Huckaby, at the age of 35, as he entered Congress (1977)
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from Louisiana's 5th district
January 3, 1977 - January 3, 1993
Thomas Jerald Huckaby
July 19, 1941
Hodge, Louisiana, U.S.
|Alma mater||Minden High School|
Louisiana State University (BS)
Georgia State University (MBA)
Thomas Jerald Huckaby, usually known as Jerry Huckaby (born July 19, 1941), is a retired American businessman and politician who served from 1977 to 1993 as a Democratic U.S. Representative from Louisiana's 5th congressional district. At the time, it covered mostly the northeastern quadrant of the state. He lost his position as an indirect result of reapportionment in 1992: Louisiana lost one of its eight seats in the United States House of Representatives because the state had less growth in population than other states.
Huckaby was born in Hodge in Jackson Parish to Thomas Milton Huckaby (1907-1973) and the former Eva Butler (1911-1990). Huckaby is descended on both sides from American pioneer families in the area. In the 1840s, two brothers, Green and James Huckaby, settled in the since disbanded community of Sparta, which was the parish seat of Bienville Parish from its founding in 1848 until 1893, when the courthouse was relocated to Arcadia. Green Huckaby was the great-great-grandfather of Jerry Huckaby. After Huckaby's father Thomas died, his widowed mother Eva married Minden businessman Cecil C. Toland (1905-1976). He died soon into their second marriages.
In 1942, when Jerry was six months old, the family moved to Minden in Webster Parish. His father operated real estate and insurance businesses. Huckaby graduated fifth in his class in 1959 from Minden High School. He played on the MHS Crimson Tide basketball team, played in the band, was elected to the student council, and edited the school newspaper.
He studied electrical engineering at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where he graduated in 1963 with a Bachelor of Science degree. He was student body president of the college of engineering and a member of Kappa Alpha fraternity. Five years later, he obtained a Master of Business Administration from Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia.
From 1963 to 1973, Huckaby was a management executive for the Western Electric Company, which later became Alcatel-Lucient. He worked in Atlanta from 1963 to 1969, and then in Chicago from 1970 to 1973. After he left Atlanta, with his MBA in hand, Western Electric supported him to complete a nine-month non-degree program at Princeton University in New Jersey.
In 1976, Huckaby was elected to Congress from the Monroe-based Fifth District. First, he unseated incumbent Otto Passman in a hard-fought Democratic primary election held on August 14. Huckaby received 45,589 votes (52.7 percent) to Passman's 40,888 (47.3 percent). A 30-year conservative congressman, Passman was a native of Franklinton in south Louisiana and a long-term Monroe resident. Passman had supported American involvement in the Vietnam War. A World War II Navy lieutenant, Passman was particularly known for his support of veterans causes and his opposition to most foreign aid programs. After his failure to gain renomination, Passman never again spoke to Huckaby and "threatened" to endorse Spooner as his successor, but never did so.
When Passman was defeated, he was under an ethical cloud. He was engulfed in a bribery, conspiracy, fraud, and influence peddling scandal known as "Koreagate." He was alleged to have accepted $213,000 from South Korean lobbyist Tongsun Park (born 1935). At the time of the primary, Passman had not been indicted of anything. The indictments came two years later, but he was acquitted in a high-profile trial in 1979 in which he was defended by Camille Gravel, a high-powered Alexandria attorney and gubernatorial advisor.
Huckaby faced a Republican challenge from Frank Spooner, a conservative oilman from Monroe who had been Louisiana's GOP national committeeman. Spooner was the first Republican to contest the Fifth District seat since 1900. That year Henry E. Hardtner polled 628 votes (9.2 percent) against the Democrat Joseph E. Ransdell of East Carroll Parish, who was elected with 6,172 votes (90.8 percent). Ransdell later was elected by the state legislature to serve in the United States Senate. The 1900 election reflected the drop in voting by Republicans after the effective disenfranchisement of African Americans in the state, who had been majority Republicans. The Democrats had regained power and passed a new constitution in 1898 that raised barriers to voter registration. By 1976, however, Spooner reflected a new political alignment: white conservatives throughout Louisiana and the South were shifting to Republican Party candidates, particularly for national office, and subsequently for local offices as well.
Spooner made a strong showing among white voters in Ouachita and Lincoln parishes, along with Morehouse, Richland, Natchitoches, and Winn parishes. Former Governor John B. Connally, Jr., of Texas came to Natchitoches and Monroe to speak for Spooner and the Republican presidential Ford-Dole ticket. Former Governor Ronald W. Reagan (R) of California, Ford's unsuccessful opponent in the 1976 primaries, appeared in Monroe at a fundraiser on Spooner's behalf.
