Joseph David "Joe D." Waggonner Jr.
|Member of the |
U.S. House of Representatives
from Louisiana's 4th district
December 19, 1961 - January 3, 1979
|Thomas Overton Brooks|
|Anthony Claude "Buddy" Leach Jr.|
|Louisiana State Board of Education|
January 1961 - December 1961
|Bossier Parish School Board|
|Born||September 7, 1918|
Plain Dealing, Louisiana
|Died||October 7, 2007 (aged 89)|
|Resting place||Plain Dealing Cemetery|
|Spouse(s)||Mary Ruth Carter Waggonner (married 1941-2007, his death)|
|Relations||Willie Waggonner (brother)|
|Children||Carol Jean Waggonner Johnston|
Joseph David Waggonner, III
|Parents||Joseph David, Sr., and Elizzibeth Johnston Waggonner|
|Alma mater||Plain Dealing High School|
Louisiana Tech University
|Branch/service||United States Navy|
|Years of service||World War II; Korean War|
Joseph David Waggonner Jr. (September 7, 1918 – October 7, 2007), better known as Joe D. Waggonner, was a Democratic U.S. Representative from Bossier Parish, Louisiana, who represented Louisiana's 4th congressional district from December 1961 until January 1979. A confidant of Republican U.S. President Richard M. Nixon, he hosted in 1978 Nixon's first public appearance after his resignation amid the Watergate scandal.
Waggonner was born in Plain Dealing to Joe David Waggonner Sr. (June 11, 1873 – March 9, 1950), and the former Elizzibeth Johnston (November 23, 1882 – December 24, 1957). He graduated from Plain Dealing High School and in 1941 as member of Kappa Sigma from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston in Lincoln Parish.
On December 14, 1941, while in the United States Navy in San Francisco, Waggonner wed the former Mary Ruth Carter (February 12, 1921 – May 3, 2017), the daughter of Earl Hatcher Carter and the former Mae Fenton. A native of Minden in Webster Parish, Mrs. Waggonner graduated from C. E. Byrd High School in Shreveport and attended Louisiana Tech, where she met her husband, and was a campus beauty and a charter member of the Beta Epsilon chapter of Sigma Kappa sorority. She was a member of the First United Methodist Church of Plain Dealing and the Phi Delta Club. She was an avid gardener, golfer, and cook.
He ran a wholesale petroleum products distribution agency that serviced northern Bossier Parish.
Waggonner was first elected to public office in 1954 to a seat on the Bossier Parish School Board, of which he was president from 1956 to 1957. In 1959, Waggonner ran in the Democratic primary for the position of Louisiana state comptroller, previously known as auditor. He was defeated for the nomination by Roy R. Theriot, the mayor of Abbeville in Vermilion Parish in south Louisiana. Waggonner ran on the intra-party ticket headed by segregationist gubernatorial candidate William M. Rainach, a state senator from Claiborne Parish.
Shortly thereafter on July 23, 1960, Waggonner was nominated in the Democratic primary to the Louisiana State Board of Education, now the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Waggonner won the seat for the Third Public Service Commission District, a configuration since disbanded that then included twenty-eight North Louisiana parishes. Waggonner unseated incumbent Charles Raymond Heard (1896-1963), a prominent wholesale grocer from Ruston and a brother-in-law of the prominent Louisiana Tech historian Garnie W. McGinty. In this campaign, Waggonner posed as a more determined segregationist than did Heard, One of his advertisements proclaimed: "For: Our Youth and Segregation; Against: Federal Aid to Education."
On November 8, 1960, Waggonner ran unopposed for the state board. Along with Rainach, David C. Treen, and Leander Perez, he was among the ten presidential electors for an unpledged slate in Louisiana which opposed the election of both John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon for U.S. President. Nixon won the Fourth Congressional District, but Kennedy took a strong plurality in the balloting statewide.
In 1961, Waggonner was chosen president of (1) the Louisiana School Boards Association and (2) the United Schools Committee of Louisiana. He and Rainach were instrumental in the founding of the White Citizens Council in the late 1950s.
