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Majority Whip Steve Scalise beat the odds years before shooting

19th June 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

The attempted murder of Congressman Steve Scalise allows one to recollect the improbable and meteoric ascent of the one time unknown computer programmer from Old Jefferson.

His rise is fortuitous, for without the Majority Whip’s Capitol Police security detail, several dozen Republican lawmakers would have died upon the baseball practice fields of Alexandria, Virginia’s Eugene Simpson Stadium Park. By law, the Whip must endure this constant security protection, and Scalise alone amongst the Congressmen had armed guards at his side on June 14. The remarkable fact that this Majority Whip remains an avid athlete and baseball player at a youthful 51, rather than an office held by a far more aged figure, stands as just one of the blessed coincidences marking the Jefferson Parish Republican Rep.’s career.

Nevertheless, since coming to Congress, Scalise has relished practicing for the annual charity baseball game, leading off his Republicans in a quixotic quest for victory over their Democratic rivals, a team which has repeatedly won thanks to the pitching skills of one of Scalise’s closest friends, Congressman Cedric Richmond of New Orleans.



Their Crescent City origins aside, that the third ranking member of the GOP numbers the leader of the Congressional Black Caucus as one of his dearest friends may seem unusual, but no less irregular than Scalise’s improbable pathway to the U.S. House of Representatives and his current political position.

This author first encountered Steve Scalise two decades ago at the State Republican convention in Baton Rouge, and no one had the foggiest idea who he was. Jefferson Parish Republican Quentin Dastugue had just one the GOP nomination for Governor, and planned to vacate his State Rep. seat whether he won or lost the 1995 race.

Better-known contenders were already lining up for the safe Republican seat stretching from central Metairie into the Riverbend of New Orleans, including Dastugue’s chief legislative aide. So, when at the end of a dinner at the Baton Rouge Hilton, Scalise alone walked over to this author, a staffer for Dastugue’s bid for Governor, and said, “Hi, I’m Steve Scalise, I’m running for Quentin’s seat in the fall,” the reaction could best be described as curious.

“That’s a tall order,” I replied. “There are already quite a few candidates already.

In the words of Robert Penn Warren, “He won, of course.”

Scalise’s barnstorming campaign as a ‘young brash lion of the Right’ smoothed his path into the legislature, yet, upon arrival, he proved himself far a more popular figure than the dour David Vitter, holder of a similar upstart political profile. Enough so, that despite being an outspoken conservative in a Democratic House, Scalise earned an early legislative victory.

His bill, the Louisiana Film tax credit program, based on the Canadian incentive program, effectively created the movie industry in Louisiana—even giving him admirers on the nominal Left. It was in this period that Rep. Cedric Richmond, a legislative colleague at the time, would forge his friendship with Scalise, proving that without compromising his conservative instincts, he could gain allies across the aisle.

Despite his early notoriety, the Jefferson State Rep.’s pathway to Congress was hardly easy. Shortly after Bob Livingston resigned his seat, Scalise appeared for an interview on the coming legislative session on the author’s radio program. He presented a flyer with the moniker “Scalise for Congress,” in a race that was already forming up between former Republican Governor Dave Treen and rising GOP star David Vitter—as well as millionaire Ophthalmologist Dr. Monica, and several others.

Scalise, despite his bomb throwing reputation, showed his talent for reading the political winds, exiting in a graceful and understated manner. Astonishingly, he managed to withdraw from the race in good standing with both the Treen and Vitter factions of the GOP, and almost miraculous achievement in those fractious and partisan fratricidal times.

With Vitter blatantly ambitious and Treen elderly, Scalise smartly opted to wait. His opportunity seemingly came again in 2004 when David Vitter sought promotion to the U.S. Senate. This time, LA Republican Party Brahmins urged Scalise to step aside in favor of the once and future gubernatorial candidate Bobby Jindal. They felt a brief sojourn in the U.S. House of Representatives was just what was needed the Indian wunderkind needed to beef up his electoral resume. However, this time, Scalise put GOP moneymen like shipbuilder Boysie Bollinger in his debt. Their offers to finance him in the future if “he waited his turn” would prove essential to his future success.

Once Scalise was finally ready to make his bid for Congress, provided Jindal won the Governor’s office on his second try in 2007, the State Rep found himself term limited out of his Statehouse seat. If he lost his bid for the U.S. House, Scalise would be out of politics, and despite the financial and political allies he had acquired, Scalise faced a very uncertain congressional race. That was a real possibility. His willingness to step aside had begun to paint him amongst his critics at least as a perennial candidate – the kiss of death in politics.

As a stop-gap measure, Scalise decided to run for the open State Senate seat against former School Board member Polly Thomas, and at the same time, fundraiser for a Congressional bid several months later if Jindal seized the Governorship, and vacated his U.S. House seat. Facing a grueling legislative bid, which Thomas (later elected a State Rep.) narrowly lost, and then entering a U.S. House contest where fellow legislators attacked him over his “election jumping” would have ended the careers of most contenders.

Not only did Scalise win his Congressional bid, but he managed to get his protégé and former aide Cameron Henry elected to his State House seat, providing a fiscally conservative influence over the budget process that has been acutely felt in the recent special legislative session.

Entering the U.S. House, Scalise immediately began reaching out to his colleagues, raising money and campaigning for them. He was fond of sending LSU paraphernalia during football season as thank you gifts and inviting his colleagues to watch SEC football with him—a habit that endeared him to his colleagues in their often lonely life on the Hill—with their families living far away in their home districts.

When the slot of GOP chief vote counter came open, Scalise, with his warm relationships across his caucus, won, despite a strong opponent yet again. His relationships had grown so strong that when the news came that the Majority Whip had been shot, his fellow Congressmen donned LSU hats in solidarity.

According to the most recent up update on the Congressman’s condition, “The bullet traveled across his pelvis, fracturing bones, injuring internal organs and causing severe bleeding. His condition is critical, and he will require additional operations.”

Shooter James T. Hodgkinson was killed at the scene by Capitol Police security.

This article originally published in the June 19, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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