For Congress, We Recommend A Slate of Real Representative Louisianians

We enjoy politics.

It’s one of the reasons why we, here at The Bayou Brief, do what we do.

But the once-grand theatre of American politics has been presenting far more tragedies than comedy of late, reminding us all-too-frequently of the rallying cry of the student movement and second-wave feminism of the 1960s, that “the personal is political” – and, conversely, that the political is personal.

Your vote is your personal choice.

You are choosing the candidate who best represents you: your values, interests, needs, and aspirations.

This is a perilous and volatile time in America’s relatively young history, and today, many people feel particularly vulnerable and saddened by the tone and the message being sent from our nation’s capitol. 

Readers should recall that, at various points in Louisiana’s history, the state has exercised enormous clout over our nation’s governance, but although U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise currently serves as the third-ranking member of the House, today’s federal delegation does not have the seniority or the requisite positions to meaningfully influence legislation and funding priorities as it once did.

In other words, there is little for voters to fear about electing a new slate of representatives, with one exception. Currently, polling indicates a significant likelihood that Democrats will regain control of the House, which would substantially diminish Scalise’s power but also dramatically elevate Cedric Richmond, who is currently serving as the Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.    

We offer our recommendations, which you are welcome to embrace or discard. You are also free not to participate in the process at all.

But, in view of the seasonal and political movement away from daylight into more hours of darkness and night, we also commend to you these words:

“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” – Elie Wiesel

District 1

There are ample rationalizations for re-electing the incumbent, Steve Scalise. Whether it’s a “vote of support” for what he went through, surviving a terrifying assassination attempt after being shot while practicing for the annual congressional softball game, or pride in Louisiana’s “influence” because of his position as U.S. House Majority Whip, arguments can be made that he should continue his work in Congress.

Yet Scalise has been a vociferous cheerleader for the policies and statements of the Trump administration, a smiling arm-twister of his congressional peers, never questioning the invective that locks immigrant children away from their mothers, demonizes the free press, or prompts assassination attempts on two former presidents, along with other perceived political enemies.

Does Scalise still represent the values, needs, interests, and aspirations of the people of his district? Or does he represent – instead – the values, needs, interests and aspirations of the party? And is his power as Whip being used to benefit people, or merely to bully them into acceptance of party actions that are antithetical to their core principles?

Scalise, who has spent much of the pre-election congressional recess on the campaign trail everywhere except Louisiana- Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, and New York- to stump for Republican causes and candidates, has stated, “I am committed to ensuring that we maintain our House majority so we can keep building on this success.”

We recommend Tammy Savoie, to better serve Louisiana, the people of her district, and their concerns.

Her opponent Jim Francis has spoken eloquently on Scalise’s inattention to his constituents’ concerns in preference to accumulating party power, and he has also emphasized issues and policies that demand attention but are too often overlooked. We hope that Francis continues to contribute to the public discourse and believe he should consider a leadership role in helping to refocus and energize the state Democratic Party.  

However, in this election, Tammy Savoie brings a career of service, an outstanding resume, and the sense of  empathy required right now for the role of representing the 1st District.

The retired USAF lieutenant colonel, a former Chief of International Health, holds a doctorate in psychology from Emory University. She is also a single mom.

She’s is cognizant of, and impassioned about, what Louisianians need in order to progress: a living wage, dependable access to affordable physical and mental healthcare, quality education, and fairness in the overall tax structure.

“Steve Scalise has led the partisan bickering in Congress,” Savoie has stated. “He has demonstrated callous indifference toward the people of Louisiana.”

And while Savoie’s nervousness was noticeable early on in the campaign, over the past several months she has learned confidence in herself and her message. 

The Bayou Brief moderated two forums for the Democratic candidates of District One, and Savoie’s improvement as a public speaker and increased willingness to express her positions forcefully and passionately were impossible to ignore. 

(It’s also remarkably reminiscent of another candidate’s development out on the campaign trail three years ago, and just look at how well that turned out for John Bel Edwards and Louisiana.)

Savoie has grown into the role she is seeking, now exhibiting the “command presence” developed as an officer, while still retaining the compassion and willingness to listen that comes from being both a psychologist and a mom.

She has the “presence” of a congresswoman and would do us proud.

