- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Sen.-elect David Vitter’s conservative values and loyalty to President Bush helped him win a historic election in Louisiana, but he plans to highlight his independence by making his first bill a challenge to the administration’s policy on prescription-drug importation.

Mr. Vitter said he will continue the fight that he started in the U.S. House to allow drugs to be imported from other countries where they are cheaper — a move the Bush administration does not support because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) argues that the safety of such drugs can’t be guaranteed.

“I think that the FDA has been sort of laying across the tracks and not working productively to find solutions to the safety concerns,” Mr. Vitter said. “These concerns are real, but I think we can deal with them if we have the will.”

The 43-year-old Harvard- and Oxford-educated lawmaker made history in November by becoming the first Republican elected to the U.S. Senate from Louisiana since Reconstruction.

He replaces retiring Sen. John B. Breaux, a pragmatic Democrat known in the Senate as a negotiator between the two parties on many issues.

Mr. Vitter’s style is different. He has been in the U.S. House since 1999 and consistently has sided with Republican leaders. He stands with Mr. Bush on most issues — from preventing same-sex “marriage” to making the administration’s tax cuts permanent.

He is one of six current or former House Republicans to win a Senate seat this year, and he said he hopes that has an effect on the way the Senate does business.

“I’m solidly in the camp that thinks the Senate should be somewhat more like the House,” said Mr. Vitter, explaining that the upper chamber “should be more efficient and produce more.”

Mr. Vitter won Louisiana’s unique open primary on Nov. 2 with 51 percent, beating four Democrats and two independents. If no candidate had received at least 50 percent of the vote, there would have been a runoff election — an event even Mr. Vitter said he expected until the final weeks of the campaign.

Brian McNabb, political director of the Louisiana Republican Party, said Mr. Vitter was “the natural choice” to run for this Senate seat, because after five years in the House and a nearly 90 percent support rate in his district, he “stood out and aligned himself with the Republican Party.” At the same time, he was “moderate enough on some issues,” such as drug reimportation, to get some crossover votes.

Thomas Langston, a political science professor at Tulane University in New Orleans, said Mr. Vitter’s victory brings Louisiana in line with other Southern states that already had replaced aging conservative Democrats with Republican lawmakers.

“Louisiana is, in many ways, now a red state,” he said, noting that outside of heavily Democratic New Orleans, the state is mostly conservative.

Mr. Vitter’s ambition was apparent early on. After his Rhodes scholarship at Oxford, he was accepted into both Harvard and Yale law schools, but chose Tulane. He said he wanted to put down roots and start a life in Louisiana, and he knew the importance of state loyalty if he was going to run for office.

“If you want to get somewhere in Louisiana politics, a Tulane or LSU law degree gets you a lot farther than a Harvard or Yale law degree,” Mr. Langston said.

In the Senate, Mr. Vitter likely will be a strong advocate for Louisiana’s agricultural and environmental interests. High on his list of goals is preventing coastal erosion.

“It’s a crisis that I really feel should rank with the Everglades or any other effort that the federal government is involved in,” he said.

Mr. Vitter has been assigned to the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; Environment and Public Works Committee; and the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.

He said he is interested in protecting Social Security from being raided for other uses and is “open” to reforming the system and the personal investment accounts that Mr. Bush is advocating.

In Louisiana, the father of four has a history of fighting corruption and spent much of his seven years in the state House trying to bring reform to what he calls “the good ol’ boys” mentality of cronyism in the state.

And he also has some differences with the White House when it comes to immigration.

Mr. Vitter does not support proposed guest-worker programs, which would allow illegal aliens to live and work in the United States for a designated time. The White House has endorsed such a concept, but Mr. Vitter said it is “sort of silly and naive” to believe “you put a time limit on it and everybody’s just going to leave the country.”

Mr. Vitter also was among the House Republicans who were “extremely frustrated” that key immigration-related provisions were stripped out of the intelligence overhaul bill before it was approved by both chambers earlier this month. One provision would have set national standards for driver’s licenses, including that the applicant be in the United States legally. House leaders agreed to have a separate House vote on these provisions early next year, and Mr. Vitter said he’s “eager to work in the Senate to pass them into law.”

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