Jun 19, 201708:00 AM
The Editor's Room
Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde
Scalise: The Evolution of a Team Player
Here’s how important Steve Scalise being in Congress is to Louisiana. There are currently eight men representing the state in Washington; six congressmen and two senators. Of the eight, six have only been in their present position since 2015; three of those were elected this year.
If you are not familiar with Clay Higgins and Mike Johnson don’t feel alone. They were the winners of the congressional elections last Fall to replace incumbents Charles Boustaney and John Fleming, who ran for David Vitter’s Senate seat but lost.
Within the Louisiana delegation, Steve Scalise has the most service time in Washington, having been elected in 2008. (Bill Cassidy, though only in his second year in the Senate served in the House since 2009.) Cedric Richmond runs third – his career in Washington began in 2011.
Curiously, Scalise's tenure in Washington could have begun earlier had it not been for party loyalty back home. From the time he was first elected to the Metairie-area State House of Representative’s district back in 1995, Scalise was seen as a future congressman. But the careers of two other very ambitious politicians got in the way. One was David Vitter, who was the party’s anointed candidate for the District 1 Congressional seat in 1999 when incumbent Bob Livingston resigned because of a sex scandal. Later, when Vitter was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004 that seemed to open the way for Scalise, but, not so fast. The state Republican brass was excited by young Bobby Jindal, who seemed to be on a fast track to the presidency with perhaps a pit stop in Baton Rouge. Scalise, who had already announced his candidacy for the congressional seat, deferred and supported Jindal, who at the time did not even live in the district. The win gave Jindal an elected office to complement his whiz kid reputation and to open the way for his gubernatorial ambitions.
Had Jindal not run for the District 1 seat everyone would be better off. His subsequent time as governor is poorly regarded. His presidential campaign never got anywhere and certainty has no promise for the future. Most of all, Scalise could have had a four year head start providing the seniority-starved state even more experience.
Once he got to Washington, Scalise certainly made up for lost time. His big break came in 2014 when Republican Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader, was defeated for re-election. That opened the way for Kevin McCarthy, the party’s Whip to run successfully for Cantor’s Majority position. Scalise eyed the now opened Whip’s job, ran and won, making him, behind the Speaker and the Majority Leader, the third ranking member of congress. He is at the throttle behind whatever legislative strength Louisiana has.
Over the weekend doctors gave a guardedly optimistic report about Scalise’s recovery, including mention that he should be able to “run again.” We’re not sure if they meant for re-election or on the baseball diamond, either way no one will get in his way again.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and at book websites.