La.’s influence dwindling
McCrery departure, added to others, lessens state power in D.C.
By GERARD SHIELDS
Advocate Washington bureau
Published: Dec 9, 2007 - Page: 1A
WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Jim McCrery’s decision not to seek another term next year further dilutes Louisiana’s political power in Washington, where the departure may amount to the state losing close to a century of seniority in four years.
The Shreveport Republican announced Friday that he will not seek a 10th two-year term, taking with him 20 years of experience and the state’s ranking member status on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee that writes the nation’s tax laws.
In 2004, the state lost 52 years of seniority with the retirement of former U.S. Sen. John Breaux, D-La., who had 28 years, and former U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-Chackbay, who had 24. U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, D-New Orleans, faces a public corruption trial next year that could wipe out another 20 years of service.
“I haven’t done a study, but I can’t think of another state that is in worse condition,” said Elliot Stonecipher, a Shreveport political consultant. “This hurts, this hurts bad.”
U.S. Rep. Richard Baker, R-Baton Rouge, remains the dean of the Louisiana congressional delegation with 21 years in office. Rumors have swirled that Baker also may parachute out of the House, which is now controlled by the Democratic Party, though Baker has given no indication of such a move.
Baker could not be reached for comment on Saturday. A call to his Baton Rouge home was not returned.
A quiet congressman who preferred diving into the details of federal policy, McCrery’s behind-the-scenes expertise made him a player on key issues facing the U.S.
McCrery, 58, led President Bush’s failed attempt to privatize Social Security and McCrery made a proposal to do the same to Medicare.
More recently, McCrery has been the GOP point man in the battle to fix the alternative minimum tax. The levy once targeted wealthier income-earners but has increasingly crept into the pockets of the middle class.
A former Democrat, McCrery has been described by Washington media as “pragmatic as a business CEO.” In Louisiana, he has fought to protect Fort Polk and Barksdale Air Force Base in his district, while pushing for more federal money for Interstates 49 and 69.
“Members of Congress can literally wheel and deal for whatever we need,” said Bernie Pinsonat, a pollster for Southern Media and Research in Baton Rouge. “We were once one of the most-powerful states in the country eight short years ago and whether you like it or not, seniority is the game in Washington.”
McCrery’s interest in politics began at age 11 when he made up a “Nixon for President” sign for his front yard. A slight, fair-haired man, McCrery became student-body president in high school, defeating a popular quarterback by setting up a telephone bank and talking to 800 students.
After graduating from LSU’s Paul M. Hebert Law Center in 1975, the married father of two sons went into private practice in his hometown of Leesville. He then put in two years as an assistant Shreveport city attorney.
As a Democrat in 1981, he worked for former U.S. Rep. Buddy Roemer in Roemer’s Shreveport district office and later became Roemer’s legislative director in Washington.
He returned to the state in 1984 to become a lobbyist for Georgia-Pacific Corp. in Baton Rouge. Political analysts predict that McCrery, after leaving Congress, would join the lobbying ranks in Washington.
“Jim is really a smart guy, he’s not your typical congressman,” Stonecipher said. “He will go the way of Billy Tauzin and the rest of them.”
Tauzin took a $2 million-a-year job as president and chief executive officer of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association.
Breaux joined the top lobbying firm of Patton Boggs before recently announcing the formation of his own lobbying group. Former U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston, R-Metairie, resigned in 1998 and also started his own lobbying firm, which now ranks in the top 20 in Washington.
In 1987, McCrery joined a list of Southern conservative Democrats who switched to the GOP. A year later, he succeeded Roemer in Congress after Roemer’s election to the Louisiana governorship.
McCrery’s departure will also be a loss to the House Republican leadership. McCrery has been a chief fundraiser for campaigns of fellow Republicans. In 2004, he raised $1.3 million, giving away a half-million dollars to colleagues.
His campaign support caused fellow Republicans to predict that McCrery would become the Ways and Means chairman in 2004, succeeding his longtime ally, U.S. Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif. But the takeover of the House by Democrats crippled McCrery’s political future
McCrery is the 18th Republican serving in this Congress to announce a decision to step down.
“He was disappointed that the House lost the majority because he lost his Ways and Means seat,” said G. Pearson Cross, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette political scientist. “On the House side, we’re losing someone very important.”