For 20 years, from 1987 to February 2008, the Baton Rouge-based 6th Congressional District was represented by Richard H. Baker, a Republican who became an important national figure in laws relating to banking and financial services.
He served his district and state well before retiring to a plush lobbying job — and having not achieved in all that time the gavel of the House banking committee. In large part, that was because he angered powerful interest groups with his warnings about the systemic dangers in the nation’s financial system, including mortgage finance; those warnings were found to be prophecy in the market collapse later in 2008.
The lessons of his career are lost on the major Republican candidates now vying to take his seat, held for the past few two-year terms by U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge.
Cassidy is now running for the U.S. Senate, thus opening up next week’s competition that is realistically among four leading Republican contenders — not counting the odd fringe candidates and the extremely odd candidacy of former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards.
The story of Baker’s long and ultimately fruitless pursuit of the Banking gavel makes Edwards’ candidacy particularly ludicrous. One of Baker’s dictums about the House was that it takes three terms to be ignored.
Few candidates are worse off under the Baker Rule: At 87, Edwards is a new father and a robust candidate; his smooth and unflappable demeanor is an often embarrassing contrast with the GOP candidates scrapping and sniping at each other.
Edwards served in the House for more than seven years until 1972. A quirk of House rules is that he would retain his seniority for committee assignments in the Democratic minority; because he’s a convicted felon, he will attract attention for other reasons than being the senior freshman of the 114th Congress.
It’s delusional for Edwards to hope for election in a redrawn 6th District that is heavily Republican. And even if he did win a Dec. 6 runoff, the tyranny of the calendar suggests he will face heavenly judgment before too many more two-year terms have elapsed.
Yet the Baker Rule applies to the GOP hopefuls, too: a state representative (Lenar Whitney), a state senator (Dan Claitor), a former Jindal administration official and congressional aide (Garret Graves) and a young businessman (Paul Dietzel II).
Their campaign speeches and commercials are full of the GOP slogans du jour about the evils of “Obamacare” and Obama regulation of energy and Obama this or that. Whether it is the perils of “Obamacare” or balancing the federal budget or even achieving membership on a committee relevant to Louisiana’s interests, voters should take the promises with a big grain of salt. The newly minted Republican member will be a very junior member of a body where it takes three terms to be influential enough to even be noticed.
Once the new GOP member is elected, it’s likely that the 6th District will become what the English call a copper-bottom seat, one that never leaks any votes. But in the House, should they not opt for Cassidy’s decision to seek a Senate seat, or follow Edwards’ path to the governor’s chair, it will be at least six or eight years before they’re somebody.
It’s not something the candidates boasting of their prowess want to admit.
Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.