As President-elect Donald Trump works to build his administration and fine-tune the agenda he'll push, Louisiana Republicans say they see openings for the state to secure prominent roles and benefit from new policies.
Trump, who won a stunning victory over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, has spent the past two days in transition mode. He met Thursday with President Barack Obama about the hand-over of power, and his team has begun the process of floating names for potential appointees to his cabinet.
"He's going to come fishing for talent in Louisiana and we have a lot of it," predicted Eric Skrmetta, who served as one of Trump's Louisiana campaign chairmen. "I think there will be significant participation from the Louisiana brain trust."
Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere said he also expects Louisiana will play a prominent role.
"We have a lot of people in Louisiana who are capable of being in leadership positions and they'll be used," he said.
No official short lists have been made public, though speculation has swirled about who Trump's closest advisers and allies will be.
Former Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican who found himself at odds with Trump as both sought the GOP nomination last year, has come up as a possible candidate for Health and Human Services secretary. Jindal, a Rhodes Scholar who served two terms as governor before leaving office in January, is widely known as a health policy wonk. At 24 years old, he was appointed secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. He later went on to serve as an adviser to the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Timmy Teepell, Jindal's chief political consultant, wouldn't confirm nor deny whether he has been contacted.
"They are going to need someone smart to lead the repeal of Obamacare," Teepell said.
One Louisianan already building tight connections to Trump is U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson.
Scalise, who Trump named to his "Second Amendment Coalition" advisory panel, spoke to Trump the morning after his election victory. He also joined Trump when the president-elect toured hard-hit Baton Rouge suburbs after catastrophic floods in August and has written supportive op-eds in Trump's favor.
In an interview with The Advocate following the election, Scalise said he plans to have an active role in advancing Trump's agenda through Congress. As Louisiana's ranking House member, Scalise holds a significant role in also pushing the state's agenda.
"I think his agenda is going to be very good for Louisiana," Scalise said. "The things he wants to do to get the country back on track are the things we need to get our state moving forward."
He described Trump as "really excited about this opportunity" when they spoke just hours after Trump cemented his position as president-elect.
"A lot of enthusiasm. A lot of excitement," Scalise said.
Scalise's relationship with Trump has been seen as a potential asset for Louisiana, a state that relies heavily on the oil and gas industry for jobs, receives a higher rate of funding from the federal government, and generally supports conservative positions.
In winning Louisiana’s vote Tuesday, President-elect Donald Trump received more votes than a…
Trump took 58 percent of the vote in Louisiana on Election Day, and the state's elected offices are mostly stocked with Republicans.
"I think because we have not been voting Democratic, there's been a sort of lack of attention from the Obama administration," said Woody Jenkins, who also chaired Trump's Louisiana campaign. "We've just not been a priority."
"I think the strength of the Louisiana delegation is going to work well with the president-elect," Skrmetta said.
A new role for Scalise?
A little over a year ago, Scalise was thought to be in line to move up a spot in the House leadership pecking order and become Majority Leader. That effort fell through when Leader Kevin McCarthy, of California, opted not to seek the Speaker's post. House Speaker Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin, reluctantly took on the chamber's top leadership role as political in-fighting threatened the party's power structure.
Depending on how smoothly Trump rebuilds burned bridges with other ranking members, Scalise may be positioned for another opportunity to move ahead.
Late in the campaign, Ryan found himself at odds with Trump after a recording surfaced of the GOP nominee making lewd comments about women. Scalise stood steadfastly loyal to Trump at the time, while remaining close to Ryan — an example of the type of tight-rope walking that insiders say has helped Scalise over the years curry favor with the most unyielding conservatives in the House, as well as traditional establishment-types.
Trump's relationship with Ryan appears to be on the mend, but it was only a little over a month ago that he lashed out at Ryan on Twitter, calling him a "very weak and ineffective leader" and "disloyal." And just days ago, Fox News host Sean Hannity, who has been shown to have Trump's ear through the campaign, cast doubt on Ryan's future in House leadership.
