WASHINGTON — As the taxicab traveled from the airport toward the District of Columbia on Wednesday, Vance McAllister caught his first-ever glimpse of the U.S. Capitol dome in the skyline.
“Wow, that’s it right there, huh,” McAllister said. “I’ve seen her on TV. Pretty amazing we’re about to be where the world revolves.”
It’s a sight he almost missed. He narrowly made his 6 a.m. flight from Monroe on his first trip, ever, to the nation’s capital.
McAllister, a Republican from Swartz, becomes the newest and youngest member of the Louisiana congressional delegation after he is sworn in Thursday. McAllister, 39, won the 5th Congressional District seat on Saturday, running in his first political race as an underdog with an anti-establishment campaign.
The oil-and-gas businessman had never visited Washington and never run for elected office before. He mostly self-funded his campaign in defeating state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, with a surprising 60 percent of the votes cast.
Quickly after the election, he was interviewed by Fox News, MSNBC and, on Wednesday, he also was followed around by The New York Times.
The quirk is that he was endorsed by the Robertson clan of “Duck Dynasty” fame. McAllister acknowledges that he has become known as the “ ‘Duck Dynasty’ candidate,” but says a lot more went into the race.
After surviving a cab ride, during which a red light was run and pedestrian almost hit, McAllister got out and quickly met U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., who happened to be walking by. Schock welcomed his new colleague to “the Hill” and suggested he listen to his new chief of staff.
McAllister is a political novice and he’s new to Washington. But he already hired 10 members from the staff of former Congressman Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, including chief of staff Adam Terry, to quickly teach him up.
McAllister entered his new office — Alexander’s old one — and saw that several LSU and Louisiana-themed decorations were left behind. He also learned that former President Gerald Ford once had the same office as a lawmaker.
“That’s pretty neat,” he said, calling the whole experience “humbling” — a word he repeated frequently.
McAllister was surprised to learn about the series of underground tunnels and subway trains that connect the Capitol with all of the House and Senate office buildings. He said he also didn’t realize that the Pentagon is in Virginia, not D.C. But he’s quickly learning.
“I’m not overwhelmed, not yet,” he said. “I’m kind of anxious to get to work.”
“The hardest part is going to be figuring out the people I’m working with,” he said, adding that he is naturally “trusting” so he will have to figure out everyone’s “angle.”
“I’m here to do what’s right” and not be a part of some “fraternity,” McAllister said. “I’m not here to enjoy the social life of being a congressman.”
Because he hasn’t been sworn in yet, McAllister had to acquire a visitor’s pass to enter the Capitol for the first time.
Upon entering the giant Rotunda of the Capitol, he muttered, “Wow, look at that.”
Later, in the old chambers that held the Senate from 1810 to 1860, he said, “You think about it, but, until you’re standing here, you don’t really feel it.”
Walking past the office of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, McAllister, on a whim, decided to try and squeeze in to introduce himself. Unfortunately, Boehner wasn’t there.
“I’ll stop by and holler at him,” McAllister said with a smile.
McAllister said his successful and “most diverse” campaign attracted support from Christian conservatives, Democrats, business leaders and, of course, his longtime friends, the Robertsons.
He also said he ran a positive campaign, while Riser attacked him and tried to tie him to President Barack Obama in commercials and mailers.
“Daddy, you’re with the president,” McAllister recalled one of his daughters saying after receiving one of Riser’s mailers.
“I really think he (Riser) was a victim of negative campaign politics,” McAllister said, calling Riser a “great guy.”
But McAllister went out of his way to say those who advised that Riser go negative should be “run out of Louisiana” for failing to represent Louisiana values.
One of Riser’s top consultants was Timmy Teepell, who is Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief political adviser.
Although McAllister had never visited Washington before, it’s not like he’s never left Louisiana. He served a tour in South Korea with the U.S. Army and his longtime job with Mustang Engineering took him around the world. He was traveling in Los Angeles, he said, when he was about to decide to run for Congress.
McAllister said he’s worn out and short on sleep, but he’s also looking forward to his family arriving in Washington for the swearing in.
He wants to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, but then said, “It’s really going to be whatever the kids want to see.”