Edwin E. Willis
|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|
October 2, 1904|
St. Landry Parish
|Died||October 24, 1972
St. Martin Parish, Louisiana
|Resting place||St. Michael's Cemetery in St. Martinville, Louisiana|
|Spouse(s)||Estelle Bulliard Willis|
|Alma mater||St. Martinville High School
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 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. 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, especially compared to longtime colleagues Otto E. Passman of Monroe and Joe D. Waggonner of Plain Dealing, but not nearly as liberal as that of Gillis Long, 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 Conservative 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 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 in St. Martinville and is interred there in St. Michael's Cemetery, which is owned by the St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church.
Edwin Edward Willis died the same year that a Louisiana legend became governor: Edwin Edwards. 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.
- Edwin E. Willis at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved March 10, 2006.
|United States 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