"Paul Ryan is not going to be the speaker of the House in January," Hannity said in a Fox interview election night. "He's not going to be the speaker."
Hannity later walked back those comments, ascribing them to his disappointment over Ryan's tepid support for Trump late in the campaign.
Ryan and Trump met on Thursday to work to repair their relationship. Both reportedly emerged from that meeting on a positive note.
"At this point (Ryan's) future seems to be fairly secure, in part because Tuesday night was a good night for the Republican Party," said Matthew N. Green, a political scientist at Catholic University and author of The Speaker of the House: A Study of Leadership. "There could certainly be some lasting unhappiness within the party since some felt than Ryan was less than supportive of the Trump candidacy, but there's a way in which winning can, if not heal wounds, at least put a healing balm on them."
Even if he doesn't move up the ranks, Green said Scalise's role as whip will evolve under a new administration.
"It's going to be more of a challenge," he said.
After Tuesday's elections, the GOP still holds a majority in the chamber, but the margin is tighter, he noted. He added that pushing an agenda that will become law, versus items that are likely to be vetoed can also present new challenges.
"The consequences are greater," Green said. "It can be harder for lawmakers to vote if they know it's not just a symbolic vote that will be vetoed."
'Special place in his heart for Louisiana'
Skrmetta wouldn't speculate on any change-ups in leadership, but he said that Scalise has positioned himself well for a future of working with the administration.
"I think Steve Scalise is a brilliant congressman and he can do anything he wants," he said. "I'll support Steve if he wants to be anything. He's good for Louisiana."
Villere said he sees Scalise as a "rising star" on the GOP's national stage.
"I think he has a future in Congress that's really unlimited," he said. "It just shows you the quality person he is and the amount of respect he was able to gain in such a short amount of time, that he is where he is today at third in House leadership."
As for Jindal, Skrmetta said he wouldn't put it outside the realm of possibility.
"Gov. Jindal certainly has broad experience, and he's part of the Louisiana family of potential," he said. "It certainly wouldn't be a stretch to see him be potentially involved in" healthcare policy.
Jenkins said Trump recognizes he has a strong support base in the state, which will be important for Louisiana's interests.
"He talks about Louisiana a lot," he said. "I think he has a special place in his heart for Louisiana."
Jenkins said that he hasn't been contacted about roles within the administration that Louisiana residents may be tapped for, but he said there are several opportunities from U.S. attorney posts to federal judgships to ambassador roles and, of course, cabinet positions.
He said that Trump's positions on energy will help the state's job growth. Trump supports loosening regulations on the oil and gas sector, increased drilling and offshore leasing and promoting the expanded use of natural gas. Opponents have argued that Trump's proposed energy policies could worsen climate change.
But Republicans here say that changes are needed to regrow jobs that have been lost in Louisiana.
"He knows the importance of energy here to the whole nation," Jenkins said. "There are a lot of people in Louisiana's energy sector waiting to get back to work."
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Baton Rouge Republican who will become the state's senior senator in January, said he also sees Trump's election as a boon to the energy sector in Louisiana.
"If you unleash your American energy resources, you create a lot of really good jobs with good benefits," he said.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who supported Clinton, on Wednesday sent Trump a formal letter congratulating him on his win.
"As evidenced by the results in Louisiana and across the country, you and your campaign captured a spirit of change that demands we do better for our citizens," Edwards wrote. "While we have tremendous challenges in front of us, I know we can all put this election behind us and work together to meet them."
Edwards also requested an opportunity to meet with Trump to discuss the ongoing flood recovery. Edwards has praised Trump for visiting Louisiana shortly after it was inundated with floods in August. Clinton had said she planned to visit, but she never did.
Villere, who is also hoping to meet with Trump soon, said he thinks Trump will be a trusted ally in the flood recovery.
"I think he understands the severity of the problems," he said. "He saw it first-hand."