Quin Hillyer: In McAllister’s quarter, Tarpley campaigns sharply

Ed Tarpley is running for Congress from central and northeast Louisiana. He might not have the highest name identification, but he has serious bona fides as a solid, thoughtful, real-world conservative.

When I was active in Louisiana Republican politics a quarter-century ago, very much as a strong conservative, I often was frustrated that too many activists who seemed to be on “my side” of intraparty disputes turned out to be less than practical and less than able to understand the difference between principle and bullheadedness. Temperamentally, some weren’t conservatives at all. They were ideologues, in the less-than-complimentary sense of the word.

Not Ed Tarpley. A purely volunteer leader at the time, Tarpley was a go-to guy in his area of the state if conservatives wanted to get good things done. His goodwill was palpable, his word was utterly reliable and his constitutional principles were clear.

He later served six years as district attorney from Grant Parish — not exactly a population center on which to base a congressional campaign but still a good microcosm of the Louisiana heartland, leaning ever-so-slightly Republican. His election victory in a “swing” parish showed obvious political skills.

Tarpley is running in the 5th Congressional District now represented by Vance McAllister — an utter embarrassment who, apparently as soon as he arrived in D.C., began sowing wild oats. As the race now stands, several conservatives are splitting the Republican vote in an otherwise reliably GOP district. Therefore, with the “non-McAllister” votes diluted, McAllister’s high name identification could carry him into a runoff with Democrat Jamie Mayo, the mayor of Monroe. It is a runoff McAllister could easily lose, due to his scandalous behavior. It is a runoff spot many conservatives hope he doesn’t achieve.

To understand the political lay of the land last week, I tracked down Tarpley, to whom I had not spoken for some 20 years. I asked him how he stands apart from his fellow candidates.

“The major issue of the campaign is, I believe, the lack of respect for the rule of law,” Tarpley said. “It’s the question of whether we are a nation of laws or a nation of men. We have a situation in which a constitutional crisis exists in our country because of the executive overreach of President Obama. There’s not a question that the president’s job is to faithfully execute the law, not make it up for himself. But Obama has ignored Congress, has sought to go around Congress, has sought to create law by executive orders and other executive actions which fly in the face of our Constitution.”

Tarpley said his legal background, especially as a district attorney, makes him uniquely qualified, among this field of candidates, to fight this battle once in Congress.

Likewise, he said his experience serving in local office — the only Republican in this race who has done so — gives him “insight into the effect on people at a local level of laws that are passed by Congress. I think that is a very important perspective for a congressman.”

On the “rule of law” question, Tarpley surely is the most outspoken candidate in the race in castigating Obama’s policies relating to the southern U.S. border.

“The fact of the matter,” he said, “is that Obama has not enforced the laws. We don’t know who is coming across. They could be criminals, they could be terrorists, they could be drug dealers. That makes it a national security issue too.”

But Tarpley hardly fits the caricature of the cold-hearted conservative. Tarpley lost his beautiful wife of 27 years, Margaret, in August 2008, after she fought debilitating illness for two years. Two of their four children were still of school age — one 11, the other 17 — leaving him as a single father.

“The children have all come through this tragedy and have all continued to grow and develop and become young people that their mother would have wanted them to become,” he said. “We are grateful for the love and care and concern we had from so many people, and from Romans chapter 8, verse 28, which sustained us.”

Ed Tarpley is a good man. His campaign bears watching.

New Orleans native Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor for National Review. You can follow him on Twitter, @QuinHillyer. His email address is qhillyer@theadvocate.com, and he blogs at blogs.theadvocate.com/quin-essential.