Washington was stunned by the rise of the new president. So was his district. | ET REALITY


When Chip Hemphill is hunting with his friends for whitetail deer and hogs, he usually doesn’t find himself arguing over who is second in line for the presidency. His wife, Kathleen, barely mentions politics as she oversees archery lessons at Hoot & Holler Archery, her shop in Bossier City, northern Louisiana.

But this week, each of them found themselves talking again and again about their congressman, Mike Johnson, who had been unanimously chosen by Republicans to serve as speaker of the House.

“Not so much what was going on, but ‘Can you believe they’re voting for someone from Louisiana?’” Hemphill said Thursday, as the couple took turns greeting customers picking up new compound bows and arrows.

“Everyone was excited,” Ms. Hemphill added. “He’s our boy.”

The decision by a tired and bitterly divided Republican conference to end a three-week search for a president by electing Johnson, an evangelical conservative with a previously low national profile, surprised and delighted many in Louisiana’s Fourth Congressional District. They had been put differently. for Washington’s latest strain of dysfunction.

In Johnson’s rise to become the first House speaker from Louisiana, some voters saw an opportunity to elevate the priorities and needs of his district, which straddles the northwest borders with Texas and Arkansas. and his state, which has struggled to counter spiraling poverty and improve health outcomes.

The staunchly conservative and largely rural district of just over 761,000 people has a median household income of about $48,600, well below the national median of about $75,000, and about 22 percent of the district lives below the poverty level.

Some here wondered if his new connection to power would give Shreveport, once an oil boom town, a broader profile outside the shadows of New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Others saw the potential for further investment in nearby Barksdale Air Force Base, which Johnson had named in April as a beneficiary of your only community defense project application in annual government funding legislation.

“I feel like a lot of times here in north Louisiana, we’re not listened to,” Ms. Hemphill said. “There will definitely be a change,” she added. “We won’t be at the bottom of the barrel.”

Although his ardent opposition to gay rights has alarmed Democrats and contradicts mainstream public opinion in the country, Johnson and his hardline conservative positions embody the strict evangelical values ​​of many in northern Louisiana, which tends to have a stronger kinship with Texas. and the Bible Belt than the rest of the state.

“It’s the greatest feeling in the world: a Captain Shreve kid doing good,” said Mike Powell, executive director of Roy’s Kids, a local charity. referring to Shreveport High School Mr. Johnson graduated in 1990. “It’s going to be good for north Louisiana. “It will be good for the United States and it will be good for the world if they let him do something.”

Former President Donald J. Trump won Louisiana by about 19 points in 2020, and Johnson, who won easily that year and ran unopposed in 2022, became a key architect of efforts to challenge Trump’s defeat and overturn the results. elections in other states.

The political prospects of having Johnson and Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who will remain as majority leader, lead the House have galvanized conservatives in the state, already buoyed by Jeff Landry’s decisive victory this month. to become the next governor.

“To be honest, we’re all a little starstruck,” said Timothy Magner, president of the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce, who corrected himself and used the new title of “speaker” to refer to Mr. Johnson. “That brass ring, so to speak, has always been out of my reach.”

And as Washington acclimates to a lawmaker who has never before held a prominent leadership position, those in Louisiana see the same Puritan man who cultivated a reputation as a dedicated constitutional scholar willing to defend hardline religious and conservative positions. (Several friends and colleagues said he has a knack for imitating politicians, which they cited as evidence of a sense of humor.)

“It makes what many people may consider unreasonable seem more reasonable, because it’s a very logical, rational, researched presentation of what would be indigestible to moderates,” said Mary-Patricia Wray, a longtime Louisiana political consultant who has worked for officials of both parties.

“He would say that he is never surprised by God’s ordinance,” he added. “And the thing about Mike is that he means that answer.”

Some voters said they, too, were among the many Americans who met Johnson this week. In Opelousas, in the southern part of her district, Shawana Johnson, 43, said she first heard from him through a campaign text message on Wednesday.

Johnson, a certified doula who works for a nonprofit focused on decreasing maternal and infant mortality rates, said she wanted her congresswoman to address the gaps she sees in health care, particularly for women of color. (About 57 percent of the residents in Mr. Johnson’s district are white and a third are black.)

But Johnson said she was skeptical about the speaker’s ability to effect change, given what she considered years of neglect and inattention by national politicians.

“This is the poorest parish, this is the poorest city,” said Johnson, who does not align himself with either major political party. “We express our opinions, but do they lead anywhere? The focus is not on what it should be because, ultimately, no one cares about these small rural areas. “Those who do care are working very hard and it is discouraging.”

Howard Ware, 72, said he had heard of Johnson but had not voted since the 2020 election because of his deep disillusionment with the political system. He wondered whether Johnson could prevail in a Washington that appears unwilling to work.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that people like disorder,” Ware said. “They’re not going to let him do his job.”

Scott Anderson contributed reporting from Shreveport, Louisiana.

Leave a Comment