Joe Waggonner

Joe Waggonner

name= Joseph David "Joe D." Waggonner, Jr.

size=200 px
caption= Joe D. Waggonner, Jr., speaking at his "alma mater", Louisiana Tech University, in 1969
office= United States House of Representatives, Fourth District of Louisiana
term_start= 1961
preceded=Thomas Overton Brooks
succeeded=Anthony Claude "Buddy" Leach, Jr.
office2=Louisiana State Board of Education
term_start2=January 1961
term_end2=December 1961
office3= Bossier Parish School Board
term_start3= 1954
birth_date= birth date |1918|09|07
birth_place= Plain Dealing in Bossier Parish
death_date=death date and age|2007|10|07|1918|09|07
spouse= Mary Ruth Carter Waggonner (born 1921)
children=Carol Jean Waggonner Johnston of Benton, Louisiana
David Waggonner of New Orleans
party= Democratic
religion= Methodist
occupation= Businessman

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 who represented the old 4th Congressional District of northwest Louisiana from December 1961 until January 1979. He was also a confidant of Republican U.S. President Richard Nixon, and in 1974 hosted Nixon's first public appearance after his resignation amid the Watergate scandal.

Waggonner's background

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 from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, the seat of Lincoln Parish, where he was a member of Kappa Sigma. On December 14 1942, he married the former Mary Ruth Carter (born 1921). The couple resided in their later years in Benton, the seat of Bossier Parish, and then in the more populous Bossier City.

During World War II and the Korean War, Waggonner served in the U.S. Navy, having attained the rank of lieutenant commander. He remained thereafter in the U.S. Naval Reserve.

He was first elected to public office in 1954 to a seat on the Bossier Parish School Board, of which he was president from 1956-1957. In 1960, he was elected to the Louisiana State Board of Education from the northwest Louisiana district; in 1961, he was chosen president of (1) the Louisiana School Boards Association and (2) the United Schools Committee of Louisiana. He was also instrumental, along with then State Senator William M. Rainach of Claiborne Parish, in the founding of the White Citizens Council in the late 1950s.

Waggonner ran a wholesale petroleum products distribution agency for northern Bossier Parish.

Defeating Charlton Lyons

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 C. McClanahan of Shreveport. When Brooks died in office, 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 Havard Lyons, Sr., a Shreveport oilman who was attempting to plant a Republican beachhead in then overwhelmingly Democratic state. Waggonner polled 33,892 votes (54.5 percent) to Lyons' 28,250 ballots (45.5 percent). Waggonner received majorities in six of the seven parishes in the district, having lost only in Lyons' home base, Caddo Parish, which includes Shreveport. In 1968, Waggonner easily turned back an African American primary challenger, Leon Tarver, whose family operates a Shreveport funeral home. Leon Tarver's brother, Gregory Tarver would later serve 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."Lake, Anthony. "The "Tar Baby" Option: American Policy Toward Southern Rhodesia", 1976. Page 119.]

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.

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 John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, neither of whom were particularly popular in the 4th District.

Relations with Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan

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 ironically had been Ford's vice-presidential running mate in 1976.

In 1981 President Ronald 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.

His chosen successor, "Buddy" Leach

Waggonner was succeeded in office by his preferred candidate, then State Representative Anthony Claude "Buddy" Leach, Jr. of Leesville, the seat of Vernon Parish, another Democrat in Waggonner's "conservative" mold. Leach, however, was unable to cement his hold on the district and was unseated in the 1980 general election after a single term by fellow Democrat (later Republican) Charles E. "Buddy" Roemer, III. That 1980 House election was sometimes called the "battle of the Buddys" waged between the wealthy Democrats Leach and Roemer. Waggonner's seat, however, remained Democratic for nine years after his retirement, before the Republican James Otis McCrery, Jr., then of Leesville but a Shreveport native, won it in another special election held on March 8 1988.

Waggonner the Methodist

Waggonner was a member of the First United Methodist Church of Plain Dealing but later attended the First United Methodist Church of Benton.

Daughter Carol Johnston 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 David Waggonner (born ca. 1950) said that his father was "a real man. . . . He really liked people and cared about them." David, who was twelve when Waggonner was elected to Congress, went to Washington with his father that first summer of 1962.


Waggonner had a stroke and suffered from heart problems. He had been hospitalized for several weeks prior to his death at Promise Specialty Hospital in Shreveport.

Services of forty-five minutes in length were held on October 9 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 passage from "Ecclesiastes" about there being a time to everything.

Burial was in the family plot in the Plain Dealing Cemetery. [ [ Former Congressman Waggonner dies] ; "The Shreveport Times", October 7 2007]

In addition to his wife, Waggonner was survived by a daughter, Carol Jean Waggonner Johnston and her husband, Billy Tom Johnston, a builder, from Benton; a son, David Waggonner, an architect from New Orleans, and three grandchildren. Waggonner's brother, W.E. "Willie" Waggonner (August 7, 1905—May 9, 1976), was a Democratic sheriff in Bossier Parish for many years.

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux 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 Kilpatrick 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 Caddo Parish Sheriff Don Hathaway and former U.S. Representative Jerry Huckaby, 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 Smith of Bossier Parish and U.S. Representative Jim McCrery.

Waggonner's legacy

Waggonner's papers are at his alma mater, Louisiana Tech. "Shreveport Times" columnist Wiley W. Hilburn, also the 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 also 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 Bipartisan 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 federal courthouse in Shreveport was named for Waggonner, but that facility has since been abandoned and replaced. He is 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 prostitutionl.; 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. Despite the incident, voters overwhelmingly renominated Waggonner in the August 14, 1976, primary, which turned out to have been his last election victory. ["Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report", October 30, 1976, p. 3105] 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.


ee also


*"Who's Who in America", 1976-1977

* (Regular newspaper obituary)

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