|James H. "Jimmy" Wilson|
Louisiana State Representative for District 1 (northern Caddo Parish)
|Preceded by||Don Williamson|
|Succeeded by||Bruce Newton Lynn, I|
Mayor of Vivian, Caddo Parish
|Preceded by||Earl Williamson|
|Succeeded by||James Whitfield Williamson|
|Political party||Democrat-turned Republican (1978)|
|Spouse(s)|| (1) Joan Quinby Wilson (divorced)|
(2) Ann Beebe Wilson (divorced)
|Children|| All from first marriage:|
Amanda Wilson Murry
(2) After a term in the Louisiana House of Representatives, Wilson lost out to Don Williamson in a race for the state Senate in 1975.
(3) Wilson was among hundreds of Louisiana Democrats who switched to Republican affiliation as he waged his first race for the United States House of Representatives in 1978. He lost out to Anthony Claude Leach, Jr., himself a businessman and a former state legislator.
(4) Wilson found that a close and disputed vote in 1978 would not translate into electoral success two years later, when he waged his second congressional campaign in 1980. Victory went to a future governor, Buddy Roemer.
James H. Wilson, known as Jimmy Wilson (January 31, 1931 – November 19, 1986), was a pro-business Democratic state representative from Vivian in Caddo Parish in the far northwestern portion of Louisiana. His single term extended from 1972 to 1976. He is most remembered in politics for having switched affiliation to the Republican Party in 1978 and then coming within 266 disputed votes of winning a historically Democratic seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. The congressional seat turned Republican in 1988 and is currently represented by Mike Johnson, a conservative from Bossier Parish.
Wilson was born in Carlsbad in Eddy County near the famous Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southeastern New Mexico, to Hamilton Paul and Lola C. Wilson, both natives of Louisiana. He was reared in Vivian and graduated in 1949 from Vivian High School, now North Caddo High School. Thereafter, he entered the U.S. Army, attained the rank of sergeant, and served during the Korean War. After military service, he obtained a bachelor's degree in 1954 from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, at which he was a member of Kappa Sigma.
A successful businessman, Wilson owned two supermarkets, including the Big Star in Vivian, and he was chairman of the board of the state-chartered Citizens Bank and Trust Company of Vivian, which also has a Shreveport branch. In 1972, Wilson helped to form the Peoples Bank & Trust Company of Blanchard, also in Caddo Parish. While a conflict of interest by virtue of his activities with the bank in Vivian prevented him from serving on the board in Blanchard as well, he did own stock in the Blanchard bank, and as a legislator he was able to get the state charter approved. Wilson was a Shriner.
Entering local politics
Wilson was elected mayor of Vivian in 1966 and served until 1972, when he assumed the District 1 seat in the state legislature. When Wilson won the Democratic nomination for the state House seat, the Republican candidate, Bruce Newton Lynn, I, withdrew in favor of Wilson, with whom he had served on the North Caddo Parish Hospital Board. Lynn described Wilson as a "very successful" mayor and a popular Vivian grocer. He was also an avid golfer and was often seen on the links at the Monterey Country Club in Vivian. Wilson was succeeded as mayor by James Whitfield Williamson, a son of Earl Williamson, whom Wilson had followed in the position of mayor. Earl Williamson was also a veteran Caddo Parish Police Jury member. James Williamson, like Jimmy Wilson, was affiliated with the Citizen's Bank board.
Wilson was considered a conservative reformer during his term in the legislature. He was one of the leading supporters of the right-to-work law that was adopted shortly after he left the legislature. Wilson also worked to deregulate the milk industry. In 1975, Wilson, still a Democrat, ran for the state Senate but lost in the general election to Democratic incumbent and later Republican Donald Wayne "Don" Williamson, then of Vivian and another son of Earl Williamson and a brother of James Williamson. Don Williamson defeated Wilson in part by reminding voters that Wilson had a high rate of absenteeism while in the state House. "He did not vote for you. Why should you vote for him," proclaimed the Williamson advertisements. Bruce Lynn after waiting out a term won Wilson's House seat by a narrow margin in the 1975 general election.