District 2

During his first two terms in Congress, Cedric Richmond maintained a relatively low-profile, primarily emphasizing issues and projects important to his hometown of New Orleans. In the middle of his second term in 2014, however, he made national headlines when he publicly defended his Republican colleague Steve Scalise after The Bayou Brief‘s Lamar White, Jr. broke the blockbuster report that Scalise had once attended an international conference for a white supremacist organization associated with David Duke. “Steve Scalise doesn’t have a racist bone in his body,” Richmond told the media. Scalise subsequently admitted to attending the conference, calling it “a mistake I regret.” 

The close friendship between the two congressmen is often held up as an example of the type of bipartisan civility that many believe is needed in Washington, D.C. Later in 2014, Richmond also defended another one of his Republican colleagues from Louisiana, Vance McAllister, who had been recorded kissing a campaign staffer on an office surveillance tape that was leaked to a member of the local media in a bizarre act of intra-party sabotage. Richmond lamented the ways in which the tape’s disclosure disgraced McAllister, arguing that “(the) two parties in this country have gone overboard… and taken joy in the pain of their supposed opponents.”

It was also in that same year, 2014, that Richmond introduced and passed his first piece of significant legislation, the Honor Flight Act, a program that facilitates and expedites travel arrangements for veterans who want to visit war memorials. Ironically, earlier this year, as first reported on social media by The Bayou Brief, Sen. John N. Kennedy was recorded at National Airport remaining seated while a large crowd stood and cheered a group of veterans deplaning an Honor Flight, which has now become a customary, albeit unofficial, protocol since Richmond’s bill became law.    

However, Richmond’s real rise to national prominence occurred in October of 2016, when he was elected Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, only days before Donald Trump surprised the world and won the presidency despite losing the popular vote by 3 million. Trump’s divisive rhetoric and embrace of alt-right groups, along with the rise of hate crimes and violence against minorities, has been vociferously repudiated by Richmond, and under his leadership, the Congressional Black Caucus has become a significantly more powerful and more unified check against the president’s agenda. Richmond’s record of bipartisan cooperation has given him more credibility among Republicans than other members, and in this role, Richmond has truly flourished and demonstrated the breadth of his talents and experiences. 

Here in Louisiana, Cedric Richmond has also focused on inspiring and encouraging a new generation of Democratic and progressive leadership, lending his support to organizations like Emerge Louisiana and the New Leaders Council. He understands the existential need for Louisiana organizations to invest in building a bench of young leaders, and throughout his career, he has been a forceful advocate for his district’s and the state’s most vulnerable citizens. 

While we believe District 2 needs to be redrawn to ensure increased representation for African Americans in both Baton Rouge and New Orleans (currently, the district’s borders are a consequence of cynical Republican leadership in order to maximize suburban white representation), Richmond has skillfully represented his constituents and stood up to the president and against the racist policies that threaten our country’s fundamental values.

For that reason, we recommend Cedric Richmond.

District 3

What can we say about the incumbent in Louisiana’s 3rd congressional district that Clay Higgins hasn’t already said for himself?

“The free world… all of Christendom… is at war with Islamic horror….  Every conceivable measure should be engaged to hunt them down. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.” – Clay Higgins (Facebook, June 4, 2017).

“Man’s inhumanity to man can be quite shocking. This is why homeland security must be squared away, why our military must be invincible.” -Clay Higgins (Facebook live video, filmed inside the Auschwitz gas chambers, July 3, 2017).

“America is anointed by God.”– Clay Higgins (Facebook, July 4, 2018).

“American socialist Democrats are hysterical about Law Enforcement protecting illegal immigrant children at the border. They shrill about ‘separating innocent children from mothers’.” – Clay Higgins (Facebook, July 11, 2018).

“American socialists are filled with hate.”– Clay Higgins (Facebook, Aug. 14, 2018).

“The intolerant, violent socialists of America. A sad departure from the Democratic Party of the past. This will not end well for them. American Patriots will never kneel to leftist violence.” – Clay Higgins (Facebook, Oct. 13, 2018).

A term in Congress has done nothing toward applying even a minimal veneer of sophistication to Higgins’ swaggering bully-boy persona. His tendency to shoot his mouth off, which cost him at least one of his previous law enforcement jobs, remains unholstered. 

