As he zigzags across Louisiana, often from the cockpit of his Cirrus SR20 airplane, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham presents himself as a kind of Reluctant Warrior. Although he hadn’t even taken the Oath of Office for his third term in Congress before he began campaigning for governor, Abraham wants people to know that he isn’t a “career politician.”
Five years ago, in an effort to convince voters that he was a good guy who wasn’t interested in the money, Abraham pledged to donate his entire salary to charities supporting children with cancer and quadruple amputee veterans. It was a nice sentiment, but so far, there is no evidence it was anything more than that, a sentiment. His office claims his pledge was valid only for his first term, though it remained on his campaign website when he ran for reelection; he has yet to disclose how much he ever actually donated.
In Louisiana, we are more than well-acquainted with this particular breed of politician: The puritanical crusader who feigns humility by acting as if he had been recruited for political office through some sort of act of divine providence.
Abraham, a physician who now asks to be called “Doc,” hopes to define himself as folksy and earnest yet capable of administering tough medicine. He ridicules people on Medicaid for “voting for a living instead of working for a living.” He believes that only those who maintain employment should qualify for food stamps. Earlier this week, he launched his first web ad. It is titled “Help Is On The Way,” and it officially went online on April Fools Day.
As a part of a rite of passage for almost every Republican politician in Louisiana, Ralph Abraham has also spent a considerable amount of time courting the interests of Big Oil. Last weekend, at an event hosted by the right-wing Pelican Institute, Abraham vowed to reverse the current administration’s efforts to hold oil and gas companies responsible for damages they illegally inflicted on the state’s environment. This would be his priority from “day one.”
While that may be music to the ears of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA), which has suggested- for years and without a shred of evidence- that the mere threat of litigation irreparably paralyzes a multi-trillion dollar industry, it is probably a cold comfort to those who are literally losing their entire hometowns as a consequence of the industry’s negligence.
It is also more than a little ironic, because of the three men currently running for governor, Ralph Abraham is the only one who has ever personally sued an oil and gas company.
Ten years ago, after Gulf South Pipeline Company planted a 42″ pipeline in the middle of Abraham’s farmland in Richland Parish, the good doctor, along with his son-in-law, took the company to court.
“Due to the construction of the pipeline and the failure of Gulf South to restore the property properly and the incumbent interference with fertility, irrigation and drainage, (Dustin) Morris (Abraham’s son-in-law and the manager of his farm) suffered crop losses in the areas which were affected by the servitude and the yields (sic) were substantially reduced causing a financial loss to Morris and his lessors,” the petition reads. “Due to the share rent (sic) with Abraham Farms, LLC and John Hoychick, Jr., they join as party plaintiffs, but only for their share of crop losses.”
The suit sought less than $75,000 in damages, and less than nine months after it was filed, the whole thing was resolved and voluntarily dismissed. Morris, among other things, had initially sought compensation for mental anguish.
Abraham Farms is not an insignificant operation. According to the congressman’s most recent financial disclosure statements, his ownership interest is worth as much as $5 million. And while his son-in-law manages the farm, Abraham is still the boss. “My son-in-law actively farms my property,” he told the Delta Farm Press. “I’ll make decisions with him on what is done. I’m basically in the trenches with the farmers figuring things out. Should we grow corn or soybeans this year? What’s cotton going to do? I’m asking the same questions farmers are asking daily. I want to be a good voice and advocate for my farmers whether they’re working row crops or timber or whatever they do.”
$75,000 may not seem like an enormous windfall, but it’s worth noting that it’s more than twice the median income of Abraham’s district. Still, it pales in comparison to the amount of money Abraham Farms has earned from its most generous contributor, the United States government.