Alford: Same delegation, different feel

What a difference a year makes.
But you knew that already. There’s a reason why writers and others use that adage, and it happens to fit rather snugly when applied to Louisiana’s current congressional delegation.

Our federal politicos of February 2018, for example, aren’t our federal politicos of February 2019. Twelve months ago, Congressman Clay Higgins of Acadiana was cast aside by some reporters as a fringe rep and labeled as a sideshow by pundits lacking nuance.

U.S. Sen. John Kennedy was roughly six weeks away from proposing a bill to prohibit airlines from storing dogs in overhead bins, but already a darling of the Beltway press corps. Reporters never knew what Kennedy was going to say, which was why they kept asking him to say stuff.

By February 2018, only five months had passed since GOP Congressman Steve Scalise of Jefferson Parish made his triumphant return to the House. He did so while balancing recovery and rehabilitation, and while serving as the majority whip, the third most powerful post in the House.

Congressman Cedric Richmond of New Orleans was a Big Dog, too, but as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. Like Scalise, he was preparing to travel to House districts across the country for the 2018 elections, only for Democrats, not Republicans.

Looking north, Congressman Mike Johnson of Shreveport was wrapping up a seemingly quiet first term in office, albeit peppered with high-profile and well-covered appeals for civility. Congressman Ralph Abraham created buzz during February 2018 for his growing stature on the agriculture committee. He likewise generated rumors about a potential but unconfirmed run for governor.

Now let’s review the standings of those same Louisiana politicos heading into February 2019.

Known best locally as a former cop, Higgins is now a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. The panel focuses on government accountability and House Democrats are expected to use it as a launching pad to lean on the White House and President Donald Trump.

The position could translate into a bump in national media coverage for Higgins, much like the one Kennedy is still enjoying after announcing he wouldn’t run for governor. Abraham will be a part of that coverage too, because he had a seat at the negotiating table on the Farm Bill this past fall.

Sidestepping his own rumors about a gubernatorial bid, Scalise published a book and was relegated to the position of minority whip when Republicans lost the House. Richmond, meanwhile, handed over the chairmanship of the Black Caucus to Congresswoman Karen Bass of California and became assistant to the majority whip.

As for Johnson, he has stepped onto a path that was first traveled by Scalise. Johnson is now chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a conservative force in the lower chamber that was previously held by Scalise before he used it to become majority whip, a designation that ended last term.

Then there’s U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy and Congressman Garret Graves, both of Baton Rouge. They’ve been consistent in their policy efforts, with Cassidy continuing to engage on health care issues and Grave growing his role in water- and transportation-related matters.

With a couple of exceptions, Louisiana’s congressional delegation is in a much different place than it was just a year ago. The faces and personalities are the same, but political influence has shifted around a bit. This was not done by the hands of voters in the Bayou State. No, national politics have served as the culprit.

Let’s recap:

•Thanks in part to a choice committee assignment, Higgins is in a position to bolster his national media profile, much like Kennedy did as a freshman.
•Scalise and Richmond, to some extent, are swapping roles on the Hill, from the majority leadership to the minority team and from the minority to majority ranks, respectively.
•Johnson is following the route that made Scalise a force to be reckoned with last term, but it will certainly be his own journey.
•Abraham, should he qualify for governor, will soon be focused more on Louisiana-based issues, rather than federal agriculture policy.
•Louisiana voters are used to hearing about the loss of sway in our congressional delegation, not the readjusting of power. But that’s what we’re faced with at this time, and it may leave as lasting of an impact.

Jeremy Alford publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, atLaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter, or on Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.