NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Steve Scalise's election to a key leadership post among House Republicans gives Louisiana the kind of high-profile influence it hasn't seen in that body since Robert Livingston was in line for the speaker's post 15 years ago. That clout is especially appreciated in a state that has lost two congressional seats since the early 1990s.
Scalise himself, during a Friday telephone news conference, acknowledged the historic nature of his becoming majority whip, noting that Democrat Hale Boggs — who served as majority whip then majority leader before his plane disappeared in Alaska in 1973 — was the last Louisiana House member to hold such a post.
"For Louisiana, it's been over 40 years since we've been in this kind of position," said the 48-year-old, who won the whip post Thursday after an intense eight days of campaigning among colleagues — a fast-track leadership election set up when majority leader Eric Cantor unexpectedly lost a primary re-election battle in Virginia.
"What it really signals is a rise again to a point where we are substantial players in all legislation that comes through Congress," said Rep. Cedric Richmond of New Orleans, the only Democrat in the state's six-member House delegation, and a friend of Scalise's since both served in the state Legislature.
Scalise's affability has enabled him to build relationships with people of diverse views — even as he compiled an uncompromisingly "perfect" voting record as measured by the American Conservative Union.
He began building that conservative record in the Legislature, when he first started serving in the state House in 1996. His signature legislation included a film industry tax credit program credited with helping Louisiana become "Hollywood South" and a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage.
Scalise won an open seat for Congress and took office in 2008.
He would go on to serve on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and to chair the Republican Study Committee — a kind of think tank for Republican conservatives. Then came the House leadership shake-up that followed Cantor's loss.
Scalise on Friday described an intense campaign for the whip spot, complete with Louisiana flair that included distribution of "Geaux Scalise" T-shirts and a Cajun dinner, including boudin balls, oysters and gumbo, for his 50-member whip campaign.
His victory Thursday marked a remarkably fast ascent, said Pearson Cross, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette.
"He's only been in the House since 2008," Cross said. "Six years later, he's at the No. 3 position. That's pretty quick. I think, really, it's a meteoric rise."
Louisiana has had influential positions over the years since Boggs' death. His widow, the late Lindy Boggs, succeeded him and became known as a strong influence for civil rights. She stepped down in 1990.
Livingston was in line to be speaker until he was felled by a sex scandal.
Cross noted that Billy Tauzin, Richard Baker and Jim McCrery were among others who also held important committee posts and chairmanships.
Whether Scalise will be able to steer big-money projects to Louisiana from his new position remains to be seen, Cross said. "The ideology of the party that's in charge works against this kind of bring-home-the-bacon tradition, in a way," he said.
Still, Jeff Landry, a staunchly conservative former House member from south Louisiana who helped garner votes for Scalise, said the victory is "huge" for the state.
"Those issues that are important to Louisiana are going to get a seat and a voice at the table," Landry said.
Richmond, repeatedly noted in an interview that his fellow Democrat, Sen. Mary Landrieu — facing a major election challenge this year from Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy — chairs the Senate's energy committee, important to Louisiana's oil industry.
"If you take Steve as majority whip and Mary as chair of the energy committee, you can't get anything through Congress out without seeing our delegation," Richmond said. "We can talk about issues that are important to us and leverage our influence."