Cassidy using grass-roots campaign
WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy worked as a physician at Earl K. Long Medical Center treating the indigent — and still does — and he said he got more and more frustrated seeing politicians “overpromise and underfund” and not come through for their constituents.
That “frustration,” he said, became his motivation to run for office and it is why he said he is running for re-election Nov. 6 — so he can help make major changes to health care, the federal deficit and other issues on a national level.
“There are important issues before our country and our own state, in particular,” said Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, citing health care, energy production and coastal restoration as his top priorities.
Cassidy’s redrawn 6th congressional district now loses some of the region, such as northern Baton Rouge and chunks of West Baton Rouge, Ascension and St. James parishes. But the district moves farther south to snatch up parts of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes and more because of redistricting.
His only opponents are Libertarian Rufus Craig and no party newcomer Richard “RPT” Torregano, both of whom are from Baton Rouge and have little financial backing.
As such, despite more than a large $1.8 million war chest as of the end of June, Cassidy is only running a “grass-roots campaign” with town halls, yard signs and saving his campaign funds for 2014.
“It’s the opportunity to go out and meet voters,” he said of the grass-roots effort. “It’s a valuable time.”
“Whatever we do in 2014 — whether it’s re-election or whatever — we’ll have savings for that,” he said.
That “whatever” is the big question because it is largely believed Cassidy will challenge — or at least strongly consider challenging — Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., for her seat in the upper chamber, said Kirby Goidel, political analyst and director of the LSU Public Policy Research Lab.
“You’ve got to believe he’s thinking about the Senate seat,” Goidel said. “When you’re raising that kind of money and actively campaigning, it’s pretty clear he’s at least eyeing (a higher office).”
Cassidy first began easing into politics in the 1990s when he led the health care reform faction of the East Baton Rouge Parish Medical Society’s and became the society’s president.
He planned to run for the state Senate in 1999 but backed out before qualifying. Family, time, money and political backing all played a role in that decision to nix a campaign. “All that I did not take into account when I considered running,” he said.
But much better planning was utilized in 2006, when he did successfully win a seat in the state Senate. Less than two years later, he eyed Congress.
Cassidy was elected in 2008 in a tight race that was made easier for him when state legislator Michael Jackson switched from a Democrat to “no party” to qualify for the runoff. That move split the vote Democratic vote against short-term incumbent Don Cazayoux, D-New Roads, and aided Cassidy. Since then, Cassidy has faced little opposition for re-election.
After running as a strong conservative though, some far-right conservative organizations have begun to paint Cassidy as moving closer to middle ideologically in vote rankings and political scorecards.
Cassidy calls such scorecards ridiculous for someone who is 100 percent anti-abortion rights, who has National Rifle Association support and who has never voted for a tax increase.
“I don’t think I’ve evolved at all,” he said. “I continue to think, when it comes to the constant struggle between individual freedom and government, I’m going to side with the individual.”
That said, “I’m very aware there’s some problems that are too big for a person to solve by himself of herself. Coastal restoration is going to take a concerted effort.”
Now that Congress in the last two years has moved away from congressional earmarks and the “bring home the bacon” mentality, Cassidy said, congressional members can focus more on large-scale national issues.
That said, Cassidy said he would welcome a limited return of earmarks. The “middle ground” would keep the abuse weeded out, he said, while allowing members of Congress to direct some funds to their districts rather than allowing the president to make such calls.
But Cassidy’s biggest pet project for now is Medicaid reform for the needy. Even during the congressional recess, Cassidy is making some return trips to Washington, D.C., to reach out to Democratic aides to see if he can find “common ground” on his Medicaid Accountability and Care Act.
The intent of the complicated issue is to change the way the nation finances Medicaid and insert more incentives for creating quality health programs while weeding out fraud, he said. He wants to change Medicaid financing so states will not be able to just use the federal government as a blank check for matching funds. Instead, the bill proposes distributing funds on a per-capita basis to states based on the number of Medicaid enrollees in four categories: The elderly, blind or disabled, children and adults.
Cassidy remains a strong critic of President Barack Obama’s health care law — the “Unaffordable Care Act” as Cassidy calls it. The president had a lot of what he thought were “great ideas” to insure more people, Cassidy said, yet Obama fell short on how to implement and pay for such ideas.
“When they put it together, it’s the wrong policy,” Cassidy said.
That is why he said he wants more time in Congress to work on the big issues of the day.
“As long as it’s still OK with my family, I’ll run for re-election,” he said.