Now that some of the dust has settled, where are we on the Vance McAllister situation? The Republican establishment wants the U.S. congressman from north Louisiana to resign, but it has a credibility problem. Many of his constituents are willing to give him some slack. Others are reserving judgment, and they may be among the most rational of all three groups.
McAllister earned the dubious nickname as the state’s “kissing congressman” for being seen on video embracing one of his aides, a good friend’s wife. The incident occurred last December and has gained national exposure, but has created surprisingly little shock among those who have seen it. Maybe that’s because scandal has become somewhat routine for the Pelican State.
Whatever the case, no one should forget that other states have their shady side as well. U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina is a case in point. Sanford was governor of his state from 2003 to 2011. He disappeared for a week in 2009, and when he returned he admitted he had been unfaithful to his wife, finding a “soul mate” in Argentina.
Sanford was censured, but he served out his gubernatorial term. He survived the scandal and in 2013 was elected to Congress with 54 percent of the vote.
Like Sanford, McAllister confessed to his indiscretion.
“I have fallen short as a husband and a father, and I feel more ashamed than you can imagine,” he said. “I’ve asked them for forgiveness, and I’m asking forgiveness from my constituents who elected me to serve them.”
Then came that first group we talked about, those who have called for McAllister’s resignation. Chief among those making early judgments were Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal and Roger Villere, chairman of the state GOP.
A host of writers and observers have pointed out that both men favored state Rep. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, who ended up losing a congressional election runoff against McAllister by a wide margin. The two were competing for the 5th District seat left vacant with the resignation of former U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman.
Jindal and Villere have been accused of having a double standard. They gave U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., a pass after his name surfaced in a Washington, D.C., prostitution scandal. Obviously, Vitter fits their qualifications for the kind of uncompromising Republicans they want in Congress. Both men have refused to answer their critics on why they never attacked Vitter or called for his resignation.
McAllister didn’t fit the Jindal-Villere version of GOP conservatism. McAllister thought the state should expand its Medicaid health care program for poor and low-income residents. It’s something Jindal has consistently and vigorously opposed.
Joshua Stockley, an associate professor of political science at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, said, “He (McAllister) kind of marches to the beat of his own drum.”
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, talked about the incident.
“I know this is a difficult time for Vance, his family and his constituents,” Richmond told The Times-Picayune. “In his short time here in Washington, Vance has shown the rare courage to work across the aisle to benefit the people of his district. I realize he must earn back their trust, but if he does so I am confident that he can emerge from this shortcoming a better man and a more devoted collaborator for the people of Louisiana.”
Then, there are McAllister’s constituents. They have come down on both sides of the issue, but haven’t been harsh critics.
The Rev. Danny Chase of the Christian Life Church in Monroe, told the News-Star newspaper, “I’m not taking up for the congressman; what he did was wrong. But I just feel like there is a conspiracy to bring Vance down and destroy him. For someone on his staff to do that (release the video) is wrong.”
Terry Parker, a businessman in the community of Start, told The Associated Press he voted for McAllister because of his emphasis on biblical morals. “He did this to himself,” Parker said. “But it’s dirty, dirty politics being done to him, too.”
Pamela Nolan, who was wearing a T-shirt from her Baptist church in Start, told The AP she abhors marital infidelity of any kind. But, she added, “What laws has he broken? What trust has he violated other than his wife’s? … The next election should be the determinant of how we feel about it.”
And that brings us to the last group, those who are reserving judgment. Time may not heal this incident for McAllister and those he has hurt, but it does give everyone an opportunity to see how it all unfolds before coming down hard on either side. Will McAllister’s wife and family, for example, forgive him and stand with him publicly as Vitter’s wife did?
Two biblical passages come to mind.
Luke 6:37 says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
John 8:7 talks about the time Jesus was asked whether an adulteress should be stoned.
“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her,” Jesus said.
If McAllister runs for re-election this November, those are words for his constituents and his critics to think about.