Congressman Mike Johnson (center) shares a laugh with State Representative Bernard LeBas (left) and Superintendent of Evangeline Parish Schools Darwan Lazard (right) before a town-hall meeting Friday afternoon at Ville Platte’s Girls and Boys’ Place. Johnson and LeBas were seatmates in the Louisiana House of Representatives before Johnson was elected to Congress last Fall. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)
Bridging the aisle on Capitol Hill
In the 1939 motion picture Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Jimmy Stewart plays a freshman United States Senator who takes on the political establishment in Washington and ultimately leads a dramatic filibuster to champion his cause on the Senate floor.
While much less dramatic, the freshman United States Congressman from Louisiana’s 4th Congressional District, which includes Evangeline Parish, went to Washington to change the culture of the political establishment.
“This has been a wild year in Congress, and I think everybody recognizes that,” said Congressman Mike Johnson (R-Shreveport) as he held a town hall meeting at the Girls and Boys’ Place in Ville Platte Friday afternoon. “When I ran for office last year, none of us could have anticipated what 2017 would turn into.”
“Most of us assumed that Hillary Clinton was going to be president, and that there would be a thin margin in the Congress in terms of Republicans and Democrats,” he continued. “I went to DC with the idea that we should all work together kind of like Bernard (LeBas) and I did in the state legislature. It should be less about party and more about our principles.”
For the congressman from Shreveport, his message of working together across party lines is more than idle thoughts as he tries to “bridge the gap” across the aisle. “If you ever watch the House sessions on CSPAN, I’m going back and forth across both sides of the aisle,” he said. “The divisions in politics are really remarkable. It’s not like the legislature in Baton Rouge where we all hang out together and there’s not a party division.”
“In the Congress, the Democrats sit on one side, and the Republicans sit on the other,” he continued. “There’s literally an aisle that divides the middle, and there are members of Congress who literally will not cross the aisle. There’s no possible way that people who are doing that can ever work with anybody on the other side and get anything done because they will not literally have a dialogue. We’ve got to change that because the American people are sick of this. They want things to get done, so we’re working to do that.”
In February, Congressman Johnson was able to get the vast majority of his fellow freshman congressmen to execute a Commitment to Civility to combat the lack of civility and culture in Congress. Civility is defined as formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech.”
“It gained a lot of national attention, and when Steve Scalise was almost assassinated in the summer, the lack of civility was then turning into physical violence and became a bigger issue in the country,” he said.
“We then got a whole new round of attention on the Commitment to Civility, and the House leadership said to make this not just a freshman class thing but to circulate it to the whole Congress,” he continued. “We did, and of last week we had 120 members sign onto this.”
As a result of this, he along with Congressman Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) formed the Honor and Civility Caucus of the House of Representatives. According to Congressman Johnson, “Just yesterday we launched this new caucus. The invitation letter is going out to every member of Congress. Our first meeting is going to be January 10, and we’re going to set out some specific goals and objectives for the year to try to change the tone in DC.”
Because of his plan, Congressman Johnson is already seeing his work bear fruit. “By God’s grace as a freshman member, I’ve had a pretty good run at it,” he explained. “I’ve had four pieces of original legislation already pass through the House, and they handed me the football on some pretty big things to run through committee and on the House floor. In June, I became the first freshman and one of only two members of Congress to pass two original bills in the first six months of this Congress.”
“I’ve co-sponsored 79 bills so far, and I’ve been working on supporting our soldiers, reigning in government overreach, protecting the lives of the innocent, the Second Amendment, and adequately funding our national security interests. In addition to all that trying to secure vital funding to Louisiana for our water infrastructure needs, our transportation needs, our defense installations, and a national flood insurance program.”
As a whole, Congressman Johnson called the 150th Congress “the most productive in the modern era.” He gave some statistics to back up his claim. “In terms of productivity in Congress, there’s been over 7,000 pieces of legislation filed,” he said. “That number is the largest in over 20 years. We passed 470 bills through the House, and Congress has sent 89 new bills to the president for signature. Some of those are big reform measures, and a lot of it was long overdue.”
One big piece of legislation making its way through Congress is the sweeping tax reform bill. “The big broad principles are already decided, but some of the details aren’t,” said the congressman. “We’re trying to cut the corporate tax rate, and I think we’re going to get it passed on Tuesday.”
As predicted, the House of Representatives passed a final version of the Bill on Tuesday. The Senate punted the Bill back to the House because of several rule violations, but the revised version was passed by the Senate early yesterday morning with a 51-48 vote along party lines. The Bill now heads to the president’s desk for signature.
According to Congressman Johnson during the town hall meeting last week, “The president is going to sign it, and, in my view, it will be the largest Christmas gifts to the American people in 30 years.”
The congressman also shared what makes the 4th Congressional District unique. “The neat thing about the district is it’s a pretty diverse area,” he explained. “It goes from Shreveport/Bossier all the way to the Arkansas line and all the way down south to these areas. There’s a lot of cultural differences between these two areas, and the accents are all different.”
“But, the values of all the people are the same whether they identify with Republicans or Democrats,” he continued. “They all have basically the main concerns that we need jobs and economic opportunities for our people, and that’s why it’s worth fighting for.”