Lawmakers and senior staffers are mourning the loss of Rep.-elect Luke Letlow (R-La.), who died of complications from COVID-19 on Tuesday.
The 41-year-old Louisiana Republican was slated to succeed retiring Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-La.), whom he previously served as chief of staff.
Letlow’s colleagues and friends described him as a loving father to his two young children and husband to his wife, Julia, and as someone who was committed to serving his community.
"I knew him for about 20 years, we used to work together in the state of Louisiana and of course, knowing him in the delegation as well. Luke, I've heard people say this and I know that it's an overused term but, Luke was just a good guy. He's very approachable and just kind of, you know, very transparent in regard to his style,” Rep. Garret GravesGarret Neal GravesLawmakers lay out arguments for boosting clean energy through infrastructure GOP seeks to keep spotlight on Afghanistan as Dems advance Biden's .5T spending plan Biden to travel to New Jersey and New York, survey Ida damage MORE (R-La.) told The Hill.
Graves said that Letlow was passionate about having the opportunity to represent constituents in rural areas whose voices he felt are ofter not heard.
“Luke really had a heart for these rural areas, had a heart for the, for the farmers and really was excited to represent those that he viewed as being underrepresented across the country, kind of giving a voice to the voiceless,” he said.
“He was just really, really, just energized about representing rural America and in trying to bring their perspective to the table."
Brett Horton, the chief of staff to House Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseHouse passes bill to prevent shutdown and suspend debt limit Democrats to nix B for Israel's Iron Dome from bill to avert shutdown Louisiana delegation split over debt hike bill with disaster aid MORE (R-La.), also praised Letlow’s character and dedication to helping the underserved.
“Luke and I both grew up in the 5th Congressional District, he had a passion for this often overlooked part of the state, and more so than anyone I’ve ever met in politics, a true servant’s heart,” he told The Hill.
“He was a friend to everyone he met, and his passing has rocked our close-knit delegation to the core.”
Graves said the news of Letlow's death came as a shock. The two had spoken in recent days about Letlow coming to Congress.
“Even though he's been in the hospital, he and I'd been texting we'd been talking on the phone, there wasn't a day that went by, where he seemed like he was, he was under any kind of duress and when he moved to Monroe Hospital to Shreveport, everything appeared to be looking up and as a matter of fact, just in the past couple days you know we're talking and texting about getting sworn in,” he said.
Former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) took to Twitter to pay tribute to his friend.
"Supriya and I are heartbroken to learn of @LukeLetlow’s passing. Luke has been a good friend for so many years, and we are saddened he was taken from us at such a young age. We had talked in recent days about his excitement about the opportunity to serve the people of the 5th Congressional district, and his love and devotion for Julia and their kids,” he tweeted on Tuesday evening.
“I first met Luke when he was still a college student, and spent countless hours with him in his truck driving the back roads of Louisiana. His passion for service has been a constant throughout his life.”
Letlow's death has led to some Democrats pointing to the need to practice social distancing and wear masks.
Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats seek to cool simmering tensions Louisiana delegation split over debt hike bill with disaster aid House Democrats unveil legislation to curtail presidential power MORE (D-Calif.) offered her condolences during a press conference on Wednesday, saying that it could “happen to anyone — and it has happened to nearly 350,000 Americans.”
“Many of those deaths could have been avoided," she said. “We must make sure that we are scientific and determined to crush the virus."
But Letlow’s campaign chairman and friend Scott Franklin, told Business Insider that Letlow took precautions on the campaign trail during the pandemic.
"I know people are sifting through social media to find photos of him not wearing a mask, but I am telling you, he made an effort to do the best he could while still reaching the people," Franklin said. "Despite coronavirus, these people needed a hero. And in this district, to do that you have to meet people. They have to look you in the eye and understand they can trust you."
"It wasn't perfect, but I think he did the best he could.”
Letlow was first admitted to St. Francis Medical Center due to complications from the coronavirus on Dec. 19 before being transferred to the Ochsner LSU Health ICU on Dec. 23. He suffered a heart attack following a procedure related to the virus.
A special election is likely to take place in March to fill the seat, The News Star reports.