Huckaby won the general election, helped in part by the popularity of Democrat and native son of Georgia, Jimmy Carter, in Louisiana and throughout the South. Huckaby received 83,696 votes (52.5 percent) to Spooner's 75,574 ballots (47.5 percent). Spooner outpolled Passman's primary showing by 0.2 percent.
In the much higher general election turnout, Spooner received some 35,000 more votes than Passman had netted in the primary, showing the increased Republican strength in the state. Spooner polled 59 percent in Ouachita Parish and also won in Lincoln, Morehouse, Union, and Richland. His strength was insufficient to overcome hefty Democratic margins in rural districts stretching from Huckaby's Ringgold on the west to Vidalia on the east, and the most northern precincts of Rapides Parish on the south.
The 1976 congressional elections were the last in Louisiana under the longstanding closed primary system, in which voters were limited to voting in their party's primary. The legislature later reinstituted closed congressional primaries in Louisiana for 2008, when Barack Obama was the Democratic presidential candidate, and 2010. It dropped the restriction in 2012 and has continued with the jungle or blanket primaries.
In 1978, the legislature continued with the nonpartisan blanket primary (or jungle primary) for congressional elections. This had been introduced for state elections on November 1, 1975. Huckaby was successful in the jungle primary, and he was re-elected in 1978 and another seven times over the next fourteen years, often with landslides of more than 70 percent. In those elections, most of his opponents were other Democrats.
In 1978, Huckaby polled some 57 percent of the vote over several Democratic rivals, including Louisiana State Senator James H. "Jim" Brown, then of Ferriday in Concordia Parish. The next year, Brown was elected as Louisiana secretary of state, when incumbent Paul J. Hardy ran unsuccessfully for governor.
L.D. Knox of Winnsboro opposed Huckaby in 1978, 1980, 1982, 1990, and 1992. He changed his legal name to "None of the Above Knox" to support his call for the "None of the Above" option to be offered on ballots to enhance voter choice. The legislature never approved such an option.
In the 1986 congressional race, Huckaby, with 96,200 votes (68.5 percent) defeated two other Democrats, State Representative Thomas "Bud" Brady of Olla, who finished second with 32,284 ballots (23 percent), and the Monroe businessman Fred W. Huenefeld, Jr. (born December 1929), who trailed with 11,966 votes (8.5 percent).
In 1988, Huckaby, with 51,113 votes (71.1 percent) again prevailed over two opponents, Democrat Jack Wright, who polled 14,343 ballots (20 percent), and Republican Bradley Thomason Roark, who trailed with 6,403 votes (8.9 percent).
In 1990, in his last successful election, Huckaby polled 128,117 votes (73.7 percent) over L. D. Knox, Democrat Carl Batey, and Republican Bradley Roark, who collectively split the remaining 26.3 percent of the ballots.
For ten years, Huckaby was chairman of the subcommittee on cotton, rice and sugar. His marketing loan legislation was credited with bringing American agriculture out of a major recession during the early 1980s. His controversial legislation, defining eligibility for farm payments and limiting the amount of the payments a farmer could receive, was still in effect twenty years after it was enacted.
Huckaby was a key defender of the sugar industry in the 1990 debate over the farm bill. Louisiana is a major sugar cane state, with some 750 farms that produce hundreds of thousands of tons of sugar. He was called "Mr. Sugar" in the House. In his last campaign for Congress, sugar interests donated $50,000 to his cause. "I was in the race of my life, and I went out everywhere soliciting funds," Huckaby recalled. Huckaby said that raising money from Political Action Committees is a necessary evil. "It would be nice if the PAC system didn't exist. It is the most distasteful thing in politics," he said.
In 1989, Huckaby was the Boll Weevils' choice for a seat informally designated for a Southern Democrat on the House Budget Committee. Huckaby did not shy from highly technical issues, was not afraid to work out compromises, and could serve as a bridge to lawmakers in both parties. The Budget Committee assignment came during his last two terms in Congress.
Huckaby introduced House-passed legislation in 1988 to require commercial nuclear plants, during any unusual event, to transmit electronically data on pressure, temperature, and water levels to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Washington, D.C., so that its experts may monitor and advise on the situation. The national monitoring center has prevented other "Three Mile Island" threats.
Huckaby's seat on the Interior Committee enabled him to secure legislation through the years that created the Tensas National Wildlife Refuge, the Upper Darbonne National Wildlife Refuge, the Poverty Point National Monument, the Saline Bayou Wild and Scenic River, and the Kisatchie Hills Wilderness, all in the Fifth District.