Indeed, his vocal embrace of the most xenophobic policies of the current administration has earned him the re-election endorsement of none other than Donald Trump himself.

Mimi Methvin, a former federal judge, is an able representative of the warmth and neighborliness which epitomizes the culture of the region, an intent listener who is ready with a smile, as she says, “My heart is in this fight, to invest in our communities and the potential of our people.”

Polished and professional, Methvin is a complete contrast to Higgins, who has been a caricature of Cajun Louisiana – in all the wrong ways.

Those who support Higgins because of his law-and-order tough guy stance should consider Methvin’s own law-and-order resume: Former assistant U.S. Attorney, and then U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Western District of Louisiana for 26 years, from 1983 to 2009.

And those who despair at the inability of current congressmembers to look past empowering their respective parties to come together for the good of the people as a whole, may consider the fact that Methvin is a dispute resolution mediator, who can bring those skills toward forging coalitions that together can act for the good of us all. 

Unlike Higgins, Methvin knows the people of the Third District because she actually lives in the district (Higgins lives in the Fifth District). It’s where she pays her property taxes; it’s where she buys her groceries and does all of her shopping; it’s where she and her friends and family celebrate birthdays and holidays together, at local restaurants and parks and each other’s homes; it’s where her neighbors live.

That matters. At least it should. 

Methvin’s grassroots campaign has been built entirely by the people of the Third District. She strongly opposes the influence of outside PAC money, lobbyists, and corporations, and she refuses to take a dime from anyone other than a living, breathing person who doesn’t work as a political lobbyist. “Lobbyists should succeed through good arguments, not bribery,” she says. “I will support campaign finance limits so that average citizens can have a voice in elections.”

She strongly believes in the urgent need to fully fund coastal restoration and has pledged to work in Congress to make that issue a top priority. Environmental degradation poses more of an existential and immediate threat to the people of the Third District than almost anywhere else in the entire country.

Methvin believes that healthcare should be a fundamental right, not a privilege to be enjoyed only by those with means, and she understands the importance of a robust and innovative public education system.

Because of her decades of experience as a lawyer and a judge, she is keenly aware of the ways in which crime has plagued the communities of her district, and she also knows that the current system incentivizes incarceration over real solutions.

“The failed war on drugs has driven mass incarceration, which in turn has driven a prison-industrial complex for private financial gain,” she explains. “In this climate, there are incentives for high arrest rates, especially in poor communities, so that jail beds are kept full, and revenue streams from court assessments and fines can continue to fund local and state institutions. This cycle must stop. We must invest in people, not in crime.”

Methvin does not need to parade around her district in an armored tank with a fake badge in order to prove she understands these issues. She is not an actor or a viral video star.

Mimi Methvin is a real Louisianian, with a real record of thoughtful, public service.

We recommend the people of southwest Louisiana look toward someone experienced in weighing the impact of her words before delivering them: Mimi Methvin.

District 4

“During my time as a political strategist, one of the most vexing problems was figuring out why so many people vote against their perceived interests,” James Carville once famously admitted. If you otherwise didn’t know, for some reason, that Carville is from Louisiana (from Carville, Louisiana, to be precise), then it probably wouldn’t surprise you.

Political strategists aren’t the only people who are vexed by the fact that people vote against their own interests, and while, yes, the observation can be made about people from all corners of the country, it is disproportionately true of voters in Louisiana, just as it was, until relatively recently, of people in Kansas. Remember the book What’s the Matter with Kansas? 

Only two years ago, a sociologist from the University of California- Berkeley published an entire book, Strangers in Their Own Land, about why people in Louisiana vote against their own interests. Unfortunately, there is no witty or pithy explanation; if there were, there would also be an accompanying witty or pithy quote from James Carville.

Yet, we understand, at least on a superficial level, why Mike Johnson of Bossier City catapulted so quickly from an obscure state representative to the halls of Congress. Even those who vehemently disagree with him will reluctantly acknowledge: Mike Johnson is one of those people who seem to have been genetically-engineered to become a politician.

As a state representative, Johnson was almost obsequiously kind to his critics in the media, understanding he possesses a preternatural talent for throwing people off-balance by the sheer force of his charisma. When he authored a bill that attempted to allow private businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ citizens on the basis of the business owner’s “religious beliefs,” even one of the state’s most accomplished gay rights lobbyists acknowledged to The Advocate that Johnson’s polite earnestness was disarming.

