Kleckley: Johnson right person ‘to make America a better country’

By Rita LeBleu

It’s a first for the country and a first for the state.

The U.S. House of Representatives’ top two leaders have never come from the same state. Majority Leader Steve Scalise holds the second-highest position in House Republican leadership. On Oct. 25, U.S. Congressman Mike Johnson took the top spot when he was elected Speaker of the House. Both are from Louisiana.

It is an opportunity for the state, according to Chuck Kleckley, a Lake Charles native and former Republican member of the House of Representatives District 36 who held the office until 2016. He served as the Louisiana Speaker of the House from 2012 to 2016.

“I am fortunate to have been able to work with Steve Scalise and Mike Johnson before I termed out,” Kleckly said.

He remembers the first time he met Johnson, whom he called a “rising star.”

“He had a certain air about him. You knew he was going places in the political world. He was smart, articulate and he got along with people.”

Kleckley said those characteristics and a few others are what led to consensus in a contentious time in government. The two have kept in touch through the years, and Kleckly said his opinion of Johnson has never wavered. He said the pair texted back and forth about who would take the place of ousted California Republican Keven McCarthy and through the nomination of Chairman Jim Jordan and Scalise’s withdrawal as speaker candidate.

“The next thing I knew, his name came up,” Kleckley said. “He has the skill set, the knowledge.”

To the detractors who say Johnson’s four terms in Washington isn’t enough experience for the task at hand, Kleckley said Johnson is not afraid to ask for assistance and lean on people like Scalise, Jordan and McCarthy.

He said Johnson has “zero ego — probably the last thing he was thinking about was being speaker of the house and he is in it for the right reason, to make America a better country and better for the hardworking taxpayer.

Johnson, 51, was first elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 2015 to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Thompson who was elected to a state district judgeship. In 2016, he announced his candidacy for the 4th congressional district, a northwest corner of the state, and won. In 2018, Johnson won a second House term. In 2020, Johnson won a third House term — and ran  unopposed.

Johnson was born in Shreveport, the oldest of four siblings and the son of a firefighter who was badly burned and disabled in the line of duty, according to an online Reuters article. The LSU-educated lawyer successfully defended Louisiana’s same-sex marriage ban in 2004. The Louisiana Baptist message newspaper quoted him in 2016 as saying he is “Christian, a husband, a father, a life-long conservative, constitutional attorney and a small business owner.”

Scalise, from the New Orleans region, represents the 1st Congressional District of Louisiana. That is an area from the Lake Pontchartrain North Shore to the New Orleans suburbs. He was elected to Congress in 2008 after serving in the Louisiana Legislature from 1996-2008. He served as majority whip beginning in 2014. Scalise was shot in the hip in 2017 when a gunman opened fire during a congressional baseball game practice. He was recently diagnosed with blood cancer.

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