Analysis: Louisiana Delegation Rebuilding Clout In Congress
BATON ROUGE (AP) — After taking repeated blows to its clout in Congress, Louisiana is starting to build up political power again in Washington, at least in the U.S. House.
Rep. Steve Scalise is the third-ranking Republican in the chamber and a strong ally of President-elect Donald Trump, and Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond just won election as head of the Congressional Black Caucus.
That could help lessen the blow of having two new House members who will be last in seniority, selected in Saturday's election after all the other members of Congress around the country were settled last month.
But Louisiana's position in the Senate is less strong, with a very junior delegation.
The state's soon-to-be senior senator, Republican Bill Cassidy, has been in office only two years after his 2014 defeat of Democrat Mary Landrieu, who held the job 18 years. A newbie — either Republican John Kennedy or Democrat Foster Campbell — will fill the other Senate seat when the new term begins in January, because Republican David Vitter didn't seek re-election after 12 years in the position.
It's a far cry from the state's congressional heyday, when Russell Long had an iron-clad grip on the Senate Finance Committee for more than a decade, when Hale Boggs was House majority leader or when John Breaux was a go-to negotiator for presidents seeking deals in the Senate.
For many years, Louisiana regularly had congressional delegations that any state could envy for their power. But since 2005, Louisiana's seen significant turnover, with members leaving office and taking valuable chairmanships and years of experience with them.
Republican Billy Tauzin was at the center of high-profile national issues as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Democrat Breaux had been a key Senate moderate who crossed party lines to broker deals. Republican Richard Baker had more than 20 years in the House when he left for a lobbying job, and Republican Jim McCrery's retirement took with it his position as a top member on the House Ways and Means Committee.
Plus, Louisiana's delegation has lessened in size, with the state losing two House seats since the early 1990s because of lagging population growth.
Longevity can often determine choice committee assignments and access to deal-making in Congress.
The dean of the state's congressional delegation is Scalise, R-Metairie, the House majority whip, who will enter his fifth two-year term in January. That's not a long time in the world of Washington politics, but he's moved into a position of power fairly quickly.
Two of the state's congressmen, Republicans Charles Boustany and John Fleming, are both leaving office after failed bids for the open Senate job. With Boustany goes a seat on the Ways and Means Committee and his chairmanship of its tax policy subcommittee.
Two others in the state's six-member House delegation, Republicans Ralph Abraham and Garret Graves, have only served two years. Richmond, D-New Orleans, the lone Democrat in the delegation, was first elected to Congress in 2010 and will enter his fourth term next year.
Like his friend Scalise, Richmond advanced quickly, winning election last week as chairman of the 49-member Congressional Black Caucus for the new term, an influential position among Democrats and in policy debates.
As he congratulated Richmond, Scalise noted the boost it will give Louisiana: "This new leadership role is not only important for Cedric's increased influence in Washington, his success also makes our state's congressional delegation even stronger as we work together on the issues important to the people of Louisiana."
The head of Louisiana's Democratic Party, state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, agreed.
"Louisiana just got a bigger seat at the table at this most critical time in our country's history, and if I know Congressman Richmond, he'll be sure to stand up for our issues and make our voices heard," Peterson said in a statement.
Louisiana's digging out of the devastation of multiple floods, struggling through an economic downturn and trying to keep itself from eroding away. The state could use all the congressional clout it can get.
– by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte