At the time of his death, he was the oldest living former Kentucky governor.
By Dean Hanley
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