Louisiana voters may have gone all in for President-elect Donald Trump, but that support doesn't necessarily translate into political muscle. Three members of a congressional delegation that was already short on seniority are set to leave in January, and as of Friday, no locals appear to be among the crowds flowing in and out of Trump Tower these days.
With U.S. Sen. David Vitter heading for retirement, Louisiana won't even be represented by anyone who was in office the last time a Republican president put together an administration.
It turns out that doesn't mean nobody in the delegation has been through this process before.
U.S. Rep. Garret Graves was just elected to his second term, but before that he spent years as a staffer on Capitol Hill. Back when George W. Bush was putting together his administration, Graves worked for U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin. These days, he's spending his time trying to put what he learned into action, to identify people with expertise, connections to the new guard or both, and to make sure Louisiana's particular interests are represented in the new administration.
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Louisiana still had two Democratic senators in 2000, so Tauzin played point man on federal appointments. Graves coordinated the process, and saw how getting names in front of decision-makers as soon as possible is key.
"One of the big things is recognizing that the more you can populate the new administration with Louisiana people, or Louisiana-friendly people, the better off you'll be," he said in a recent interview.
Graves is focused less on big-name cabinet-level appointments than on jobs in agencies and at the White House. Nor is he zeroing in on plum appointments for U.S. Attorney, U.S. Marshal and federal judgeships, which tend to come a little later in the process and go through the Senate.
Instead, he singled out some key issue areas where he thinks Louisiana needs advocates, including energy, fisheries, coastal restoration and international trade. And he named some potential names.
The best known and most eye-catching is U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, who is leaving his Acadiana-based congressional seat after having finished third in the runoff to replace Vitter. Boustany is a retired heart surgeon and longtime member of the House Ways and Means Committee, and in addition to health care, he developed an expertise in trade policy. Graves said he'd recommend Boustany for a major role in that area, perhaps as U.S. trade representative.
What's interesting here is that Trump ran as a harsh critic of existing trade deals, and Boustany is an advocate for the sort of international trade that plays a key role in Louisiana's economy. At a time when Republicans in Congress were divided on whether to keep the Export-Import Bank, which supporters say gives American companies access to foreign markets and detractors argue amounts to crony capitalism, Boustany came down staunchly in favor.
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On the flip side, Boustany joined Trump and many other Republicans this season in opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he'd initially hoped to support. In a roundup of possible appointees for the job, Politico said he and Trump are aligned in their support for easing restrictions on energy exports.
Regardless of commonalities, though, someone like Boustany would certainly bring the perspective of a port-centered economy into a potentially protectionist mix.
"Instead of talking free trade, we talk fair trade, and I think Charles gets that," Graves said. "You've got to send both teams out onto the field."
Also on Graves' list are people like Robert Barham, a former lawmaker who headed the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries under former Gov. Bobby Jindal and who now oversees state parks for Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser. Graves said he could be a good fit in the Department of Interior or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He also mentioned Ryan Lambert, a political operative who ran Trump's Louisiana campaign and helped elect Graves, for a possible White House job.
So Graves is busy emailing, calling old contacts who are close to the transition, talking to his peers in Congress, and generally trying to plant ideas wherever they might grow.
"Getting in early, I think, is something really important," Graves said. "So the question is, where can we be part of the discussion?"