By James Ronald Skains
Then-candidate Vance McAllister, at right, talks with a group of Dodson voters at a campaign event at the Dodson school auditorium on the Wednesday before the Fifth Congressional District election, held Saturday, November 16. Pictured, from left, are Renee Leach, Don Leach, Danny Neal, Reggie McDaniel, and now-Congressman McAllister. The town meeting was organized by Mr. Leach. (Staff photo by Jennifer Steele)
On July 4, 2013, Vance McAllister was an ordinary 39 year-old-Louisiana businessman, unhappy with the stalemated quagmire of partisan politics in Congress. Fast forward five months, and Vance McAllister has added the title of Congressman to his name, as the newest member of the United States Congress.
"I'm very humbled by the trust which the voters of the 5th District have put in me," Congressman McAllister told the Piney Woods Journal in an exclusive phone interview on Monday, November 25. "So far, I've only cast one vote before the adjournment for the Thanksgiving holidays."
"I'm ready to get to work. I want to get organized and up to date on the legislation before Congress now. I'm being told by fellow Congressmen that the next debt ceiling legislation probably won't happen until June. I thought it was something that would occur in February. I don't see any reason to put off the inevitable when we know that we are going to have to address another debt ceiling hike."
Not only has McAllister become the newest and one of the youngest members of the US Congress, he has also become a media favorite appearing on numerous national network TV news shows. Also, the New York Times assigned a journalist to document not only McAllister's first trip to Washington, DC, but also his first few days in Washington.
"I was very pleased to get a lot of national media coverage because I had a chance to tell people my thoughts on the situation in Congress," Congressman McAllister related. "The purpose in my coming to Washington is to make a difference and help solve some of the problems our country is presently facing."
When asked about his living arrangements in Washington and his travel schedule, Congressman McAllister had this to say: "For the time being, I'm just going to live in my office. I'll be coming back home each weekend. My family will stay in Swartz so the kids can continue in their schools. Eventually I will probably find an apartment in Washington, but the family will stay at home and I will commute."
"My family and I, along with the close friends who came to Washington with me, love all the sights to see in the capitol. My kids just love the history they are seeing. It's fascinating to me, and quiet humbling as I think of representing the people of the 5th District in the highest levels of government."
McAllister was sworn in as Louisiana's 5th District Congressman on Thursday, November 21, only five days after claiming victory in the runoff election which was held on the previous Saturday. Candidate McAllister was both applauded and heavily criticized for his common sense pragmatic view of the hot topic of the campaign, the Affordable Care Act.
There is little that is ordinary about 39 year old Vance McAllister, except for his love of his family and his Christian faith. McAllister joined the US Army right out of high school. He became a medic and served a tour of duty in Korea. After returning state side, McAllister enrolled in University of LA, Monroe. However, after a couple years of pursuing a college degree and being financially drained most of the time, McAllister terminated his pursuit of a college degree and began a career as pipe liner.
"I've lived in Swartz since I got out of the Army in 1995," Congressman McAllister noted. "We are active members of the North Monroe Baptist Church pastored by Brother Bill Dye."
"From a business perspective, the timing of my running for Congress was absolutely perfect. In most all my businesses, I have a 50% partner who operates the business. I didn't have any new projects going, nor had I recently started a new business, so I was free from a business perspective to run for Congress. My business interests will just be business as usual. I don't foresee starting any new business ventures in the near future."
To step away from lucrative business opportunities in order to undertake what seems to be an impossible task of making a "difference" in a partisan political arena in Washington, seems to be a major commitment in time, faith, and financial reality for McAllister. It is well worth all of us watching closely as the saga of the highly touted Congressman McAllister applies his affable personality with a heavy dose of practicality to the quagmire in the national Capital.
"All my Congressional colleagues that I have met have been very cordial, but I would say somewhat wary of me. I don't think they quite know what to do with me," Congressman McAllister acknowledged. "I met with Speaker Boehner for about 10 minutes before my being sworn into office. He seemed to be okay but he sure was smoking his cigarettes. He gave me a list of options for Committee assignments."
"I am pushing for an assignment with the House Appropriations Committee as I think that would give me the best position to ensure getting as much federal money as possible back to the 5th Congressional District. That is my first priority, to help the economy back in the 5th District."
"I want so see Congress make progress in quickly getting the Farm Bill passed," Congressman McAllister emphasized. "We have to address the problems with the Affordable Care Act, the Federal Budget in general and the debt ceiling. I'm ready to go to work immediately, not have Congress go on vacation just as I get to Washington."
Taking advantage of his propensity for hard work and the need to solve whatever problems he encountered, McAllister saw a problem to be solved in the pipeline industry in the late 1990's.
Within a few years, McAllister had not only mastered the pipeline niche business, he had expanded his financial investment portfolio by creating dozens of jobs with opening Subway franchises in northeast Louisiana, a tool rental company and oil and gas exploration.
According to national media, hardline Republicans are concerned that his practical business approach to the problems in Congress may reduce partisan politics. There is also apprehension that more "Vance McAllister's" are scattered around the country. Common sense, practical approaches with compassion to solve the problems of the day has been in short supply in Congress during 2013.
"I also want to make sure that the people in the Florida parishes are adequately represented in Congress by me," Congressman McAllister explained. "I'm trying to find the money in the budget for my office to open a Congressional District office in the Florida parishes. I've already talked with some people about doing so."
"I'm keeping most of Congressman Alexander's staff intact. I told his staff that if I were elected, that I would keep them on if they did not get out and actively campaign against me. I thought that was only fair because when they took their jobs it was supposed to be for two years, not to be cut short by someone resigning from office."
The national and some local media have offered the theory that McAllister's friendship with the Robertson (Duck Dunasty) family played a pivotal role in the race. Perhaps, in a very tight race that might have made the winning difference, but in a 60-40% spread the real factor more likely had to be the simple message that the people of the 5th Congressional District were tired of politics as usual with the same old faces.