In December 1961, Waggonner won a special election to succeed long-time U.S. Representative Overton Brooks, who had won his thirteenth consecutive term in 1960 by defeating the Republican Fred Charles McClanahan Jr. (1918-2007) of Shreveport. When Brooks died in office in the first year of his last term, Waggonner filed in the special election to succeed him. Already, Waggonner had announced his intention to oppose Brooks for renomination in the 1962 Democratic primary. Waggonner's decision to challenge Brooks was spurred by Brooks' congressional vote to expand the House Rules Committee to permit Speaker Sam Rayburn to add new liberal members to the panel, which was dominated at the time by minority conservatives from both national parties.
In the special election, Waggonner turned back a relatively strong Republican challenge from Charlton Lyons, an Abbeville native and a Shreveport oilman who was attempting to plant a Republican beachhead in then overwhelmingly Democratic state. Both men were segregationists and conservatives. Waggonner polled 33,892 votes (54.5 percent) to Lyons' 28,250 ballots (45.5 percent). Plain Dealing banker John J. Doles Jr. (1923-2004) served as Waggonner's campaign manager. Waggonner received majorities in six of the seven parishes in the district, having lost only in Lyons' home base of Caddo Parish, which includes Shreveport. In the congressional race, Waqgonner carried the editorial support of the Shreveport Journal and its conservative editor George W. Shannon.
In 1968, Waggonner easily turned back an African American primary challenger, Leon R. Tarver, II, later president of the Southern University System. Tarver's family operates a Shreveport funeral home. His brother, Gregory Tarver, would later serve on the Shreveport City Council and in the Louisiana State Senate. Over the years, Waggonner had only token opponents. He did not seek a tenth term in 1978.
Commenting on the founding of Rhodesia, Waggonner said on April 5, 1966:
Three generations ago, a group of resourceful white men went into the jungle of what is now Rhodesia and carved a civilized land by the sheer force of their brains and management ability. The lesson of history was crystal clear then as it is now: the natives were not capable of producing any semblance of what we call civilization. Now that the white man had led them out of savagery, the Socialist, left-wing camp is up in arms to turn the country back to them. This is, of course, a not too subtle way of building a Socialist bridge from Democracy to Communism.
In Congress, Waggonner often supported a Republican-Southern Democratic coalition on various issues, later known as the "Boll Weevils". He was fiscally conservative and opposed many federal social programs as well as civil rights legislation in 1964, 1965, and 1968. He took a "hawkish" position on the Vietnam War.
Waggonner said that he spent much of his time in Congress trying to convince liberals of the error of their politics. "The trend to socialism is not accidental, but reflects the attitude of the majority, or it would not be the prevailing trend. I spend all of my time talking to the liberals in Congress, doing all I can to persuade them of the rightness of our views, not to conservatives who already share our philosophy."
Waggonner was personally and politically close to President Nixon and opposed Nixon's impeachment over Watergate-related matters. While leading southern conservatives in the U.S. House, he wielded power with Nixon that was often reserved for the Speaker or a key committee chairman. He was an influential member of the House Ways and Means Committee and a key player the Republican president needed to get legislation passed in the House. Waggonner later revealed that he also had close contacts with Democratic Presidents Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, neither of whom was popular in the 4th District.
On August 8, 1974, Waggonner prepared a special list of House and Senate lawmakers who were among a shrinking band of Nixon supporters. The lawmakers met that night with a "visibly distraught" Nixon, who told the group that he would resign on Friday, August 9, at noon. "'I am sorry I have let you down,'" Waggonner recalled Nixon having said.
Waggonner flew to Yorba Linda, California, in April 1994 to attend Nixon's funeral. Indeed, he had maintained communication with Nixon long after both had left Washington. Nixon's first outing after his resignation was a trip to Shreveport for an event the Waggonners hosted at their home, remembered Rene Gibson, a former Waggonner staffer, as reported in The Shreveport Times on the occasion of Waggonner's death.
