Mike Johnson

Mike Johnson, United States Representative, LA 4th District

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana won a race to chair the Republican Study Committee, a large caucus of House conservatives that's been a breeding ground for party leaders, including Vice President Mike Pence and Republican whip Steve Scalise of Jefferson Parish.

Johnson, a 46-year-old Republican from Benton, was picked for the post on a secret ballot Friday morning, edging out Rep. Tom McClintock, R-California. The group generally pushes for socially conservative legislation, cuts to non-defense spending and against tax hikes.

The chairmanship represents a rapid ascent for Johnson, whom voters in northwest Louisiana recently re-elected to a second term in Congress. Johnson served just one term in the Louisiana legislature before claiming the congressional seat — which former U.S. Rep. John Fleming gave up in a failed Senate bid — in 2016.

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Before entering politics, Johnson worked as an attorney on a number of Christian conservative causes, including pressing for prayer in public school, and defended the state's ban on same-sex marriage, which was ultimately overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Republican Study Committee, once the right flank of House Republicans, has grown over the years and now with 150 members includes a majority of House Republicans.

"As we become the minority party in the next term, we have a vital responsibility to present practical ideas and effective policy initiatives," Johnson said in a statement Friday, "and to unify as a conference to vigorously defend and advance our core conservative principles."

Scalise, who was elected Republican minority whip on Thursday, is a past chairman of the Republican Study Committee and used the post to vault himself into party leadership.

Johnson credited Scalise and two other Louisianans in the Republican Study Committee — Reps. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, and Clay Higgins, R-Port Barre — with helping him win the chairmanship.

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Pence once chaired the group when he was a congressman from Indiana. So did Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who went on to found the right-wing Freedom Caucus, as well as former Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, who served as President Donald Trump's secretary of Heath and Human Services.

"Rest assured, I will continue to fight for the core conservative values I and so many other Louisianians hold dear," Johnson said. "I am honored to have been chosen by my colleagues to serve in this critical role. We look forward to moving our cause forward over the next two years and to helping shape the future of the conservative movement "

Follow Bryn Stole on Twitter, @BrynStole.