Joe D. Waggonner Jr.
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Louisiana's 4th district
In office
December 19, 1961 – January 3, 1979
Preceded byOverton Brooks
Succeeded byBuddy Leach
Louisiana State Board of Education
In office
January 1961 – December 1961
Bossier Parish School Board
In office
1954–1960
Personal details
Born(1918-09-07)September 7, 1918
Plain Dealing, Louisiana
DiedOctober 7, 2007(2007-10-07) (aged 89)
Resting placePlain Dealing Cemetery
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Mary Ruth Carter (1942–2007, his death)
ChildrenCarol Jean Waggonner Johnston
David Waggonner
Occupationbusinessman
Military service
Branch/serviceUnited States Navy
Years of serviceWorld 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 for the 4th congressional district in northwest Louisiana from December 1961 to January 1979. He was also a confidant of Republican President Richard Nixon.

Background

Waggonner was born in Plain Dealing to Joe David Waggonner Sr. and the former Elizzibeth Johnston. He graduated from Plain Dealing High School and in 1941 from Louisiana Tech University, where he was a member of Kappa Sigma. On December 14, 1942, he married Mary Ruth Carter. The couple resided in their later years in Benton, the seat of Bossier Parish, and then in the more populous Bossier City.[1]

During World War II and the Korean War, Waggonner served in the U.S. Navy, having attained the rank of lieutenant commander. In between and after the wars, he was a petroleum product wholesaler.[1]

He 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 unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for the position of Louisiana state comptroller, losing to Roy R. Theriot.[2]

On July 23, 1960, Waggonner was elected to the Louisiana State Board of Education from the Third District of the Louisiana Public Service Commission, unseating incumbent C. Raymond Heard.[3] In 1961, Waggonner was chosen president of the Louisiana School Boards Association and the United Schools Committee of Louisiana, positions from which he promoted segregationist policies.[4] He had also been instrumental in the founding of the White Citizens Council in the late 1950s, and served as the president of its Louisiana Fourth District Chapter.[5]

Election to Congress

Representative Waggonner and other members of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics visit the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, on March 9, 1962, to gather first-hand information of the nation's space exploration program.
Representative Waggonner and other members of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics visit the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, on March 9, 1962, to gather first-hand information of the nation's space exploration program.

Waggonner won a special election on December 19, 1961, to succeed long-time U.S. Representative Overton Brooks, who had died in office. Waggonner had already announced his intention to oppose Brooks for renomination in the 1962 Democratic primary, 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.[6] In the special election, Waggonner turned back a relatively strong Republican challenge from Charlton Lyons, an Abbeville native and a Shreveport oilman. Waggonner polled 33,892 votes (54.5 percent) to Lyons' 28,250 ballots (45.5 percent).[7] Over his eight re-elections, he faced opposition only twice, easily turning back primary challenges both times.[8]

Rhodesia

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.[9]

Republican/Southern Democrat coalition

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.[10]

He served as an informal whip for President Richard Nixon during his impeachment investigation. Waggonner initially estimated that he could rally 70 Democratic votes against impeachment,[11] but as the investigation unfolded, Nixon's support fell, and Waggonner reported that he could only rally 38 votes, at which point Nixon knew he didn't have the numbers necessary to avoid impeachment.[12]

Death

After his death on October 7, 2007, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco ordered that the flags at the State Capitol and Governor's Mansion be flown at half-staff to honor Waggonner. "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.[13]

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!'"[14]

References

  1. ^ a b "Joseph Waggonner Jr". Shreveport Times. October 8, 2007.
  2. ^ Minden Press-Herald, November 13, 1959, p. 13.
  3. ^ "Minorities Decided Recent Primaries". The Monroe News-Star. July 2, 1960.
  4. ^ "Waggonner Fears Integration Try". The Monroe News-Star. February 8, 1962.
  5. ^ Black, Earl; Black, Merle (2009). The Rise of Southern Republicans. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674020986.
  6. ^ "4th District's Congressional Race Enters Home Stretch". The Shreveport Times. December 1, 1961.
  7. ^ "GOP Challenge Turned Back By Waggonner". Lake Charles American-Press. December 2, 1961.
  8. ^ "Joseph D. Waggonner, Jr. elector history". Our Campaigns.
  9. ^ Lake, Anthony. The "Tar Baby" Option: American Policy Toward Southern Rhodesia, 1976. Page 119.
  10. ^ Woods, Jeff (2003). Black Struggle, Red Scare: Segregation and Anti-Communism in the South, 1948–1968. LSU Press. ISBN 9780807129265.
  11. ^ Ambrose, Stephen (2014). Nixon Volume III: Ruin and Recovery 1973–1990. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9781481424134.
  12. ^ Apple, R. W. (August 2, 1974). "House. Impeachment Numbers Game: First You Take 248, Subtract 187..." New York Times.
  13. ^ "Hundred pay respects". The Shreveport Times. October 8, 2007.
  14. ^ "Waggonner slips into history with dignity". The Shreveport Times. October 1, 2007.