By Jeremy Alford and Mitch Rabalais
In a move that will only bolster the reach and resources of the Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy has decided to become a board member and leading voice for the group, right alongside Attorney General Jeff Landry.
The group was formed in 2006, back when Republicans held only 38 percent of the House and Senate. That was when former U.S. Sen. David Vitter was at the helm, with Landry coming along in 2016 to recreate LCCM and take over. While heavyweights like Boysie Bollinger and Eddie Rispone are still members, Kennedy’s introduction adds a new dynamic.
When LCCM, then operating as LCRM, first made huge strides in 2007, the goal was simple — construct a Republican majority at the Capitol. This cycle, LCCM’s mission is more complex, and the endgame is no longer about party gains. Instead it’s about policy gains, and electing conservatives to the Louisiana Legislature.
So, while Kennedy has no plans to run for governor and appears to be comfortable in Washington, he has taken a hands-on interest in who gets elected to the state House and Senate. As for what his endgame might be, only time will tell.
Counting The Cash From Capitol Hill
While political journalists in Louisiana have been focused on the money flowing into and out of the fall election for governor, April also marked an important filing deadline on the federal level.
It basically meant that the state’s congressional delegation had to show their hands.
Here’s a brief download on the dough that was reported to the Federal Election Commission:
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, who is up for re-election next November, reported having nearly $3.5 million on hand. The senior senator raised more than $845,000 in the first quarter of 2019 and spent roughly $163,000. Cassidy’s campaign is not carrying any debt.
U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, who will not be on the ballot until 2022, reported having over $3.2 million on hand. The junior senator raised slightly more than $300,000 in the first quarter of 2019 and spent $73,100. Kennedy’s campaign is not carrying any debt.
In the first quarter of 2019, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, lived up to his reputation as one of the most prolific fundraisers on Capitol Hill. His campaign account has nearly $2.6 million in the bank, and the Whip raised more than $2.5 million. It is worth noting that Scalise’s expenditures ran over $1.7 million. His other money operation, the Scalise Leadership Fund, took in nearly $3 million as well. Neither Scalise’s campaign nor his leadership PAC is carrying any debt.
Assistant House Majority Whip Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, reported having just over $447,000 on hand. According to the reports, the New Orleans pitching ace raised roughly $107,000 and spent about $127,000 during the quarter. Richmond’s campaign has $8,000 of debt on the books.
House Republican Study Committee Chair Mike Johnson, R-Shreveport, has over $548,000 in the bank, having raised roughly $238,000 during the first quarter of 2019. Johnson’s expenditures were slightly less than $100,000. He is not carrying any debt.
Congressman Clay Higgins, R-Port Barre, said that he had nearly $80,000 on hand. Higgins, who fought off multiple challengers in 2018, raised almost $90,000 in the first quarter. Higgins reported around $50,000 in expenditures and has no debt. Higgins also raised some eyebrows this quarter by forming a joint fundraising committee with Congressman Brian Babin of Texas. The Babin-Higgins Victory Fund has yet to start bringing in cash.
Congressman Ralph Abraham, R-Alto, is heavily focused on trying to win the Governor’s Mansion this fall, which explains why his congressional account took in only $8,000 in the quarter. Abraham has no debt and his expenditures topped $44,000. The physician from Alto reported having nearly $70,000 on hand. That number could be one to watch if Abraham starts sending money from his federal account to a Super PAC for the governor’s race.
Congressman Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, reported having more than $1.5 million in his war chest. According to the filings, Graves raised roughly $122,000 in the quarter and spent nearly $75,000. The Baton Rouge Republican has no debt on the books.
Q&A: The Speaker Pro-Tem
LaPolitics: What are your thoughts as you head into your last session?
Speaker Pro-Tem Walt Leger, D-New Orleans: This year, like so many others, pops up and engulfs you before you know what hit you, and it is a mad sprint to June 6. But this year is definitely special, and I can’t help but feel excited and nostalgic as I reflect on the last 12 years. I am proud of the accomplishments, frustrated with the moments that the Legislature has failed to act, but optimistic about what this session and the future can bring. It is definitely bittersweet.
What is the top priority for you legislatively during session?
Maintaining balance in our funding priorities, keeping the budget on stable ground, investing more in education, including pay raises for teachers and support staff and funding for K-3 early childhood education. I think maintaining budget stability and investing in education, as well as access to affordable health care, would be significant achievements.
What do you think is going to be the most controversial issue this session?
The budget, the debate on a single tax collector, moratorium bills … I’m sure there will countless others related to the relationship between the state and local governments, protection against losing health care if you have a pre-existing condition.
Political History: Don’t Be A Sucker, Wear Seersucker
With the passage of the Easter holiday, seersucker suits, skirts and shorts are again making appearances in the marbled corridors of power in Baton Rouge and Washington, D.C.
While seersucker may be a modern fashion statement, its history is rooted in the practicality of the fabric. According to National Public Radio, the traditional blue and white weave draws its name from the Persian words for “milk and sugar,” a homage to the cloth’s color and texture.
In 1909, a New Orleans tailor, Joseph Haspel, Sr., began making suits out of the lightweight cloth, knowing that it would provide some welcome relief for his consumers from the oppressive Louisiana heat.
By the 1930s, then-Gov. Huey Long, an ardent campaigner who enjoyed spending the majority of his time out on the stump, had adopted seersucker as a wardrobe hallmark. In Huey Long Invades New Orleans, author Gary Boulard writes about how the governor’s suits were often rumpled, sweat-stained and covered with flecks of dirt as he barnstormed rural parishes.
As the 20th century progressed, seersucker grew in popularity in the nation’s capital, as well. Since Washington, D.C, always experienced humid summers by virtue of being built over a swamp, seersucker was a mainstay on Capitol Hill. According to Haspel’s, nearly every president since Calvin Coolidge has worn their suits. Historian Robert Dallek writes that as a young congressman, John F. Kennedy often appeared for floor votes in a rumpled seersucker jacket.
Seersucker slowly faded out of Congress until 1996, when then-U.S. Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi started the tradition of an official seersucker day. Lott, then the upper chamber’s majority leader, told members to wear their seersucker on a particularly hot Thursday in June.
When speaking to reporters about why he created “Seersucker Thursday,” Lott said that he wanted to show that “the Senate isn’t just a bunch of dour folks wearing dark suits and — in the case of men — red or blue ties.”
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California started leading the chamber’s female members in observance of “seersucker Thursday” in 2004. The tradition was discontinued by Congress in 2012, but U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy led the efforts to reauthorize the official designation in 2014.
According to Cassidy’s office, this year’s official seersucker day on Capitol Hill is set for Thursday, June 13.
It was incorrectly reported in this space last week that HB 117 by Rep. Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice, was rejected by the House Transportation, Highways and Public Works Committee. Members actually approved the legislation, which seeks to authorize the use of golf carts for crossing certain Louisiana highways within the town of Church Point.
They Said It
“Life’s not always fair, especially in this building.” — Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, on life in the Capitol, to the Associated Press
“Everything else is just cottage cheese.” — U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, on conclusions from the Mueller Report, on MSNBC
“It’s hard to get a two-thirds vote for a Mother’s Day resolution.” —Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, on getting a budget passed, in The Monroe News-Star
“I believe in term limits, so I’m coming home to run for Clerk of Court.” —Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, on seeking local office, in The Ouachita Citizen
For more Louisiana political news, visit LaPolitics.com or follow Alford and Rabalais on Twitter via @LaPoliticsNow.