Insults are hardly unusual in political races or on talk radio. But Rob Maness, who is running for the state House District 77 seat, blew his top when a caller to his WGSO-AM radio show asserted that anyone to the right of Sen. Ted Cruz — presumably referring to Maness — is an "extremist."
Maness had been jovial moments earlier as he and the caller discussed Roy Moore, who is running for an open U.S. Senate seat in Alabama. Maness had just finished criticizing Republican leaders for working against Moore, who has been accused of sexual misconduct with multiple teenagers in the late 1970s.
But his tone changed abruptly when the caller, who identified himself as "Flaming Liberal," said that even Cruz had asked Moore to step down. "If you're to the right of Ted Cruz, you're an extremist," he said.
"Whoa, you just called me an extremist, brother," said Maness, a retired Air Force colonel who went on to outline his military background, including top-secret clearances.
"I've done everything this country has ever asked me to do. How dare you call me an extremist," he said. "I'm the most investigated, stable man that the country could have ever given the keys to nuclear weapons to, so you can blow me! You can blow me and get out of here if you're gonna talk like that and call me an extremist."
The caller, David Bellinger, a former New Orleans resident who described himself as a frequent talk radio caller, returned fire, saying "Go screw your ma, a-hole," several times before Maness asked his producer to cut the caller off.
"I'm not going to listen to that crap," he said after jettisoning Bellinger. "Nobody's gonna call me an extremist, because I'm not one. The extremists are the people who are liars, and the hypocrites and the swamp creatures from Washington, D.C. and Baton Rouge and all around the nation, even at the local level, that have got their political power and they try to smear people like me because we want to take it away from them."
Maness spent part of his program, called Iron Liberty News, complaining about attacks against him by Republicans during his run for the north shore district that takes in much of western St. Tammany Parish, including Covington, Madisonville and part of Folsom. He was the top vote-getter in the primary election and is in a runoff with Covington City Councilman Mark Wright.
Prior to taking the call, he noted that his wife had commiserated with him about efforts to tear down his reputation.
Bellinger, who moved from New Orleans to Atlanta after losing his home in Hurricane Katrina, said he had been on Maness' show before and they had agreed and disagreed, but Monday's show "took it to a new level."
"Col. Maness doesn't have the temperament or decency to hold public office of any kind," Bellinger said.
Maness responded late Tuesday in a text message.
"I am passionate about my desire to serve, and that passion rubs the establishment the wrong way. Only the political swamp on the right and left would have heart palpitations about it. The rest of us who live north and south of the lake aren't an uptight bunch," he said.
Wright, his runoff opponent, called his radio outburst an example of what isn't needed in state politics.
"Our political debate in Louisiana has begun to sacrifice substance for political points," Wright said in a prepared statement. "State representatives must be respectful of opposing views during debate and consideration of legislation. While no one is perfect, I commit to do that as a representative of District 77. My opponent's response to a caller on his Monday night show is a clear example of what we don't need in Baton Rouge."
Ashley Rodrigue of WWL-TV contributed to this report.