In October 1972, New Orleans Congressman Hale Boggs boarded a flight to campaign for Alaska Congressman Nick Begich’s reelection.
Boggs was the Democratic Majority Leader and was stumping in America’s Last Frontier not so much to keep his party’s hold on Congress, as that was never in doubt, but to collect favors from his Democrat colleagues for a future run for Speaker of the House.
As the second highest ranking figure in the US House of Representatives, Boggs was at his political peak and it was the closest a Louisiana politician ever came to holding the speaker’s gavel.
That changed on October 16th when the twin-engine Cessna 310 vanished in flight between Anchorage and Juneau. Neither the plane wreckage nor the remains of the four people on board would ever be discovered despite the massive search effort via air, land, and sea military units.
Declared dead months later, Boggs and Begich are represented with cenotaphs at Congressional Cemetery in Washington.
Twenty-six years later another Louisiana congressman would come close to leading the US House of Representatives when Bob Livingston was elected to succeed a politically battered Newt Gingrich, who fell on his sword after presiding over an underperforming Republican effort in the 1998 midterms.
Yet the turmoil from the Clinton scandals would spill over into the Gingrich succession and in a revanchist move by Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, the porn magnate targeted Livingston.
It’s hard to imagine a time when politicians would let matters such as infidelity, even when not shamelessly flaunted, affect their political trajectory but that was not just a different time but it would prove to be the the very time it changed.
Livingston shocked the political world by announcing that he would not assume the speaker’s office that he had won in his party caucus and would further resign from office and called on President Bill Clinton to do the same.
The Democratic caucus then rallied in front the White House, Clinton stayed, and Americans would be conditioned to tolerate such scandals as a new normal.
The rise of Donald Trump and Kamala Harris to the country’s highest offices became possible that day.
As this was playing out in the 202 area code, a freshman state representative from Jefferson was weighing his own options in the 504 with the sudden vacancy in the suburban New Orleans congressional district.
With former Governor Dave Treen’s entry into the race to succeed his one time protege, State Representative Steve Scalise chose to skip on running and opted to wait the elderly Treen out
Ironically the person he’d be patiently waiting to vacate would be David Vitter, who upset Treen in the special election. Later that year Scalise would have to fend off a serious challenge for reelection courtesy of trial lawyers who took exception to his conservative voting record.
When opportunity seemed to manifest in 2004 when Vitter pursued a bid for US Senator and thus freeing up the congressional seat, Scalise would encounter another roadblock courtesy of the opportunist candidacy of Bobby Jindal, who had just lost a close race for governor and was looking for an office to springboard into another run for governor.
Despite Jindal”s tangential connection to the area, especially compared with Rummel grad Scalise, the powers that be whose support is critical in a race of this scale lined up behind the Baton Rouge transplant and Scalise had to wait once again.
When Hurricane Katrina essentially scuttled Kathleen Blanco’s hope for a second term as governor, Jindal jumped at the chance to return to Baton Rouge and after the Louisiana voters took their mulligan in the 2007 governor’s race, Scalise’s patience paid off and comfortably won a runoff in the 2008 special election.
Mr. Scalise was finally going to Washington.
Utilizing the people skills honed in the State Capitol, Scalise moved through the ranks quickly and won a hotly contested bid for Republican Whip.
His advancement towards the pinnacle seemed assured, a matter of waiting and a shift in the Republicans’ political fortunes.
And then the bizarre hand of fate seemed to once again tragically impede the rise of yet another Louisiana congressman on June 14, 2017.
While practicing for a congressional baseball game in a DC suburb in northern Virginia a liberal activist radicalized by confrontation-colored Democratic rhetoric attempted to engage in “direct action” with an SKS rifle
The shooter was taken out but not before Scalise was severely wounded and left fighting for his life.
Scalise spent the next several months battling medical setbacks, including a serious infection.
Scalise was the first Louisiana member of Congress to be shot since Huey Long was fatally wounded while sprinting down the same corridor in the State Capitol that Scalise walked through countless times in the decade plus he served in the Louisiana legislature.
Scalise would recover and his mobility would improve and though the shooting would leave scars, Scalise’s sunny disposition and engaging personality that hastened his political rise remained unscathed.
His popularity in his district, as reflected by his recent landslide reelection, has not diminished in no small part to Scalise’s sincerity and his understanding of the golden rule of public service: all politics is local.
On election night while the Republican house brass was huddled in DC reviewing disappointing election results, Scalise was at Drago’s in Metairie amongst his friends and supporters.
Steve Scalise is no Eric Cantor, whose political career unceremoniously slipped out the corridors of power, having committed the cardinal sin of forgetting his constituency.
Though there were contests for the GOP’s house leadership officer positions in Tuesday’s caucus meeting, Scalise was elevated to Majority Leader without opposition, a recognition of both his ability and his endurance.
Fifty years ago over the rugged Alaskan coastline Louisiana lost a Majority Leader; on Tuesday, a son of the Pelican State got it back.