On Thursday, Dec. 5, 2014, the day before Louisiana held its runoff elections for U.S. Congress, Jim Engster, who we have previously described as “the inveterate Louisiana talk radio host, historiographer, and pantomath of state politics,” began his show with a respectful and friendly conversation with then-State Treasurer John Neely Kennedy. Kennedy’s job was already secure, and he was already looking ahead, openly confessing that he was considering a 2015 bid for governor.
That, of course, never materialized. Kennedy ultimately deferred to U.S. Sen. David Vitter; Vitter lost the race in a spectacular fashion, surprising the entire state during his concession speech by vowing not to seek another term in the Senate the next year. State Treasurer Kennedy won Vitter’s seat in the Senate, and Vitter is now a registered lobbyist for a Russian conglomerate, likely making more money than he ever has in his entire career.
U.S. Sen. John Neely Kennedy, less than two years after his victory, once again began flirting with a run for governor, but, once again, he decided to stay put.
As luck would have it, Engster’s next guest that Thursday afternoon in 2014 was a relatively unknown physician from Alto, Louisiana who had become the surprise frontrunner for the Fifth Congressional District and is now the only Republican elected official challenging Gov. John Bel Edwards’ reelection campaign.
“State Treasurer John Kennedy (discusses) his political future and thoughts on the election tomorrow,” the show’s website summarizes. “We are then joined by Dr. Ralph Abraham, Louisiana Congressional District 5 candidate. Dr. Abraham says if he wins tomorrow he will donate his Congressional pay to St. Jude” (emphasis added).
Ten days after Tyler Bridges of The Advocate first reported U.S. Rep. Abraham had broken his promise to donate his full salary to charity, a report the Bayou Brief had already independently confirmed, neither Abraham nor his campaign, quixotically, have yet to produce a single iota of proof that verifies the congressman donated even a portion of his congressional salary to charity during both his first and second terms.
Abraham issued a statement the next day, full of bluster but empty on facts. “I donated my entire first term’s salary to charity, honoring a commitment I made in that race. I gave the money away without fanfare because I believe in helping people because it’s the right thing to do, not for the publicity.” he tweeted. Incredulously, he then attempted to blame his empty promise on the media. “Despite the Advocate’s attempt to criticize me for those donations, I will not let them or anyone else deter me from continuing to help people who need it. #FakeNews”
No one has criticized Abraham for making donations, because Abraham has not disclosed anything except that he didn’t keep his word.
Thus far, they have asserted Rep. Abraham’s pledge was intended to only be valid for his first term, which is belied by the fact that his pledge remained a prominent part of his platform on his website during his reelection campaign.
“Unlike many other Republicans across the state, I rarely hear anything negative about you, Dr. Abraham,” Engster tells the candidate by way of introduction.
“Now tell me if this is an accurate quote,” Engster asks. “You say: ‘It should be an honor and a privilege to serve your country and not a paid position. If law dictates a salary I will donate the 174,000 thousand dollars a year salary to charities St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the Independence Fund. You should not pay a penny for my representation.’ Is that an accurate quote?”
Abraham’s answer is straightforward. Quoting (emphasis added):
“That is accurate, Jim. I’ve been very blessed in my life to have some businesses do okay and I’m not anywhere close to one of those very rich multi-millionaire doctors you see on TV.
Diane, my wife and I are very frugal about money and we have been fortunate enough to have a little bit.
So I am of the opinion that on the federal level, you know it used to be back if you read history and I read a lot of it, that our representatives got paid eight dollars a day to go to Congress and that was mainly to provide for their meals and probably for their horses meals.
But things changed very quickly after the turn of the century and the salary has just gone exponentially up.”
Campaign spokesman Cole Avery, in response to The Advocate‘s questions about why the good doctor had broken his word, explained Rep. Abraham simply could not anticipate the financial burden he would endure as a consequence of scaling back his medical practice. “Because of the loss of income, it was not a pledge he could continue beyond the first term,” Avery, a former journalist, told Tyler Bridges. “There’s the belief that something should be one way and then there’s the reality.”
Avery should have first listened to Abraham’s interview with Engster, who, after a short commercial break, posed a question from one of his listeners.
“Now a question from Tracy at the Capitol here in Baton Rouge asking Dr. Abraham that if elected will you continue to practice medicine?” he asked.
Abraham responded (emphasis added):
“What I’ll have to do is certainly the congressional seat will take priority over everything, it is certainly a full-time job, you know if I could slip back into the clinic every blue moon and see a patient here and there I would love to do that. To answer the question the congressional seat will be a full-time job and we’ll have to surely put time and treasure into that 100 percent.”
At the very least, it should be difficult to trust the veracity of a congressman who spent the last day before his election on statewide radio touting his pledge to charity and who now asserts, in the midst of a gubernatorial campaign, he was never seeking any fanfare.