We interrupt this presidential campaign with a reminder that conservative strength in the House of Representatives will have a huge effect on how well this country is governed in the next few years. Conservatives particularly need their independent organization in the House, the Republican Study Committee, to serve not just as a noisemaker but as an effective voice in crafting national policy. Two solid conservatives, Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia and Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, are vying for the RSC chairmanship. Others can testify for Graves, but as somebody who has followed Scalise's career since he was speaker of Louisiana State University's student assembly in 1989, I can certainly vouch that the Louisianan has more than lived up to the expectations I described for him when he first came to the House in 2008.
Just as I predicted then, Scalise in Congress has proved to be "a strongly conservative and… [equally importantly, a] superbly savvy legislator."
In just four years, Scalise has forged a reputation as an intelligent bulldog with an appetite for chomping away at big government. Consider several of his high-profile accomplishments.
Second, while everybody else in a committee hearing seemed to be kowtowing to the supposed moral authority of former Vice President Al Gore on cap-and-trade legislation, Scalise effectively raked Gore over the coals, as can be seen in this video link. (He did much the same to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, calling him to account for Chu's earlier advocacy of high gas prices as a good idea and blasting him for his role in the Solyndra scandal.) Indeed, Scalise has made himself perhaps the "go-to guy" for all House conservatives when it comes to energy policy.
Third -- and this one was fun -- Scalise almost single-handedly stopped Barack Obama from being the Grinch who taxed Christmas trees. Obama tried to assess a 15-cent tax on trees as a "fee," but Scalise got wind of it and, as Fox News noted, raised such a stink that Obama was forced to reverse himself.
"Obama was trying to sneak it through," Scalise told me last week, "but we 'called him out' on it. People immediately started realizing how ludicrous it was. I worked with the Heritage Foundation on that, and we blocked it within about a day."
Meanwhile, Scalise has earned plaudits as the vice-chairman for candidate recruitment for the National Republican Congressional Committee, where his work is credited with helping make it virtually impossible for Democrats to retake a house majority in this fall's elections.
His conservative interest-group ratings are strong, too: 97 lifetime from the American Conservative Union, 100 lifetime from National Right to Life, 100 lifetime from the National Federation of Independent business, and an A+ from the National Rifle Association.
Colorado's U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, praising what he called Scalise's "knowledge, experience, tenacity, and dedication," sent this endorsement Scalise's way: "Steve has a proven track record of being a leading voice for conservatives in Congress and I'm proud to support him for RSC Chairman."
When I spoke to Scalise by phone last week, he emphasized both philosophy and practical politics. "The strategy of the RSC," he said, "should be to figure out what is the most conservative product we can actually achieve. Our first objective should be to serve as the conservative conscience of House Republicans, but we also need to actually advance the conservative agenda. We need to actually focus on implementing conservative solutions."
Scalise's history of refusing to let go of a principled stand goes back well before his election to Congress. Back in 2000, he was only one of two Republicans in the Louisiana Legislature to "vocally oppose" a tax-reform plan pushed by Republican Gov. Mike Foster that would have raised more taxes than it cut. The so-called "Stelly Plan" passed, but Scalise kept fighting, and eight years later one of the last votes he cast there before moving on to Congress was on a bill to repeal the Stelly Plan -- a repeal bill that Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law.
"The one thing I have always liked about Steve is that he's not one thing one day and another thing another day," said C.B. Forgotston, an attorney and former chief counsel to Louisiana's House Appropriations committee who runs a prominent conservative website in the Bayou State that regularly blasts state legislators of both parties for big spending and questionable ethics. "Steve is like that in principle, and he's like that with how he treats people, too.… He's been steadfastly consistent, and he has the courage of his convictions. He doesn't have Potomac Fever. When he comes home and you run into him on the street, he's just the same Steve."
Or, as I wrote at this site in 2008, Scalise is, and remains, "the real deal."
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