House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, has thrived in Congress's highly partisan environment. He climbed the ladder quickly, rising from newbie in 2008 to become the chamber's third-ranking Republican just eight years later, by cheerfully pushing — and organizing his colleagues around — the party line.
Ironically, though, Scalise can trace some of his success over the years to an equal and opposite instinct honed back in his days in the far less divided Louisiana Legislature.
During his long tenure in Baton Rouge, Scalise proved adept at building relationships — not just with fellow Republicans but also across the aisle. He was a committed conservative even then and had a hand in introducing a more partisan dynamic that continues to grow today (with his former aide Cameron Henry, who holds his old seat and serves as Appropriations Committee chair, playing a keying role). But he also worked with Democrats on nonpartisan initiatives such as the film tax credits, one of his cherished accomplishments.
Washington, D.C. — Steve Scalise has come a long way during more than two decades in public …
One key relationship is with Democratic U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, another former state legislator who now represents a neighboring New Orleans-based district in Washington. And one place their ongoing friendship has played out is on the baseball field.
Richmond, a star college pitcher at Morehouse, is the undisputed ringer for the Democratic side in the annual Congressional showdown, for which Scalise was practicing when he was shot Wednesday morning.
That made the ever-competitive Scalise particularly proud of a moment from 2014's game, when, sporting a uniform from his alma mater Archbishop Rummel High School, he scored on a rare Richmond wild pitch. The moment is immortalized in a framed photo on the wall of the Scalise's hideaway in the U.S. Capitol, which is otherwise decorated with art and artifacts of Abraham Lincoln, who used the space during his own brief stint in Congress. Congressional leaders announced Wednesday that this year's game would go on despite the tragedy.
Richmond, who now heads the Congressional Black Caucus, can play the partisan game as well as Scalise does. And back in Baton Rouge, they differed on plenty of substance. Richmond often introduced gun control measures aimed at curbing violent crime in New Orleans, for example, while Scalise liked to highlight his successful bill to keep the city from suing gun manufacturers. Back then, their friendly rivalry played out on the basketball court, not the baseball diamond.
U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise cultivates relationships.
They've kept their friendship going in Washington, and have teamed up to push initiatives important to the state, including a 2014 rewrite of the National Flood Insurance Program rules and relief for various disasters.
And Richmond played a key role in helping Scalise survive the only major scandal he's faced in Washington, the late 2014 revelation that, as a state representative, he'd met with a group founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader and gubernatorial candidate David Duke at an event hosted by a close Duke associate. Scalise apologized, and Richmond vouched for his friend's character, which helped dull calls that he step down from leadership.
"I don't think Steve Scalise has a racist bone in his body," Richmond said.