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Monday, November 6, 2023.

Baton Rouge Louisiana


It took four Louisiana congressmen 51 years before one of them became Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Second line to being president, a responsibility and honor that very few receive.  Finally, after all this time, an obscure young congressman from Shreveport made it.

Becoming Speaker is a huge challenge to undertake. Most congressmen and congresswomen stay in Washington three or four days a week, then come home to their districts for a long weekend. Not the speaker. He or she is in demand by other members of Congress to travel to their respective districts, located all over the country and assist in their reelection, generally fundraising. A speaker of the U.S. House Representatives is lucky to get home once every two months.

The first Louisiana congressman who had any chance of reaching this major post was Hale Boggs of New Orleans.  He was a congenial fellow and a great retail politician. He made all the local events, and had a cadre of local officials in his corner whenever election time came around. He worked his way up to the post of majority leader, the position second only to being Speaker. Boggs also served as member of the Warren Commission that investigated the death of President John Kennedy.

In October 1972, Boggs was travelling to help Congressman Nick Begich of Alaska, when their plane disappeared while flying from Anchorage to Juneau, Alaska. Search parties looked for months, but apparently the plane crashed into deep snow, and to this day has never been found.  He was declared dead in absentia in December 1972, and never fulfilled his dream of being Speaker.

The next Louisiana congressman in search of reaching the Speaker’s office was Congressman Bob Livingston of Jefferson Parish. He had been elected to his post in 1977 when then Congressman Dave Treen became governor. Before his quest to be elected to the office of Speaker, Bob ran for Governor himself in 1980. I was in that same race and shared the podium with Bob on many occasions. He was, and still is a real gentleman, and I consider him a good friend. In 1998, Bob was selected by his colleagues as Speaker.  But before assuming this job, Bob had some problems with his personal life and declined to be sworn in.  He now is a successful attorney and lobbyist in Washington.

We all know the story of Congressman Steve Scalise, who currently represents a winding district in Jefferson Parish. Steve has been my friend for many years both while he served as a legislator and Baton Rouge and now as an important congressman.  Steve was shot at a congressional baseball practice in 2017, and came close to losing his life. But he made a strong comeback and took over the role of majority leader, the same position held by Hale Boggs.

He gave his best shot at being the new speaker, once it became apparent that then Speaker Kevin McCarthy would not hold onto his job.  Since the Republicans control the House of Representatives, these members elect the Speaker. Steve needed 217 votes to become elected, but just ran short of putting the coalition together. So he withdrew his nomination a few weeks ago, and became the third Louisianan to just miss out on ascending to the top job in Congress.

A number of new candidates put their name up for consideration. Out of nowhere, up popped the name of an obscure congressman from Shreveport, Mike Johnson. He was Mr. nice guy, but most of his colleagues really knew little about him. And with the help of a number of conservative lobby groups in the nation’s capital, Congressman Mike built support little by little. And lo and behold, to the surprise of most of the Washington establishment, Mike Johnson emerged and was selected to the job of being second line to being president of the United States.

So now little old Louisiana, who elects only five members of Congress, can claim that it holds the position of Speaker and Majority Leader in Washington, something no other state has ever accomplished.  Let’s hope the Bayou State bountifully benefits from all his new power at the nation’s capital.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownla.com. You can also listen to his regular podcast at www.datelinelouisiana.com.


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