1978 congressional primary
Wilson switched parties to run for Congress: "I have never voted for a Democrat for President, and the only way for the Republican Party to grow is for Democrats to switch over." He quickly emerged as the leading Republican candidate in the new Louisiana nonpartisan blanket primary format to choose a successor to retiring Democratic Representative Joe Waggonner of Plain Dealing. Wilson did not switch parties until after Waggonner declared that he would not seek reelection. The Republican leadership, under state chairman George Despot of Shreveport, considered endorsing either state Representatives Arthur W. "Art" Sour (1924-2000) of Shreveport, or Bruce Lynn, or a younger prospect, Bossier City council member Chester J. "Buzz" Wojecki. The party finally decided in caucus to anoint Wilson as the candidate most electable in the historically Democratic district.
Several leading Democrats entered the field, including banker/businessmanand later Governor Buddy Roemer, state Representative Claude Anthony "Buddy" Leach of Leesville, state Representative and former FBI agent Loy Weaver of Homer in Claiborne Parish, and Rogers M. Prestridge, the municipal judge of Bossier City.
Primary campaigning centered on the "Big Four" in the race: Republican Wilson and Democrats Roemer, Leach, and Weaver, with Prestridge in a distant fifth position. Each candidate relied heavily on television to present his message, and each promised to continue the kind of constituent services provided for the previous seventeen years by Waggonner.
Waggonner said that he would remain neutral, but shortly before the primary he criticized Roemer's suggestion that the Red River navigation program might have to be scaled down or delayed as a means to fight excessive government spending and inflation. Political observers regarded Waggonner's criticism of Roemer as a factor in Roemer's failure to obtain a general election berth. For years, the Louisiana delegation, particularly Waggonner and Democratic U.S. Senators J. Bennett Johnston, Jr., and Russell Long, had worked to make the river navigable from Shreveport through Alexandria and south to Simmesport, on the Avoyelles and Pointe Coupee parish border.
Wilson had the enthusiastic support of the national and state Republican organizations. Four recognized Republican names appeared on his behalf, including former President Gerald Ford, former Governor Ronald W. Reagan of California, former Texas Governor and former Treasury Secretary John B. Connally, Jr., and former Texas U.S. Representative George Herbert Walker Bush, later the 41st U.S. President. He also won the backing of his state House Democratic colleague, Richard Harmon Drew, Sr. (1917-1995), of Minden.
Leach, who carried the support of influential State Representative Walter O. Bigby, a Vernon Parish native living in Bossier City led in the primary with 35,010 votes (26.9 percent). Wilson trailed by .1 percent, with 34,841 ballots (26.8 percent). Roemer finished third with 33,302 votes (25.6 percent). Roemer hence lost a general election berth by some 1,500 votes. Weaver, who had the backing of The Shreveport Times and former Caddo Parish Sheriff James M. Goslin, finished fourth with 17,396 votes (13.4 percent). The other candidates, including Judge Prestridge, trailed far behind.
Leach v. Wilson
The general election promised from the start to be a closely contested event. Wilson was clearly the "business" candidate, and Leach was the choice of "moderates," including African Americans and organized labor. Blacks then comprised 31 percent of voters in the 4th congressional district and were expected to be decisive in the outcome of the race, the first competitive one since the initial election of Waggonner I n 1961 over the Republican Charlton Lyons. Ironically, Leach's later congressional voting record was clearly on the "conservative" side, like that of his predecessor Waggonner, not on the "moderate" side as most observers had anticipated.
While Wilson was seen as "conservative," he tried to avoid racial polarization. He pointed out that he had sent his children to a desegregated public school in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Wilson made campaign fodder of Leach's support of numerous state tax increases, but that issue may have increased Leach's favorability ratings among public sector employees, who believe that they benefit from tax hikes.
