Alexander's sweet spot
by Sam Hanna, Jr.
The Ouachita Citizen
If all goes as planned, Congressman Rodney Alexander will take the oath of office in January to begin his sixth term as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from the 5th District of Louisiana.
Alexander, R-Quitman, qualified for re-election last week. He drew two minor opponents – Ron Ceasar, an Independent from Opelousas, and Clay Grant, a Libertarian from Boyce.
Democrats declined to field a candidate to oppose Alexander. That should tell us something. At the very least, it tells us the state Democratic Party may be teetering on the edge of becoming completely irrelevant for decades to come.
It's that bad.
Congressional primary elections in Louisiana will be held in conjunction with the presidential race. That would be Tuesday, Nov. 6. Run-off elections for the congressional races will be held in December, assuming they're needed.
Don't expect Alexander to be forced into a run-off. Instead, he'll be easily re-elected. That's not intended as a slap at Alexander's opponents. It's just the nature of the beast, considering Alexander is an entrenched incumbent who has access to as much campaign money as he could possibly need in light of his seniority in the Republican-controlled House.
Remember, money means everything in politics.
First elected in 2002 in a hard-fought campaign against the late Lee Fletcher, Alexander was a Democrat in those days. He wasn't expected to outdistance Fletcher, a fiery Republican who campaigned tirelessly for more than a year for the 5th District seat.
Alexander pulled off the unthinkable, though, thanks to help from the Democratic Party establishment in Louisiana and from some Republicans who detested Fletcher's confrontational personality. God bless him, but my dear friend Lee could be a bit difficult at times.
Those Republicans who turned on Fletcher also recognized Alexander was a pretty conservative fellow himself. They realized, too, that his laid-back demeanor was somewhat misleading, meaning he's far smarter than he lets on.
Alexander is smart, all right. Smart enough to realize during his first term in the House that his political viability in the 5th District would forever be shaky as long as he remained a Democrat representing one of the most conservative – some say intolerant – congressional districts in the country.
Accordingly, Alexander switched to the Republican fold in the midst of qualifying for re-election in 2004. In fact, Alexander qualified for re-election as a Democrat and a day or two later, he returned to the Secretary of State's office in Baton Rouge to qualify again. That second time he did it as a member of the GOP.
Democrats were incensed. Sen. Mary Landrieu called Alexander a coward. It was not her finest moment.
But Alexander weathered the storm and cruised to re-election in the same election cycle that President George W. Bush turned back Sen. John Kerry.
For switching parties, Alexander was rewarded with a seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee. At the time, it was assumed Alexander's new position would yield huge dividends for the 5th District. After all, the Appropriations Committee is one of the money committees in the Congress.
Times changed, though.
Democrats took back control of the House during the 2006 mid-term elections. Though he kept his Appropriations Committee slot, Alexander lost some of his influence as his party was relegated to a minority status.
By the time Republicans regained control of the House in 2010, austerity was the order of the day thanks to Republicans who were elected to the House with the backing of the Tea Party movement. No longer, we were told, would Republicans behave (spend money) like Democrats, as they did from 2001-2007 when Bush was in the White House and the GOP controlled the House and Senate.
While Alexander is a Republican, he's no hard-line conservative who believes the federal government should be whittled down to fit a phone booth. He can't afford to think that way, politically that is, since so many of his constituents rely on the federal government for survival. Social Security and Medicare recipients come to mind. Farmers do, too.
Where, you might ask, does Alexander stand among the conservative Republican leaders in the Congress? He's in pretty good shape in spite of his somewhat moderate views.
Think about it.
Alexander endorsed Mitt Romney when he sought the Republican nomination for president in 2008. Last year when it wasn't clear which Republican would emerge as the party's candidate to oppose President Barack Obama, Alexander went public to declare his support for Romney again.
If Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, is elected this fall, Alexander's loyalty certainly won't hurt him or the 5th District.
If Obama secures a second term, Alexander need not lose too much sleep over it. He'll still have his seat on the Appropriations Committee, and Republicans will still control the House.
Not a bad place to be for a former police juror from Jackson Parish.