By Robert Mann
It’s said that when someone once asked then-House Speaker Sam Rayburn why the Texas congressional delegation was so powerful, he replied, “We elect them young, smart and honest – and we keep them there.” For generations, seniority in Congress meant power and influence in Washington and that usually translated into job security back home. Not every veteran member of Congress was safe from defeat, but Senate or House seniority often meant committee chairmanships and the ability to deliver for constituents in ways that usually guaranteed reelection.
A mere 30 years old when he took office in 1948, Louisiana Sen. Russell Long eventually became chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee in 1966 at the ripe old age of 45. He ran the committee (and much of the country) for 15 years and was its senior Democrat for another six. The closest anyone came to beating him in six reelection campaigns was in 1980, when his challenger got 39 percent of the vote.
As she enters the home-stretch of her fourth U.S. Senate campaign, Sen. Mary Landrieu can only dream of voters who value her seniority as they once did Long’s. Landrieu does not yet have the kind of power Long once wielded, but like her more recent predecessors – former senators John Breaux and Bennett Johnston – she has a story to tell about the clout she’s amassed in Washington and how she’s used it for her constituents’ benefit.
Unlike Johnston and Breaux, Landrieu has chaired two important legislative committees in her three terms. She gave up the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee gavel earlier this year to lead the more powerful Energy and Natural Resources Committee. She’s also a senior member of the Appropriations Committee. She ranks 22nd among all senators in seniority.
So far, Landrieu has aired two campaign spots and both have tried to capitalize on her powerful seniority, emphasizing her formidable committee roles in Washington and what that means for Louisiana.
The most recent spot features Boysie Bollinger, a prominent Louisiana Republican and the CEO of Bollinger Shipyards. Wearing a Democratic-blue hard hat, an affable Bollinger strolls through his Lockport shipyard. “Even though I’m a Republican and don’t always agree with her,” he says, “Louisiana can’t afford to lose her.” Citing her chairmanship, Bollinger explains that the job is “the most powerful position a person can have for Louisiana. It means more boats, more jobs and more oil and gas.”