At a Democratic unity rally in Shreveport in October 1978, Waggonner joined Governor Edwin Edwards and Senator Russell Long in endorsing Leach over Wilson. Many believed that the endorsement by Waggonner did more to elect Leach than anything else that happened in the campaign. The defunct Shreveport Journal]] reported that Waggonner decided to endorse Leach because he had become irritated with Ford's decision to come to Shreveport to lend personal support to the Wilson campaign. The Journal said that Waggonner resented national Republican influence in the Democratic Fourth District even though Waggonner had been personally and politically close to both former Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald Ford.
The outcome of the Leach-Wilson race remained uncertain for weeks, but the official state returns, as ultimately accepted by the Democratic Congress, declared Leach the winner by 266 votes: 65,583 (50.1 percent) to 65,317 (49.9 percent). Wilson secured majorities only in Caddo and Bossier parishes, where he drew 55.1 percent and 54.4 percent, respectively. Wilson polled 47.4 percent in Webster Parish, 45.1 percent in Claiborne Parish, and 44.1 percent in Sabine Parish. In three other parishes, Wilson trailed far behind, 38.9 percent in Red River Parish (Coushatta), 37.5 percent in De Soto Parish (Mansfield), and 32.7 percent in Leach's Vernon Parish.
Wilson refuses to concede defeat
Having come so close, Wilson refused to accept defeat, and he continued to challenge Leach's victory. The Republicans supporting Wilson maintained that Leach won on the basis of votes having been bought by the Democrats in Vernon Parish, especially in the predominantly black section of Leesville known as "The Crossing." Wilson's challenge led to twenty-two persons pleading guilty to vote-buying on Leach's behalf in 1979 court litigation. Two others were convicted on similar charges. Leach himself was acquitted on November 3, 1979, by a federal district court in Lake Charles on bribery charges stemming from the 1978 general election. The U.S. Justice Department later dropped similar charges against Leach dealing with the 1978 primary.
The U.S. House appointed a special subcommittee of the Administration Committee to investigate Wilson's charges against Leach. On December 20, 1979, the subcommittee voted 2-1 on party lines to dismiss Wilson's petition, which charged that voters were paid on Leach's behalf in sufficient numbers to alter the outcome of the general election. Two Democrats, John Burton of San Francisco and Joseph Minish of New Jersey, voted to dismiss, but the Republican Robert Badham of California favored continuance. Wilson claimed that he lost the general election because 440 votes were bought in Vernon Parish, but the Democratic majority on the subcommittee said that the available evidence showed only 66 votes were bought, a number insufficient to alter the outcome.
In February 1980, the House Administration Committee voted 11-7 to reject Wilson's call for the unseating of Leach. The vote mirrored party alignment, with all Democrats voting to dismiss, and each Republican favoring continuance of the investigation. Finally, on March 4, 1980, the full House voted 241-153 to drop Wilson's challenge. Leach's Democratic colleagues from Louisiana, Thomas Gerald "Jerry" Huckaby, Gillis William Long, John Breaux, and Lindy Boggs all voted to dismiss, but the three Louisiana Republican congressmen, David C. Treen, William Henson Moore, and Robert L. "Bob" Livingston abstained. A handful of Republicans voted with Leach, and a handful of Democrats sided with Wilson's allegations.
Running again in 1980
Rebuffed by Congress, Wilson announced on April 30, 1980, Statehood Day in Louisiana, that he would challenge Leach in the 1980 nonpartisan blanket primary. A Shreveport Journal showed Wilson with a slim lead at the time in a potential re-run of a race against Leach. There was, however, a large bloc of uncommitted voters. Wilson said that he expected to raise and spend $500,000 for the second race because national Republicans had again targeted the 4th district as one of thirty-five in the nation where the GOP stood a chance of winning a Democratic seat. Wilson said in his announcement for the 1980 race that he had gone "as far as we could in the Congress with the vote-fraud problems. I think it's now to be left up to the voters of the Fourth District to decide if there was voter fraud in the election. That will happen this fall. ... The Democrats have allowed convicted felons to serve in Congress. The Democrats wouldn't pay any attention to our forty names of bought votes. Then on top of that, Brilab [a congressional scandal]. That makes me think that people are fed up with that kind of thing in Congress."