Johnson looks younger than he is; he has a bunch of cute kids, who star in his political commercials, and if he weren’t a politician, he could probably earn a living recording voiceovers for television commercials.

It all sells. It works. And the only plausible explanation for his success isn’t that the majority of the people of the Fourth District agree with his policy positions; it’s that most voters haven’t really paid much attention to what he’s actually saying.

Johnson is a Christian dominionist. He may disagree, politely of course, with that characterization, but it’s undeniably true.

There is an important difference between being a Christian evangelist and a Christian dominionist: Evangelicals believe in persuading nonbelievers to accept and adopt a certain set of religious beliefs; dominionists, on other hand, believe in transforming American government into a theocracy. That’s dangerous.

Johnson, notably, preaches the importance of civility in our politics. Despite his religiosity and his performances about civility, he has enabled the current administration’s inhumane policies toward immigrants and their children, LGBTQ Americans, and the glorification of alt-right zealots as “very fine people.” This makes him complicit in the rise of an American government that quells constitutional rights of our most vulnerable in favor of a corporatist nationalism. 

For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, I was naked and you did not clothe Me, I was sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’

And they too will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’

Then the King will answer, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.’

Matthew 25:42-45 

By contrast, Ryan Trundle is running on a platform that advocates, “One of the government’s most important responsibilities is to promote the general welfare by making sure everyone has safe, well paying jobs and the ability to acquire the skills for those jobs no matter their ethnicity, gender identity, religion, age or disabilities.”

Trundle also advocates for universal, quality healthcare for all, and he believes in enhancing consumer protections, rather than dismantling the regulatory framework. “The consequences for us can be deadly, because without regulation, none of us are safe and insurance companies, Wall Street banks, dangerous hospitals and other wrongdoers can get away with the worst,” he writes.

Therefore, we recommend Ryan Trundle as an alternative to the incumbent. 

District 5

Louisiana is one of the poorest states in the country, and the Fifth District, which spans all the way from the Arkansas border to the Florida parishes, is the poorest in the state, the tenth most impoverished district in the entire country.

It takes thirteen hours to drive, roundtrip, from one end of the district to the other. It’s an expansive yet often forgotten part of the state, but it is also the birthplace of Louisiana’s most legendary politician, Huey P. Long.  

Louisiana populism was created in the rural villages and the piny woods of the Fifth, though, back then, much of the area belonged to the now-defunct Eighth District. It’s where Jimmie Davis first sang “You Are My Sunshine,” a song he purchased from two brothers in Georgia and eventually became an anthem synonymous with Louisiana and helped launch Davis into the Governor’s Mansion. It’s where the Kingfish first proclaimed the slogan, “Every Man a King,” an aspiration that could only have come from a place so overwhelmed by poverty.

The Fifth is also where Solomon Northup spent much of his twelve years in slavery and where Harriet Beecher Stowe visited before writing the book that changed the course of American history, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It is the location of the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Deep South, a series of 3,200 earthen mounds built by indigenous Americans and aptly named Poverty Point.

It is the home of the Long dynasty and Duck Dynasty

Though some may argue otherwise, Louisiana’s Fifth District is also represented in Congress by a man who seems more out-of-touch from his constituents than anyone else in the state’s federal delegation, a wealthy white Republican physician named Ralph Abraham.

Abraham arrived on Capitol Hill only four years ago, after beating a member of the Dynasty of Duck, a young conservative named Zach Dasher, and Jamie Mayo, the African American mayor of Monroe. The Fifth District isn’t only the tenth poorest in the country; it also is home to more African Americans than any other district in the nation currently held by a Republican. When he was first elected in 2014, he could have counted his support among black voters on his hands; Mayo captured 35.8% of the electorate, approximately the same percentage of African Americans who live in the Fifth.   

Although he is not well-known even among his own constituents and almost entirely unfamiliar to the rest of  the state, Ralph Abraham, after only four years in office, already has his sights set on the Governor’s Mansion. His record, thus far, is woefully far-right though largely not notable. Local conservative talk radio listeners appear to be his core constituency.

He proudly co-sponsored legislation that attempted to scrub the very few rights of transgender Americans by requiring courts to dismiss the entire premise of gender identity. 

