Edwin Edward Willis
|Member of the |
U.S. House of Representatives
from Louisiana's 3rd district
January 3, 1949 – January 3, 1969
|Preceded by||James R. Domengeaux|
|Succeeded by||Patrick T. Caffery|
|Member of the Louisiana State Senate |
from Lafayette Parish
|Preceded by||Two-member district:|
Edward P. Burguieres
|Succeeded by||Bernard Trappey|
|Born||October 2, 1904|
Arnaudville, Louisiana, U.S.
|Died||October 24, 1972 (aged 68)|
St. Martinville, Louisiana, U.S.
|Resting place||St. Michael's Cemetery in St. Martinville, Louisiana|
|Spouse(s)||Estelle Bulliard Willis|
|Alma mater||St. Martinville High School|
Loyola University New Orleans College of Law
Edwin Edward Willis (October 2, 1904 – October 24, 1972) was an American politician and attorney from the U.S. state of Louisiana who was affiliated with the Long political faction. A Democrat, he served in the Louisiana State Senate during 1948 and in the United States House of Representatives from 1949 to 1969. Willis served on the U.S. House of Representative's Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).
Willis was born in Arnaudville in St. Landry Parish, the eleventh of twelve children of Olanda Willis and the former Julia Hardy. He graduated from St. Martinville High School in St. Martin Parish. In 1926, Willis obtained credentials from the law school of Loyola University College of Law in New Orleans. He began his law practice in New Orleans and also owned and operated a plantation in St. Martin Parish near Lafayette.
He was elected to the Louisiana state Senate in 1948 but served only a few months because he later in the same year won election to Congress to succeed James R. Domengeaux, who left the House to run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate. Russell B. Long won the Senate seat that Domengeaux contested.
In November 1948, Willis faced Republican opposition from a wealthy New Iberia businessman. Jean (pronounced JOHN) Paulin Duhe (1885–1961), was the president of the New Iberia National Bank, head of the Duhe-Bourgeois Sugar Company, president of the Edmundson-Duhe rice mill, third vice-president of the American Sugar Cane League, and the president of the St. Martin-Iberia-St. Mary Flood Control Association. Willis defeated Duhe, 26,587 votes (66.6 percent) to Duhe's 13,337 ballots (33.4 percent). Duhe's margin was similar to that of a previous Republican candidate in the Third District, David W. Pipes, Jr., who contested the position in 1940, when he was defeated by Domengeaux.
Willis held the congressional seat for ten terms. He was the chairman of the Committee on Un-American Activities during the 88th, 89th, and 90th congresses (1963–1969). He supported anti-communist Cold War laws, such as the McCarran-Walter Internal Security Act of 1950. Willis was in effect the last chairman of the HUAC, which was reconstituted as the Committee on Internal Security in 1969. During the 1960s, Willis viewed both the civil rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War as reflections of communist influences. Having been a signatory to the 1956 Southern Manifesto that opposed the desegregation of public schools ordered by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, he voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He also spoke out against the radicalism of the Ku Klux Klan.
In Congress, Willis sought to secure subsidies for sugar planters. He successfully sponsored legislation to obtain federal funds for the protective levee in the Morganza Spillway in Pointe Coupee Parish. With his colleagues, he fought for federal royalty payments to the State of Louisiana from tideland oil revenues.
In 1964, Willis defeated Republican Robert Angers (1919–1988), a newspaperman who published the award-winning Franklin Banner-Tribune of St. Mary Parish and in 1968 established Acadiana Profile magazine. A former Democrat, Angers switched parties in 1960 and supported the gubernatorial and presidential candidacies of Charlton Lyons and Barry Goldwater in 1964 election. Willis easily gained another term with 52,532 votes (62.3 percent) to Angers's 31,806 ballots (37.7 percent). Though he carried no parishes in his campaign, Angers nearly won in the largest parish in the district—Lafayette—where he procured 49.6 percent of the vote and outpolled Goldwater by 3.5 percentage points.
In 1966, though he had suffered a series of strokes, Willis still defeated Lafayette oilman Hall Lyons, the son of then Republican state chairman and former gubernatorial candidate Charlton Lyons of Shreveport. Willis received 46,533 votes (59.7 percent) to Lyons' 31,444 (40.3 percent). Lyons, who ran on a staunchly conservative platform, carried Iberia Parish with 51.4 percent of the vote and received 46 percent in Lafayette Parish. Hall Lyons later left the Republican Party and was the American Independent nominee for the U.S. Senate in 1972. In retrospect, 1966 was a warning to Willis about his electoral future.
Willis supported United States President Lyndon B. Johnson and Vice President Hubert Humphrey in the 1964 and 1968 campaigns. He compiled a generally liberal voting record in Congress according to Louisiana standards, similar to those of Hale Boggs of New Orleans and James H. Morrison of Hammond. Willis' record was in sharp contrast to the conservative records of longtime colleagues Otto E. Passman of Monroe and Joe D. Waggonner of Plain Dealing, and those later compiled by Speedy O. Long of Jena and John R. Rarick of St. Francisville. But Willis was not nearly as liberal as Gillis Long of Alexandria, who represented the eighth district from 1963 to 1965 and again from 1973 until his death in January 1985.
In 1968, he was denied renomination by a Moderate Democrat, Patrick T. Caffery of New Iberia. Willis' health problems may have contributed to his defeat. Caffery won the general election and held the seat until January 1973, when, having decided to retire from political office, he was succeeded by Republican leader and future Governor David C. Treen, then of suburban Jefferson Parish. Caffery did not seek a third term in 1972 and returned to his New Iberia law practice.
Willis married the former Estelle Bulliard on December 9, 1929. They had a son, Bobby Willis.
Edwin Willis died October 24, 1972 in St. Martinville and is interred there in St. Michael's Cemetery, which is owned by the St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church.
Willis died eight days after a plane carrying Hale Boggs disappeared over the Alaska wilderness. Boggs' seat was declared vacant at the beginning of the 93rd Congress. The deaths of Boggs and Willis came three months after that of longtime Senator Allen J. Ellender, who at the time was President Pro Tempore and chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee.
Edwin Edward Willis died the same year that a Louisiana legend became governor: Edwin Washington Edwards, who was Willis' Congressional colleague from Edwards' election to the 7th District seat in October 1965 through the conclusion of the 90th Congress. They were unrelated, despite the similarity of names, but each had supported the other politically over the years.
- Robert John Angers, A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography, Lafayette: Louisiana Historical Association, 1999, pp. 4-5
- State of Louisiana, Secretary of State, Election returns, November 3, 1964, U.S. House, Third District
- State of Louisiana, Secretary of State, Election returns, November 8, 1966, U.S. House, Third District
- "Edwin E. Willis", A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography, Vol. 2 (1988), p. 853.
- United States Congress. "Edwin E. Willis (id: W000559)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.. Retrieved March 10, 2006.
|U.S. House of Representatives|
| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Louisiana's 3rd congressional district
Patrick T. Caffery
Edward P. Burguieres
| Louisiana State Senator from Lafayette Parish
James R. "Jimmy" Domengeaux