fred mulhearn no 1

Fred Mulhearn

What a difference a year makes.    

Then again, you knew that already. There’s a reason, after all, why writers and others use that adage, which just so happens to fit rather snugly when applied to Louisiana’s current congressional delegation. Just use your own brain to travel back in time and give it some thought.

Our federal politicos of February 2018, for example, aren’t our federal politicos of February 2019. Twelve months ago, Congressman Clay Higgins, of Acadiana, was cast aside by some reporters as a fringe rep and labeled as a sideshow by pundits lacking nuance.

U.S. Sen. John Kennedy was roughly six weeks away from proposing a bill to prohibit airlines from storing dogs in overhead bins, but already a darling of the Beltway press corps. Reporters never knew what Kennedy was going to say, which was why they kept asking him to say stuff.

By February 2018, only five months had passed since GOP Congressman Steve Scalise, of Jefferson Parish, made his triumphant return to the House. He did so while balancing recovery and rehabilitation, and — more importantly, politically — while serving as majority whip, the third most powerful post in the House.

Congressman Cedric Richmond, of New Orleans, was a Big Dog, too, but as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. Like Scalise, he was preparing to travel to House districts across the country for the 2018 elections, only for Democrats, not Republicans.

Looking north, Congressman Mike Johnson, of Shreveport, was wrapping up a seemingly quiet first term in office, albeit peppered with high-profile and well-covered appeals for civility. For his part, Congressman Ralph Abraham created buzz during February 2018 for his growing stature on the Agriculture Committee. He likewise generated rumors about a potential but unconfirmed run for governor.

Now let’s review the standings of those same Louisiana politicos, only this go around in the light of February 2019.

Known best locally as a former cop who spoke tough during Crimestopper television spots, Higgins is now a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which is sort of notable. The panel focuses on government accountability and House Democrats are expected to use it as a launching pad to lean on the White House and President Donald Trump.

The position could translate into a bump in national media coverage for Higgins, much like the one Kennedy is still enjoying after announcing he wouldn’t run for governor. Who will be a part of that content is Abraham, who had a seat at the negotiating table on the farm bill this past fall.

Sidestepping his own rumors about a gubernatorial bid, Scalise published a book and was relegated to the position of minority whip when Republicans lost the House. Richmond, meanwhile, handed over the chairmanship of the Black Caucus to Congresswoman Karen Bass, of California, and he in turn became assistant to the majority whip. (That’s quite a reversal of fortunes.)

As for Johnson, he has stepped onto a path first traveled by Scalise. Johnson is now chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a conservative force in the lower chamber that was previously held by Scalise before he used it to become majority whip.

Then there’s U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy and Congressman Garret Graves, both of Baton Rouge. They’ve been consistent in their policy efforts, with Cassidy continuing to engage on health-care issues as Graves’ role in water- and transportation-related matters appears to be growing.

With a couple of exceptions, Louisiana’s congressional delegation is in a much different place than it was just a year ago. The faces and personalities are the same, to be certain, but political influence has shifted a bit. But this was not done by the hands of voters in the Bayou State. No, national politics have served as the culprit.

Let’s recap:

• Thanks in part to a choice committee assignment, Higgins is in a position to bolster his national media profile, much like Kennedy did as a freshman.

• Scalise and Richmond, to some extent, are swapping roles on the Hill, from the majority leadership to the minority team and from the minority to majority ranks, respectively.

• Johnson is following the route that made Scalise a force to be reckoned with last term, but it will certainly be his own journey.

• Abraham, should he qualify for governor, soon will be focused more on Louisiana-based issues, rather than federal agriculture policy.

Louisiana voters are used to hearing about the loss of sway in our congressional delegation, not the readjusting of power. But that’s what we’re faced with at this time, and it may leave as lasting of an impact.

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