Rep. Charles Boustany (R)
Louisiana 7th District
More than 200 years ago, French-speaking settlers in Canada were forced to leave their land of Acadie, which the British had taken over and renamed Nova Scotia. They made their way to the wetlands of southern Louisiana. Here, without much notice, they built steep-roofed houses to slough off nonexistent snow and adapted French cuisine to the crawfish and muskrat they found in abundance in the pelican-tended swamps. They are the Cajuns, and the heart of their adopted homeland is around Lafayette, just west of the Atchafalaya Basin, where Mississippi waters pour through bayous and canals. A 30-mile section of Interstate 10 was built on elevated stilts. Cajun country thrived, thanks to the oil and gas plentiful here and just offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Oil rigs are common, and every once in a while the swampy foliage parts to reveal a giant refinery or petrochemical plant. Cajun pride has experienced a resurgence. Cajun French is surviving decades of efforts to eliminate it, even by some older Cajun generations. Cajun music—and its black-influenced variant, zydeco—are popular here and nationally; spicy Cajun cooking attracts food lovers, who learn its secrets and then carry it off, in understated form, to other parts of the United States. About 45% of the people in Acadiana speak French as a second language. Lafayette, with its Acadian Village and plethora of oil exploration firms, features an annual Festivals Acadiens to celebrate music, food and crafts. Unlike New Orleans, its Mardi Gras reveries are still segregated affairs, with an all-white (and sometimes all-male) parade and an all-black parade. Cockfighting remains locally popular, despite efforts in the Legislature to prohibit it. Louisiana was the only state that still permitted cockfighting until it was finally banned in August 2008.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The oil-price crash of the middle 1980s hit Cajun country hard. Rising expectations, and the giddy sense that the oil industry promised lasting prosperity, suddenly collapsed, leaving borrowers overextended and ordinary homeowners unable to maintain the standard of living they expected. In 2005, Hurricane Rita, not Katrina, was the natural disaster with the most devastating local impact. With winds of 120 miles per hour and a storm surge of up to 15 feet, Rita left its own path of destruction 200 and 300 miles to the west of New Orleans. It virtually erased some coastal communities, especially in Cameron Parish. While the nation was spellbound by every development in New Orleans, local residents and officials complained that they were the victims of “Rita amnesia.” Plans were hatched to move some villages along the coast more than 10 miles inland to higher ground. In September 2008, Hurricane Ike hit the area, although with much less devastation, thanks in part to new, stricter building codes.
The 7th Congressional District of Louisiana covers much of the Cajun country, from Lafayette and the Atchafalaya west along Interstate 10 to Lake Charles and the Texas border. Refineries and oil-field-support industries provide many jobs, as do rice and crawfish farming. Some 27% of the population claims either French or French-Canadian ancestry. Politically, Cajun country once gravitated to the Democrats, though it disapproves of the party’s cultural liberalism, so at odds with the Cajun tradition of respecting the authority of the church while tolerating a certain amount of laissez les bons temps rouler spirit. The district voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, as it had voted for Louisiana’s foremost Cajun politician, Edwin Edwards, who was elected governor four times. But it gave George W. Bush solid majorities in 2000 and 2004, and gave John McCain 63% of the vote in 2008.
Rep. Charles Boustany (R)
Elected: 2004, 3rd term.
Born: Feb. 21, 1956, New Orleans .
Education: U. of SW LA, B.S. 1978, LA St. U., M.D. 1982.
Family: Married (Bridget); 2 children.
Professional Career: Practicing surgeon, 1982-2004.
The congressman from the 7th District is Charles Boustany, who in 2004 became the first Republican elected from this area since 1884. Of Lebanese ancestry, Boustany (Boo STON nee) grew up in Lafayette, where his father was parish coroner. He graduated from the University of Southwestern Louisiana and from Louisiana State University’s medical school. He worked as a cardio-thoracic surgeon and was active in civic and political affairs. In 2004, when Democrat Chris John ran for the Senate, Boustany was one of five candidates running to succeed him. The other Republican was David Thibodeaux of Lafayette, who had run unsuccessfully for the seat three times, most recently in 1996. But he raised little money, some party leaders viewed him as too conservative and Boustany quickly became the Republican favorite. The Democratic front-runners were two state senators: Don Cravins of the Breaux Bridge area, who was seeking to become the first African-American to hold this seat, and state Sen. Willie Mount of Lake Charles. Boustany raised plenty of money early and campaigned on his “prescription for prosperity”—expansion of health-savings accounts, high-speed Internet access for local small businesses and opposition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement. The National Republican Congressional Committee ran ads attacking Mount’s support for higher taxes in the Legislature, presumably because it saw Cravins as a weaker candidate in a runoff. Boustany led the November primary with 39% of the vote, to 25.2% for Mount, 24.6% for Cravins, and 10% for Thibodeaux. In the December runoff, Cravins refused to endorse Mount, still angry over the state Democratic Party’s “unity ballot” sent to black voters, which included Mount’s name and not his. Cravins’s neutrality hurt Mount in the Lafayette area. She pointed to her legislative experience, while Boustany emphasized his “values” agenda. Boustany won 55%-45%. Mount won 60% in Lake Charles’s Calcasieu Parish, which cast 32% of the vote. But Boustany trumped that with 70% in Lafayette Parish, which cast 30% of the vote.
|Charles Boustany (R)||177,173||(62%)||($1,606,461)|
|Donald Cravins (D)||98,280||(34%)||($623,426)|
|Peter Vidrine (I)||10,846||(4%)|
|Charles Boustany (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (71%), 2004 (55%)
In the House, Boustany’s voting record was relatively moderate for a Southern Republican. On the Education and the Workforce Committee, he was an active proponent of legislation to permit small businesses to join together in associations to pay less for health insurance. He also sought increased federal support for computerizing health records, which he said “remains trapped in the 20th century.” His local priorities included more federal funding to restore Louisiana’s eroding coastline and to complete Interstate 49 from Shreveport to Lafayette. After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, he enacted initiatives to provide special rules for disaster-relief employment for individuals displaced by the storms and to assist the disabled. He pledged that southwest Louisiana would not be “a stepchild” to New Orleans in hurricane recovery. He pushed for expedited assistance payments from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and criticized the slow cleanup of debris in Cameron Parish. In March 2006, when Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi led a delegation of House members to Katrina recovery sites, Boustany complained loudly that they overlooked his hard-hit district. In July of that year, Hastert returned to Boustany’s district.
In 2008, Boustany, with Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., sponsored a bill to increase visas for seasonal workers, notably for the crawfish industry. In recent years, he’s also developed a close relationship with Minority Leader John Boehner, which helped him to fill the power vacuum following the departure of senior House Republicans from Louisiana. It also proved helpful to Boustany in early 2009, when he secured a seat on the powerful, tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. On the panel, Boustany said he supports tax breaks as an incentive for people to use alternative fuels and more US oil drilling. In campaigning for the seat, Boustany distributed a packet to his colleagues grandly titled “The Next Conservative Leader for the Ways and Means Committee.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee tried to recruit Chris John to run for his old seat in 2006, but he declined. With John out of the running, Boustany had an easy win against Democrat Mike Stagg, 71%-29%. In 2008, when state Sen. Don Cravins Jr., the son of Boustany’s 2004 opponent, decided to challenge him, some Democrats were hopeful. But Cravins’s pro–gun ownership, anti–abortion rights stance discouraged national party support. And internal party resentment lingered from the 2004 contest. Boustany won 62%-34%, carrying each parish except for Evangeline, which he narrowly lost.