Though friendly with Nixon, he quarreled with Nixon's successor Gerald Ford when Ford, as a former president, came into the 4th District in 1978 to support a Republican candidate, James H. "Jimmy" Wilson of Vivian (northern Caddo Parish), a former state representative who narrowly lost the general election race to Waggonner's choice, Buddy Leach.
In the 1964 gubernatorial second primary and general election, Waggonner endorsed Democrat John McKeithen who, like Waggonner in 1961, was opposed by the Republican Charlton Lyons. Waggonner objected to the strengthening of the Republican Party in Louisiana. He once said that Louisiana, unlike other southern states, already had a two-party system through its "Long" and "anti-Long" factional competition. Nevertheless, in his later years, Waggonner did occasionally endorse Republicans, including the 1996 presidential nominee Robert J. "Bob" Dole of Kansas, who had been Ford's vice-presidential running mate in 1976.
In 1981, President Ronald W. Reagan, who had campaigned for Charlton Lyons for governor of Louisiana in 1964, appointed Waggonner to the 15-member National Commission on Social Security Reform, headed by Alan Greenspan.
Several candidates ran for the seat that Waggonner vacated, including two state representatives, Claude "Buddy" Leach Jr., of Leesville in Vernon Parish and Loy F. Weaver of Homer in Claiborne Parish. Charles E. "Buddy" Roemer, III, son of Governor Edwin Edwards's commissioner of administration, entered the race, as did a lone Republican, Jimmy Wilson, a former state legislator and former mayor of Vivian in north Caddo Parish, who had recently switched parties. Waggonner endorsed Leach, who ultimately defeated Wilson in the general election by a margin of 266 disputed votes. However, Leach was unable to cement his hold on the district and was unseated in the 1980 general election after a single term by Roemer. That 1980 House election was sometimes called the "battle of the Buddys" waged between the wealthy Democrats Leach and Roemer. Waggonner's seat remained Democratic for nine years after his retirement, when a Democrat-turned-Republican, James Otis McCrery Jr., then of Leesville but a Shreveport native, won it in another special election held on March 8, 1988. (McCrery retired in January 2009 and was succeeded by the Republican John C. Fleming, a physician from Minden in Webster Parish. When Fleming ran unsuccessfully for the United States Senate in 2016, the 4th District House seat went to still another Republican, James Michael "Mike" Johnson of Benton.)
Like his wife, Waggonner was a member of the First United Methodist Church of Plain Dealing, but the couple later attended the First United Methodist Church of Benton.
Daughter Carol W. Johnston (born December 1945), a Democrat and a former educator, told The Shreveport Times that her father was "a strong Christian. As long as he was physically able, he never went to bed without getting on his knees to say his prayer. Everything he did was the result of following what he thought was the example of Jesus."
Son Joseph David Waggonner III (born February 1949), a Democrat and an architect in New Orleans, said that his father was "a real man. ... He really liked people and cared about them." David, as he is known, was twelve when Waggonner was elected to Congress. He joined his father in Washington in the summer of 1962.
Services of forty-five minutes in length were held on October 9, 2007, at the Brown Memorial Chapel of Methodist-affiliated Centenary College, another institution of higher learning which Waggonner supported. Centenary President Emeritus Donald Webb officiated, with assistance from the Reverend Lynn Malone of the First United Methodist Church of Benton. Webb quipped that Waggonner had insisted thirty years earlier that Webb preach Waggonner's funeral, and Webb said he often hoped that Waggonner would outlive him and thus relieve Webb of that responsibility for which he felt "inadequate". Webb called Waggonner a "balanced man who could see both sides and bring them together." Reverend Malone said that Waggonner was the "ultimate patriot who loved his country." Waggonner himself requested the reading of that familiar passage from Ecclesiastes about there being a time for everything under the sun.
Joe and Mary Ruth Waggonner are interred in the family plot at the Plain Dealing Cemetery.
In addition to his wife and children, Waggonner was survived by his son-in-law, Billy Tom Johnston, a builder, from Benton, and three grandchildren. Waggonner's brother, W. E. "Willie" Waggonner, was a Democratic sheriff of Bossier Parish from 1948 until his death in office in 1976.
Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco ordered that the flags at the State Capitol and Governor's Mansion be flown at half-staff from sunrise until sunset to honor Waggonner on the day of his funeral. "Joe Waggonner was quite a character, representing our state during a tumultuous time in Congress. He was an economic development pioneer for Northwest Louisiana, and will be remembered for his hard work to lift up the region," Blanco said in her statement.
Former Governor Buddy Roemer, whom Waggonner opposed as his successor in the House in 1978, remarked: "He was bipartisan, or better yet, nonpartisan. He kept putting his district, his state, his country first, not his party. The first thing they said was 'Democrats vote this way, Republicans vote this way,' and Joe Waggonner said 'Nonsense!'"
Local and regional dignitaries who attended Waggonner's funeral included former State Senator Virginia Shehee, a funeral home and insurance company owner from Shreveport who worked with Waggonner on a number of issues. Mayors Lo Walker of Bossier City and Cedric Glover of Shreveport attended, as did former Bossier City Mayor Don Jones, Caddo Parish Sheriff Don Hathaway, and former U.S. Representative Jerry Huckaby of Louisiana's 5th congressional district, whose freshman year in the U.S. House coincided with Waggonner's last term. The Shreveport Times noted that funeral guests included then Republican State Representatives Billy Montgomery and Jane H. Smith of Bossier Parish and U. S. Representative Jim McCrery.
Waggonner's papers are at his alma mater, Louisiana Tech. Shreveport Times columnist Wiley W. Hilburn, also then chairman of the Louisiana Tech journalism department, described Waggonner as the strongest advocate ever for Louisiana Tech. "Particularly athletics. He came to every game -- football, basketball, and baseball. He was a tremendous commencement speaker and spoke often at Tech graduations," Hilburn added.
In 1977, Waggonner was named a charter recipient of the Tower Medallion for distinguished Louisiana Tech alumni. He was "Alumnus of the Year" in 1992. There are two Joe D. Waggonner Scholarships at Louisiana Tech--one in Political Science and the other in Engineering. Louisiana Tech is establishing the Waggonner Center for Civic Engagement and Public Policy.
Waggonner skillfully used this influence to secure funding for Interstate 49 and the Inner and Outer Loop, as well as funding for the Red River Waterway. There would presumably be no navigable Red River or Shreveport-Bossier City port without his pioneering work. Furthermore, he was instrumental in persuading General Motors to build a plant in Shreveport.
Representative Waggonner worked to support Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City. Not only was Barksdale spared the ax while other bases closed, but Waggonner's work set the stage for the cyberspace provisional command there, according to former Bossier City Mayor Don Jones, a Waggonner family friend.
The previous federal courthouse in Shreveport was named for Waggonner, but that facility has since been abandoned and replaced. Louisiana College of Pineville for years has sought to place its proposed Judge Paul Pressler School of Law in the former Waggonner Building. Waggonner is instead honored through the Joe D. Waggonner Lock and Dam on the Red River.
Waggonner was active in the Great Bossier Economic Foundation, the American Legion, and the March of Dimes. In 1998, he was inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield, along with his former congressional colleague Speedy O. Long of Jena, who died on October 5, 2006, almost exactly one year prior to Waggonner's passing.
In the spring of 1976, Waggonner was arrested in Washington on a charge of soliciting a police decoy for purposes of prostitution. He was released without formal charges because of a provision of the United States Constitution which forbids the arrest of a congressman on a misdemeanor charge while Congress is in session. Waggonner's arrest prompted a change in procedure allowing congressional members to be arrested and prosecuted to the same extent as other citizens. Despite the incident, voters overwhelmingly renominated Waggonner in the August 14, 1976, primary, which turned out to have been his last election victory. In that same primary, Jerry Huckaby of Ringgold in Bienville Parish had unseated Waggonner's colleague Otto Passman. Huckaby went on to defeat Frank Spooner to win the seat.