Editor’s Note: A guest post by James Hartman, a political consultant based in Louisiana. In addition to Sen. Vitter, he has worked in nine states, Europe and Africa for true public servants of all stripes.
Fifteen years ago, when I was a mid-level staffer for a local politician, then-Congressman David Vitter called my office. He gave me his cell number. He told me why he was calling and that he wanted to help with an issue that would improve public policy and people’s lives. I still didn’t vote for him that year. I thought he was just doing his job.
Twelve years ago, I had a job offer in Iraq and was having trouble with the State Department. Then-Congressman Vitter helped me expedite issues and cut through the bureaucracy of Washington. I didn’t vote for him the next year, either. I thought he was just doing his job.
More than 10 years ago, my grandmother was turning 80 and my mother threw her a big surprise party. My task was to get public officials to acknowledge the event. She lived in another state. I wrote the president, her governor, her congressman, her senators, our governor, our congressman, both our senators, and many others. Only David Vitter’s staff sent a letter to my grandmother acknowledging her milestone. Sen. Landrieu didn’t. Gov. Blanco didn’t. Congressman Jindal didn’t. David Vitter’s letter meant the world to her. I had never even met David Vitter then.
Ten years ago, working as a mid-level staffer for another local politician, I reluctantly attended a meeting David Vitter held with local officials about Hurricane Katrina recovery. I thought it was going to be political grandstanding. It wasn’t. By then he was Senator Vitter. He listened. He put FEMA in its place. He did what needed to be done. It was only a few days after his mother had died but his personal loss was not evident. He did his job. As he exited that event I followed him and his staffer, Brenda. I called his name; he stopped and turned. I thanked him for his work and, personally, for his staff handling my simple request for my grandmother. He responded sincerely and called me by name; he knew who I was, how I worked, and for whom. He didn’t have to.
Seven years ago, my pastor went to Washington to meet with lawmakers about equality issues – including some “causes” with which I disagree. They were turned away by most. When he came back, the pastor said to me, “Your name opens doors.” Oh? He said Sen. Vitter’s staff said he didn’t have time to meet because they didn’t have an appointment (which was true). Pastor said, “James Hartman is a member of our church.” They were escorted in. The Senator didn’t agree with what they wanted, but he listened and he responded honestly and respectfully.
Six years ago, upon my return from working in a campaign in Europe, I had the privilege of introducing Sen. Vitter as speaker at a local GOP event. I still remember the final part of what I said: “He knows when to fight. He knows when to compromise. And he never, ever, gives up.” After the event, Sen. Vitter found me in the crowd to thank me for my words. Believe me when I tell you that most high officials wouldn’t have bothered.
Five years ago, I reached out to Sen. Vitter’s campaign and said I wanted to help in his reelection. They asked if I meant personally or professionally and I said both, or either. They trusted me. They listened to me. They gave me and my staff meaningful tasks and a job. I walked neighborhoods for David Vitter that year, and that was not what I was paid to do. I voted for him then, and I pushed the button hard.
Four years ago, a friend – not even a close one – who is a veteran (and a Democrat, and gay) – was having trouble with the Louisiana higher education system. He had called Sen. Landrieu and had been ignored, so he called me. I connected him with State Rep. Nick Lorusso and Sen. Vitter. Rep. Lorusso authored legislation to fix his problem and Sen. Vitter assigned staff to help him. They didn’t ask his party affiliation or sexual orientation. A constituent had a problem and they helped when others wouldn’t. That constituent emailed me later, “I will always support Sen. Vitter now and I’ll tell others to do the same.”
Two years ago, another friend – again, not a close one but an old one – needed whistleblower protection after exposing a FEMA contractor’s corruption. That friend was also a Democrat, also gay. He had been ignored by the others and I connected him with Sen. Vitter. The senator and his staff helped. They didn’t ask his party affiliation or sexual orientation. A constituent had a problem and they helped when others wouldn’t.
About 21 months ago my pastor preached a sermon titled, “Who are your heroes?” She asked us to sit in silence and consider it. David Vitter was the first person who sprang to mind. The next week, I wrote him a letter telling him about it. He didn’t respond for a while but when he did he wrote, “I’m not sure I’m worthy of that, James, but thank you.” He is a humble man, but resolute in his beliefs.
About 18 months ago, I ran into Sen. Vitter in my office building. (His office is one floor above mine.) He stopped what he was doing – reading, working, as always – to speak with me. His comments indicated he was following my work in other arenas. He delayed his departure for another event to talk with me – at his insistence, not mine.
Last February, I had an invitation to do work in the presidential race in Nigeria. I had foolishly failed to renew my passport, which had expired only a few months earlier. Expediting through the State Department would’ve have been fast enough, so I called on Sen. Vitter. My passport was renewed in time for me to make a difference (and a living) in Africa.
Six months ago, my mother needed help getting a visa for an African missionary who needed to come to the U.S. for a conference. Sen. Vitter helped. He didn’t ask about my mother’s political affiliation (she’s a proud Democrat and in another state), the race/orientation/politics of the missionary. He just tried to help.
Last week, I had major issues with a federal agency, both professionally and personally. I tried to handle it myself and couldn’t. I called on Sen. Vitter and his staff handled both problems quickly.
Was David Vitter “just doing his job” in all those incidents? Sure, to a point. But he was also doing what a constituent needed, on deadlines, and he was doing for me and others what other elected officials wouldn’t. He was doing things for a constituent’s family in another state 600 miles away. He had nothing to gain. He has received no money from me; he has, on the contrary, PAID me for my service and advice.
Does David Vitter “hate Democrats”? Not hardly. He has helped more than a few at my request. Does he “hate gay people”? No. He has helped some directly (and many indirectly) without concern about such things. Does he disrespect women? Not at all. In fact, many of his key staffers are women and he fought hard to make sure insurance companies pay for “experimental” treatments for breast cancer.
Some of my liberal friends call David a “whoremonger.” Nonsense. They call him “hateful.” Not true. David Vitter cares about the people he serves. He cares about Louisiana. He is NOT like the current governor, who cares only for himself, and electing David governor will NOT be a “third Jindal term.” He is NOT like demagogues. Is he perfect? No. None of us is.
David’s opponent in the race for governor has based his entire campaign on the premise of “Vote for me because David Vitter is a bad man.” I can personally tell you that David Vitter is a very GOOD man. I don’t agree with him about everything; the only person with whom I agree about everything is myself, and even then I question absolutes. David Vitter is a good man – flawed like all of us – who serves the people. He has my vote for governor. I ask that you give him yours, too.