Joe Waggonner

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Joseph David Waggonner, Jr., known as Joe Waggonner (1918-2007), was a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives from Louisiana's Fourth Congressional District, who served from 1961 to 1979. He was active in what was later known as the Boll Weevil Democrats, who sometimes supported Republican positions on fiscal and foreign policies.

A businessman originally from Plain Dealing in Bossier Parish in northwestern Louisiana, Waggonner had an exemplary record in World War II and graduated from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston. He was long active in Louisiana Tech alumni affairs. In the 1950s, he was a member of the Bossier Parish School Board. In 1961, he served on the elected Louisiana State Board of Education. In 1959, Waggonner was an unsuccessful primary candidate for the since disbanded position of Louisiana state comptroller, having run on the strongly segregationist intraparty ticket headed by State Senator William M. Rainach of Claiborne Parish.

Waggonner was initially elected to Congress in a special election held in December 1961 to succeed Democrat Overton Brooks, who died in office. He defeated the Republican choice, Charlton Lyons, an oilman from Shreveport, who subsequently ran for governor in 1964 against Democrat John J. McKeithen. Thereafter, Waggonner rarely had opposition. In 1968, he faced an African American challenger, fellow Democrat Leon Tarver of Shreveport.

After 1969, Waggonner struck up a friendship with U.S. President Richard M. Nixon and served as a liaison between Nixon and the House Democratic majority. Through this relationship, Waggonner was able to procure public works projects for his Fourth District, including the attempt to establish year-round navigation of the Red River between Shreveport and Alexandria.

In 1976, Waggonner was arrested for soliciting an undercover police decoy in Washington, D.C., for purposes of prostitution. He was released because at that time lawmakers enjoyed immunity from prosecution for misdemeanor offenses. After the Waggonner case, the law was changed to allow congressional members to face misdemeanor charges with the exception of parking violations.[1]

When Waggonner did not run again in 1978, Nixon's successor, Gerald Ford, came into the Fourth District to support a Republican candidate, Jimmy Wilson of Vivian in Caddo Parish. Waggonner chided Ford for making the appearance for Wilson and instead strongly supported Democrat Claude "Buddy" Leach of Leesville in Vernon Parish, who won the seat for one term. In 1980, Leach was unseated by Buddy Roemer of Bossier City, then a Democrat. The Fourth District is now represented by the Republican John Fleming of Minden in Webster Parish.

For a time the U.S. District Court facility in Shreveport was named for Waggonner. When a new courthouse was subsequently constructed, Waggonner's name was left off the building. Instead the Joe D. Waggonner Lock and Dam is named for him.

A United Methodist, Waggonner is interred in the Plain Dealing Cemetery, along with his brother, Willie Waggonner, a long-term sheriff of Bossier Parish.


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