Richmond reaching out beyond N.O.
WASHINGTON — Democratic U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond is a known commodity in his hometown of New Orleans and has made a name for himself in Washington, D.C., as the most valuable player of the congressional baseball game for two years running.
But now the freshman congressman is reaching out to the Baton Rouge area and the River Parishes because his newly redrawn 2nd Congressional District will stretch from New Orleans to northern Baton Rouge.
“I’m excited about it,” Richmond said, noting that the district will cover much of the state’s two largest cities, including much of the Interstate 10 corridor and its ports and industry.
“It’s going to be the largest port complex in the world,” Richmond said. “We really hold the key for the future of economic development in Louisiana.”
Richmond, 39, faces four opponents in his Nov. 6 bid for reelection. None of them are well financed compared with Richmond.
“I’m surprised by the number,” Richmond said. “However, I anticipated having to run a race. I’m confident that we’ll do well.”
Among his opponents are Republican Dwayne Bailey, of Donaldsonville, and Democrat Gary Landrieu, of New Orleans, who both have unsuccessfully run for other political offices. Landrieu is a cousin of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. Also in the race are newcomer Libertarian Caleb Trotter, of New Orleans, and the mysterious Josue Larose, R-New Orleans, who may or may not reside in the state, has not returned numerous messages and has qualified for many political races in Florida.
Kirby Goidel, a political analyst and director of the LSU Public Policy Research Lab, said he expects Richmond to cruise to victory without a runoff. The district, which previously was limited to the New Orleans area, remains the state’s only congressional district made up of a majority of minorities.
The north end of the new 2nd Congressional District starts in the northern Baton Rouge areas of Scotlandville and Merrydale. It crosses the Mississippi River to rope in New Roads, St. Gabriel and Donaldsonville, then heads south to include much of Assumption, St. James, St. John the Baptist and St. Charles parishes before encompassing most of New Orleans and the West Bank.
Richmond said he knows the Baton Rouge area well thanks to 11 years as a legislator in the State Capitol and after living in Baton Rouge for a while after Hurricane Katrina.
Richmond joined Congress two years ago. He was named to Time magazine’s “40 under 40” list of American politicians in 2010 along with Gov. Bobby Jindal and was chosen as one of the 50 Most Beautiful People on Capitol Hill last year in a contest run by the Roll Call newspaper.
Then there are the baseball accolades Richmond has accumulated thanks to his time as a pitcher at Morehouse College. If nothing else, Richmond said, the recognition has helped him build relationships that allow him to pass important measures, such as one increasing funding for river-dredging projects.
“Every member of Congress probably knows who I am, and if it’s because of baseball, then so be it,” Richmond said.
The congressman even credits baseball for his entry into politics at age 26, when he won a seat in the Louisiana Legislature.
The way he tells it, Richmond started playing baseball at age 4. By 16, he had begun coaching younger children, something he continued to do through his time at Tulane University’s law school.
Richmond said he decided to try his hand at politics after talking to other coaches about parks and recreation funding problems. The need for such money as a way to keep kids out of trouble became a key platform issue, he said.
Known as an often loquacious presence in the Legislature, Richmond says he now spends most of his efforts on garnering support for southern Louisiana behind the scenes. He said he is publicly vocal “when it matters” but would rather focus on substance.
“Up here with this partisan gridlock it’s — maybe not a waste of time — but a distraction,” he said of the “vocal shows just for the sake of a show.”
Richmond said he wants to increase revenue sharing for Louisiana from offshore oil drilling “to help not only the state, but the nation.” Another priority is boosting hurricane protection for areas such as the River Parishes, especially after Hurricane Isaac, he said.
He said he regularly teams up with Republicans on the Louisiana delegation for legislation that benefits the state.
While Richmond is the most liberal member of the delegation, he said he is “more conservative” on financial issues. Richmond adds that he does not believe “spending” is a dirty word and thinks being fiscally conservative means finding the best “return on investments.” Early childhood education and river-dredging projects — to name two very different issues — are both great investments, he said.
Richmond said he supports President Barack Obama and the president’s plan to maintain lower taxes for more than 97 percent of Americans, which means raising taxes on American families making $250,000 a year or more.
Richmond’s rise has not always been easy. He has been cited with a couple of ethics violations. Also, the Louisiana Supreme Court briefly suspended his law license after ruling he falsified his residency information to qualify to run for a seat on the New Orleans City Council in 2005.
Then there was a 2007 bar fight in Baton Rouge, for which he claimed self defense and received a misdemeanor citation. Richmond failed in his first congressional run for Congress against the embattled and now-incarcerated William Jefferson but won the seat in 2009.
Now, Richmond is aspiring to grow more influential in the U.S. House. He said he is hoping for a seat next year on the influential money committee, the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means.
“In Louisiana, we’ve always had influential congressmen,” Richmond said. “I have a great relationship with the White House and the Democratic leadership.”