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Vance McAllister celebrates with his family and supporters after winning the 5th Congressional District election on Nov. 16. (Associated Press)<br>

Vance McAllister celebrates with his family and supporters after winning the 5th Congressional District election on Nov. 16. (Associated Press)

Beam: New congressman shocked pros

Last Modified: Wednesday, November 20, 2013 9:03 PM

By Jim Beam / American Press

Mr. McAllister goes to Washington. His first name is Vance, and he shook up the political establishment when he won Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District seat last Saturday by a 20-percent margin.

The McAllister success story sounds an awful lot like the events depicted in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” the 1939 movie that made James Stewart a major motion picture star. Those who thought they could manipulate the political amateur played by Stewart had another think coming. And the Democrats, Republicans and others who are claiming credit for McAllister’s election victory may soon find out that he, too, is his own man.

McAllister had some help, but it was from unlikely quarters. The Robertston family that stars in “Duck Dynasty” knew the candidate before its reality show became a hit, according to Roll Call, which has been covering news on Capitol Hill since 1955.

“We’re just good, common friends and had a lot of the same likes and interests and built that relationship,” McAllister told Roll Call. “When I told Willie (Robertson) I was thinking of running for Congress, he said, ‘Have you lost your mind?’”

Why does McAllister think he can succeed? His political innocence is refreshing. He’s never been to Washington, D.C., and is excited about the future.

“Just to know I’m walking in the same footsteps of our forefathers is going to be a very humbling experience,” he told The Associated Press. “I’m a people person,” he said. “I know how to say hello. I think there’s going to be a lot of people willing to put their arm around me and introduce me to folks.”

Business success is also one of McAllister’s strong suits. He owns construction equipment rental companies, convenience stores and Subway sandwich and Fox Pizza franchises. The fact he was able to spend $825,000 of his own money to finance his campaign says a lot about his skills in the business world.

McAllister also talked about compromise, the word disliked intensely by hard-line conservatives and also by those on the far left. He added that his election offers a message for the Republican Party on how to win.

“I believe there is a message,” he told The Times-Picayune. “And it’s that we intend to work together for the common purpose and that’s to make government work. That’s what we should be striving for.”

Realizing that repeal of Obamacare is a longshot, McAllister said he would like to see the health care law modified in order to make it work. And he doesn’t believe people should be required to buy health care coverage.

McAllister also believes Louisiana should accept federal funds under Obamacare to expand Medicaid for many of the state’s uninsured residents. Gov. Bobby Jindal rejected the idea. McAllister apparently realizes he represents a congressional district with many of the poorest people in the country.

Conservatives have a tough time swallowing the idea of expanding the health care program for the poor, but they console themselves by saying they know McAllister is still a true-blue follower of their cause. And the new congressman said as much.

“Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, I want everyone to know that I’m here, we’ll talk, we’ll visit,” he told Roll Call. “I want everybody to know I’m approachable. I’m a true conservative, but I’m an American first.”

Wow! Wouldn’t it be comforting if more members of Congress put the country above their own self-interests and their re-elections?

It has been entertaining to watch the reaction of Republicans and Democrats to McAllister’s election.

The GOP is having difficulty accepting his moderate views on some issues, but insist he will be OK if he stays true to their cause. Whether he will remains to be seen, but he struck a chord with voters when he talked about getting things done in Washington, which many on both sides of the aisle refuse to do.

Democrats believe they played a key role in McAllister’s success, and they did. Joe Scarborough of the liberal MSNBC network called his election “pretty special stuff,” but he admitted McAllister is far from a “flaming liberal.”

Who else were the 239,686 Democrats in the 5th District going to support? They saw McAllister as the better alternative to state Sen. Neil Riser, his runoff opponent. Some in the GOP don’t think Jindal and others conspired to help Riser, but many voters in the 5th District obviously believed a conspiracy existed. They had good reason to think so.

Neither party can claim it was the deciding factor in the outcome. And maybe that is why McAllister was the better choice in the minds of voters. They wanted a reasonable congressman who isn’t beholden to anyone.

C.B. Forgotston, who likes to be called the “King of Subversive Bloggers,” summed up what may be McAllister’s most redeeming qualities. He spoke from the heart, Forgotston said, “and came across as likeable, believable and sincere.”

I don’t even know the man, but McAllister appears to be just what the doctor ordered for a Congress with a dismal 9-percent job approval rating. Only time will tell whether that is really the case, but for now his election is an encouraging development.


   
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Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com

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