Louisiana lost a district as a result of the 1990 United States Census. The Justice Department issued a directive requiring Louisiana to create a second African-American district. The legislature responded by creating a new Fourth District that stretched from Shreveport to Baton Rouge, absorbing most of Huckaby's black constituents in the process. Huckaby's revised district absorbed a large portion of the former Shreveport-based Fourth District, represented by three-term Republican Jim McCrery.
On paper, Huckaby appeared to have an advantage, as geographically the new Fifth was more his district than McCrery's. However, the demographics of the revised Fifth District worked against Huckaby. The new district was considerably more urban than its predecessor; because of the inclusion of Shreveport, McCrery retained 55 percent of his former constituents. The minority population in the district was reduced from 30 percent to 16 percent. Thus, McCrery was favored in a head-to-head race.
Although the Democrats expected a good year nationally, national Democratic leaders concluded Huckaby had almost no chance in the reconfigured Fifth and urged him to retire. Had he done so, he could have kept $250,000 in campaign funds, as 1992 was the last year that members of Congress could retire and keep surplus campaign funds for personal use. But, Huckaby chose to stay in the race despite the obstacles. Huckaby also faced a Democratic primary opponent in 1992, the previously unknown Shreveport attorney Robert Thompson, who ran as a Conservative Democrat "outsider," tapped into anti-incumbency anger, and polled 22 percent of the ballots cast, votes which presumably came at Huckaby's expense.
McCrery won the general election, taking 153,501 votes (63 percent) to 90,079 for Huckaby (37 percent). Huckaby carried only one parish in the district.
On December 21, 1962, Huckaby married the former Suzanna "Sue" Woodard (October 12, 1943 - September 9, 2008), at the Ringgold Methodist Church in Bienville Parish. The two were both LSU students at the time. She was the daughter of Ernest Scott "Big Scotty" Woodard (1921-2013) and the former Molly Covey (1923-1987), originally from Gentry in Benton County in northwestern Arkansas. Her father was a farmer and oil/natural gas proprietor. They had a daughter Michelle (b. 1967) and son Thomas Huckaby (1975-2002).
Jerry and Sue Huckaby did not return to Louisiana after his congressional defeat. Huckaby became a lobbyist in Washington, DC, because of his wide network of contacts. He left after two months. "I was never comfortable sitting on the other side of the table," he said. "I wasn't comfortable asking members like (former U.S. Senator) John Breaux to see such and such a person or (former U.S. Representative) Bob Livingston to go to such and such a reception."
Huckaby instead became president of his wife's residential real estate business in McLean, Virginia. Nationally, Mrs. Huckaby was ranked No. 10 of more than two million realtors in the United States in sales. For many years, she was the leading realtor in northern Virginia. In her 30-year career, which began when he became a congressman, Mrs. Huckaby sold more than one thousand homes valued in excess of a billion dollars. She had attended Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri and Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. She graduated with a degree in human ecology from Louisiana Tech in Ruston., where the Sue Woodard Huckaby Endowed Professorship honors her memory. At the time of her death from colon cancer, the Huckabys lived in Great Falls in Fairfax County, Virginia. They had been active members of Trinity United Methodist Church in McLean for some three decades. Mrs. Huckaby's funeral services were held on September 14, 2008, at the First United Methodist Church of Ringgold. She is interred at the Woodard family plot at Providence Cemetery in Ringgold.
The Huckabys' daughter, Michelle Huckaby Lewis (born 1967 in Atlanta, Georgia), and their son-in-law, Todd Lewis, are physicians. They took over her parents's house in Great Falls after her mother's death. Todd Lewis is a cardiologist in private practice in Fairfax County, and Michelle is on the staff of Johns Hopkins University Hospital. Both have undergraduate degrees from Stanford University and medical degrees from Tulane University. Michelle Lewis also has a law degree from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. She specializes in legal issues related to genetic testing of newborn babies. The Lewises have two sons, Carter (born 2002) and Spencer (born 2005).
In April 2010, the widower Huckaby married the former Maria Hammon, a retired English professor at Louisiana Tech University and the widow of Donald Gene Hammon, a former Ruston police chief. The couple resides near the Squire Creek Country Club in Choudrant in Lincoln Parish.
On January 28, 2012, Huckaby, along with his friend E. L. "Bubba" Henry, former Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives; as well as Fred Baden, former mayor of Pineville; and Adras LaBorde, former managing editor of the Alexandria Daily Town Talk, was inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.