Rep. Rodney Alexander (R)
Elected: 2002, 4th term.
Born: Dec. 5, 1946, Quitman .
Education: attended LA Tech. U., 1965.
Family: Married (Nancy); 3 children.
Military career: Air Force Reserves, 1965-71.
Elected office: Jackson Parish Police Jury, 1972-87; President, 1980-87; LA House of Reps., 1988-2002.
Professional Career: Insurance agent, 1990-93; Contractor, 1993-present.
The congressman from the 5th District is Rodney Alexander, who was elected as a Democrat in 2002 and switched parties to become a Republican in 2004. He attended Louisiana Tech and won election to the Jackson Parish police jury in 1972 at the age of 25. In 1988, he was elected to the state House, where he chaired the Health and Welfare Committee. Although he was a Democrat then, he was pro–gun rights and anti–abortion rights, and he favored prayer in the public schools. When the 5th District seat opened, the primary turned out to be a regional contest. Alexander led with 29% of the vote, carrying three hill counties in his legislative district and five African-American parishes along the Mississippi. Republican Lee Fletcher, outgoing Representative John Cooksey’s chief of staff for five years, was second with 25%, carrying Monroe’s Ouachita Parish and three nearby parishes. Close behind, with 23%, was Republican Clyde Holloway, who had been elected congressman three times by narrow margins in 1986, 1988 and 1990 from the old 8th District. Alexander attacked Fletcher as a Washington insider and contrasted his “blue jeans” supporters with Fletcher’s “blue blood” contributors. Alexander squeaked by with a 50.3%-49.7% victory, a margin of 974 votes. He carried two hill parishes, all of the Mississippi River parishes and all but one of the parishes in the southern end of the district.
|Rodney Alexander (R)||Unopposed||($1,021,984)|
|Rodney Alexander (R)||27,819||(90%)|
|Andrew Clack (R)||3,203||(10%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (68%), 2004 (59%), 2002 (50%)
In the House, Alexander was a Democratic maverick who voted for the Republican bill creating a prescription-drug benefit for Medicare in 2003. He voted to extend the tax cuts that Republicans enacted in 2001, and co-sponsored legislation to prohibit desecration of the flag and to bar gay marriages. Still, Democratic leaders worked to keep Alexander in the fold and helped him to raise money for his re-election. Alexander repaid these kindnesses by waiting until the last minute before the 2004 election filing deadline to switch parties, declaring himself a Republican. He claimed that had he remained a Democrat, the candidacy of Democrat Zelma Blakes, an African-American and a political neophyte, would draw votes away from him and leave him vulnerable to attacks from both the left and the right. His erstwhile Democratic friends were not sympathetic. “I’ve seen some cowardly things in my career, but this is the worst,” said Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu. Louisiana Democrats filed suit to reopen the qualifying period, but the state appeals court rejected their case. Alexander promised to return campaign contributions from Democratic colleagues, but didn’t until the donors complained about the delay.
National Republicans, who were not enthusiastic when Fletcher expressed interest in running again, quickly embraced Alexander. Democrats meanwhile coalesced around Blakes. But the election turned out to be an afterthought for both parties. It was overshadowed by other major happenings in Louisiana politics that year, including two hotly contested open-seat House races and a serious contest for the Senate seat of retiring Democrat John Breaux. Alexander won 59% of the vote, to 25% for Blakes and 16% for former state Rep. Jock Scott, a Republican. He carried all of the parishes except for two on the riverfront near Baton Rouge, where Blakes led.
Although Alexander and House Republican leaders insisted that they had made no deal before his switch, as soon as he arrived back in Washington as a Republican in January 2005 he got seats on the sought-after Appropriations Committee and its Agriculture Subcommittee, where he quickly secured funding for several road projects and a transportation and parking facility for the University of Louisiana at Monroe. He said that his views remained the same. But his voting record became markedly more conservative. In 2006, the scandal surrounding Florida Republican Mark Foley scandal unexpectedly swept in Alexander when it was revealed that he had sponsored a congressional page who was among those who received inappropriate, sexually explicit emails from Foley. Alexander and his chief of staff conveyed this information to Republican leaders and other officials, who failed to act. Alexander said that his office “did everything we thought we should have,” and he voiced frustration that others did not respond. In its December report, the House Ethics Committee commended Alexander for his actions.
In the minority, Alexander has bucked Republican conservatives trying to end the use of earmarks, or pork barrel spending. He continued to secure money for the low-income areas of his district, including rural-development grants and pesticides to kill timber-threatening insects. “I don’t want my voters to be neglected,” he said. He also improved his relationship with Landrieu, a fellow appropriator. Democrats and liberal advocates sought unsuccessfully in 2007 to get his support to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Also in recent years, Alexander has lobbied to end the trade embargo of Cuba, which could benefit Louisiana rice farmers.
House Democrats have failed to find a credible challenger to Alexander. In 2008, he ran for re-election unopposed. The increase in the district’s African-American population to 35% could pose some redistricting jeopardy for Alexander, who is white, in the future, especially with Louisiana likely to lose a seat in 2010 redistricting.