Scalise leads in campaign funds
WASHINGTON — Chatting in the office of National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican, Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise is comfortable discussing his rising role in the GOP.
Scalise, a Republican from Jefferson who has held the 1st District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2008, is the NRCC’s vice chairman of recruitment, charged with finding new congressional candidates nationwide. He is also eyeing the chairmanship of the staunchly conservative congressional Republican Study Committee.
Scalise, 46, touts his friendships with powerful party leaders such as U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and says he shares their focus on federal spending and defeating President Barack Obama.
But he insists his first priorities are to his own congressional district in southeastern Louisiana and his own re-election Nov. 6.
He is facing four opponents; none are well financed enough to remotely approach the $815,000 in campaign spending money Scalise had as of late July.
He says his “No. 1 priority” was the RESTORE Act, which Obama signed into law in July. The law could ultimately direct billions of dollars in BP oil leak fine funds into coastal protection work in Louisiana by sending 80 percent of the money to the five Gulf Coast states.
“We were able to get that done in a very tough climate,” Scalise said.
While the legislation was originally sponsored by U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., Scalise led the fight on the House side. The next step, he said, is ensuring the spending is done right.
“We’ve seen windfalls blown in the past,” Scalise said.
Redistricting based on the U.S. census reshaped Scalise’s constituency. A district that was largely based on the New Orleans suburbs in St. Tammany and Jefferson parishes now also extends to more coastal areas in Terrebonne, Lafourche, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes.
Nationally and for Louisiana, though, Scalise said he is focused on the economy and federal spending.
“I came to Congress to fight to get back on track to control spending,” Scalise said. “I think the stakes are even higher considering what President Obama has done.”
Critics contend Scalise and the other U.S. House Republicans are forcing much more gridlock in Washington than ever. Scalise counters that “at least the House has started to hold the line.”
Scalise also must walk the tightrope of pushing for substantially decreased federal spending while also asking for more dollars for Louisiana, particularly through the RESTORE Act and revenue sharing of offshore oil production in the Gulf.
“All we’re asking is for Louisiana to be treated fairly,” he said. “Not only is it the right thing to do, but is it right for the federal government to profit off disasters in the Gulf?”
Kirby Goidel, a political analyst and director of the LSU Public Policy Research Lab, said Scalise is a shoo-in for election given the conservative nature of the 1st District, his name recognition and his fundraising advantages — unless he becomes embroiled in a sudden scandal.
“And even then he still might not lose,” Goidel said with a laugh.
Opponents M.V. “Vinny” Mendoza, D-Ponchatoula, and Arden Wells, No Party-Ponchatoula, have tried and failed multiple times in the past for political office. Guitar teacher and radio host Gary King is the only Republican challenging Scalise. David “Turk” Turknett, No Party-Galliano, said he is in the race largely to get his voice heard on coastal restoration and protection needs while also representing the new parts of the district.
“They don’t have enough money and enough recognition,” Goidel said. “I would definitely be shocked” if any of them forced Scalise into a runoff.
Political campaigns are nothing new for Scalise.
He caught the politics bug early as a college student in LSU student government and spent much of his 20s volunteering on local political campaigns while working as a computer systems analyst.
He was 30 when first elected to the Louisiana Legislature, then moved up to the state Senate.
After flirting with and backing off a congressional run against Bobby Jindal, Scalise successfully won that seat in Washington after Jindal was elected governor.
While Scalise has largely steered clearly of trouble or personal controversy, he has made waves with his strongly conservative views on the hot-button issue of climate change and global warming.
Scalise has opposed legislation to reduce carbon emissions. He maintains there is not clear evidence to suggest humans are at least contributing to climate change, though the vast majority of scientists in the field would disagree.
“You don’t change policy on incomplete science,” Scalise said. “I haven’t seen that consensus.”
Three years ago, Scalise had a heated exchange former vice president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore. Gore told Scalise “there are people who still believe that the moon landing was staged on a movie lot in Arizona.”
Scalise shot back, “I know you like those cutesy anecdotes, but this is not a cutesy issue.”
Now Scalise prefers to shift the discussion away from science and on to policy.
He argues there is little point in placing too many cost-increasing regulations on industry in the U.S. when doing so will simply cause corporations to move out of the country and build plants in places like India and Brazil, where there are fewer anti-pollution regulations.
Essentially, the U.S. should not take the lead until the issues can be resolved globally, he said.
“It ain’t like it’s not happening” elsewhere, Scalise said.