In addition to Wilson and Leach, Roemer also ran again in 1980. So did State Representative Forrest Dunn of Shreveport, a furniture store owner known for fiscal conservatism and frank expression of ideas who had supported President Ford overGeorgia's Jimmy Carter in 1976. Dunn's entry was believed to have attracted the same kinds of voters who might have otherwise preferred the Republican Wilson. Another entry was the moderate-to-liberal and highly ambitious Democratic state Senator Foster Lonnie Campbell, Jr., of Bossier Parish, a former educator who had succeeded the conservative Harold Montgomery in the District 36 Senate seat in 1976. Near the end of the first phase of the campaign, Campbell had questioned Roemer's commitment to the Second Amendment.
Former Democratic State Senator Cecil Kay Carter, Jr., who served Caddo Parish from 1972 to 1976, threw his hat into the ring as well. In the September 1980 primary, Leach led with 35,847 votes (28.9 percent). Roemer was second with 33,049 (26.8 percent). Wilson finished third with 29,992 (24.4 percent). Campbell polled 14,666 votes (11.9 percent), and Dunn received 8,208 ballots (6.7 percent). Carter ran last with 1,329 (1 percent). As predicted by some Republicans, Dunn polled more than enough votes to keep Wilson from a first- or second-place primary finish, presuming that Dunn voters' second choice in most cases would have been Wilson.
After he was eliminated from the race, Wilson endorsed Roemer.
The "sore loser" phenomenon
Ultimately, however, Roemer defeated Leach in an all-Democratic general election under Louisiana law, held simultaneously with the Reagan-Carter presidential race. Wilson, despite the vote-buying allegations that had ruined his chances in 1978, hence failed to gain a spot in the general election. Wilson's defeat was no anomaly. He was mistaken if he thought that voters would reward him in 1980 on the basis of his having been the victim of election theft in 1978. In other situations too, voters have rejected candidates who were defeated by questionable means in previous elections. Some see them as "sore losers". Other voters may not want to be reminded of past election chicanery. Still other voters oppose the candidate for reasons of their own, both personal and policy-related.
Wilson's untimely death
Wilson's congressional defeats ended his political career. He was twice divorced. Soon his health broke, and he died of cancer. Survivors included four children from his first marriage to the former Joan "Joannie" Quinby (born February 3, 1934) of Vivian: two sons, Hamilton Paul Wilson, II (namesake of his grandfather), and James Michael Wilson, both then of Vivian, and two daughters, Amanda Wilson Murry of Vivian and Melissa Wilson Brown, then of Washington, D.C.; his mother Lola Wilson; three sisters, Jean Brown, Mimi Cochran, and Peggy Wilson, and four grandchildren. Wilson's second wife was the former Shreveport newswoman Ann Beebe.
Services were held in the Vivian United Methodist Church. Wilson was cremated.
1. "Republicans meet executives," Minden Press-Herald, April 14, 1978, p. 1.
2. Shreveport Journal, November 8, 1978, p. 4A.
3. Louisiana Secretary of State, Congressional election returns, 1978.
4. "Wilson endorses Roemer," Minden Press-Herald, September 19, 1980, p. 1.
Wilson obituary, The Shreveport Times, November 20, 1986
'Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, October 14, 1978, 2839; February 23, 1980, 572.
The Shreveport Journal, October 25, 1978; November 8, 1978; December 21, 1979; March 5, 1980; March 7, 1980; May 1, 1980; June 10, 1980.
The Shreveport Times, September 13, 1978; November 4, 1979; March 5, 1980; March 23, 1980; July 1, 1980.