He’s a millionaire who has received more than $440,000 in federal farm subsidies while railing against food stamps.

He’s a medical doctor who, on multiple occasions, has demonstrated an embarrassing lack of basic knowledge about the Affordable Care Act. Although Medicaid expansion has cut the uninsured rate in half in his district and improved access to health care more dramatically than anywhere else in Louisiana, Abraham opposes the decision, lamenting that he could not provide medical care to poor people in his community because he charges too much.

The man who created Louisiana’s charity hospital system was born and raised about an hour down Highways 133 and 124 from the millionaire doctor who represents that district in Congress.

Fortunately, this year, voters in the Fifth District have an alternative to Ralph Abraham, and although he may not be able to pull off a miracle victory this year, Jessee Carlton Fleenor of Loranger, Louisiana may be running one of the most remarkable and notable campaigns in the entire state. 

At first glance, Fleenor may be easy to dismiss; he is a young, white, progressive from a town so tiny it isn’t actually incorporated. He speaks with the slow cadence of a rural Southern Baptist preacher. He earns his living by growing vegetables on his small family farm. But it’d be a mistake to let any of that fool you: Fleenor is one of the most intelligent and insightful candidates The Bayou Brief has encountered this year. 

On issue after issue, Fleenor demonstrated a deep command of both foreign and domestic policy, but more importantly, unlike the incumbent, Jessee Carlton Fleenor understands and can articulate the needs and concerns of the people of the Fifth District.

He is running a shoe-string, grassroots campaign, with only one paid staff member, and during the past several months, he has put thousands of miles on his old Dodge pickup truck, visiting all 24 of the district’s parishes and speaking with anybody and everybody willing to give him their ear.

Fleenor is building more than a campaign; he is stitching together a working coalition that, once properly assembled and organized, could become a blueprint for the future of Louisiana.

For that reason alone, we enthusiastically recommend Jessee Carlton Fleenor for the Fifth District.

District 6

Incumbent Garret Graves endeavors to give every impression of being the more moderate of Louisiana’s current Republican congressional delegation. Yet even as he represents a portion of the third poorest state in the nation, he has proven to be a reliable vote for GOP bills that would deepen the effects of that poverty, voting consistently to gut the ACA and supporting the reverse-Robin-Hood income tax revamp that robs the poor while giving to the rich.

He even authored the “SNAP Reform Act” in June of 2017, with its mandate that “must work for food.” This, along with his support of a similar requirement in the 2018 Farm Bill, indicates he subscribes to the Republican meme, “If you’re poor, it’s because you’re lazy.” Of course, that conveniently ignores the mountains of economic research to the contrary.

Graves’ silence in the face of every immoderate utterance and action by this President shows – more than anything else – that he is not the moderate he would have us believe. As our representative, he is speaking clearly with his silence, saying we, the people, agree to “shut up and do as you’re told.”

We recommend to you Justin DeWitt, who has demonstrated by his very candidacy that he is not afraid to speak out.

DeWitt has been frank and open that he is gay, making it a biographical fact, rather than an issue. Personable and enthusiastic, he is eager to discuss the true issues that face the nation, state, and district. A land surveyor by trade, he holds a deep reverence for Louisiana’s soil, waters, culture, and – most importantly – her people’s need to grow and thrive.

Unlike Graves, who talks a good game on coastal restoration but remains philosophically and financially in the “protect-the-oil-and-gas-industry-because-JOBS” camp, DeWitt cuts through the obfuscation.

“These companies come in and they destroy our marshland. What will happen when you sue them? Republicans tell people that they’re going to lose their jobs, that the economy will be devastated. But what are the oil companies going to do? Move? They’re not going anywhere,” DeWitt explains. “They have multi-billion dollar plants here; they’re getting away with not paying taxes that they should be.”

DeWitt has kept his boots on the ground throughout the campaign, knocking on doors throughout the district, meeting face-to-face with groups large and small to listen to their concerns and incorporate their needs into his to-do list once he gets to Congress.

And he’s been unflinching in condemning the direction this nation is being steered toward.

“I reject the politics of hatred, resentment and division that simply are not American values,” DeWitt tweeted earlier this week. “Vote against the hate that is tearing us apart.”

DeWitt’s overall campaign message sums up our reasons for recommending him: “I am you.”