Washington Watch: What will Alexander do?

Speculation on the top GOP contenders for governor in 2015 have focused mostly on U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and state Treasurer John N. Kennedy.

But none of them are political allies of Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is term limited. Some, in fact, have criticized the governor at times, especially on matters of budget cuts and the use of temporary stopgaps to fill budget holes.

For more than a year, University of Louisiana at Monroe political scientist Josh Stockley has noted hushed talk of U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, potentially and quietly considering his options in the governor’s race.

Suddenly, Alexander, 66, is stepping down from Congress to join the Jindal administration as a cabinet member overseeing the state Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I don’t think there’s a more honorable profession than representing veterans,” Alexander said in an interview with The Advocate before Jindal announced the new hire.

Alexander, for his part, spent six years in the U.S. Air Force Reserves.

The political theory is that the new job gives Alexander the opportunity to tour the state and meet voters while touting veterans and working on their behalf. Then, Alexander could eventually run for governor with the potential blessing or backing of Jindal.

The northern Louisiana congressman has said that everything is on the table in terms of his political future, including a potential gubernatorial run.

And he argued that he is still relatively young and active.

But Alexander said the new job has nothing to do with any possible consideration of the Governor’s Office. He also said that Congress offered him more public exposure than does the new job.

“That doesn’t give me a better position to do anything but serve the veterans of Louisiana,” Alexander said, noting that he can use both his Washington and state ties to help improve benefits and services for veterans in Louisiana.

“It’s speculation and there are rumors galore. I don’t think it’s wise to rule out anything, but that’s not my intention,” Alexander said of running for governor.

Kirby Goidel, a political analyst and director of the LSU Public Policy Research Lab, said veterans affairs is an unusual transition to governor, but that it could make sense in Alexander’s case. While Alexander had not been openly “gunning for” governor, Goidel said, it is an “interesting” possibility.

“He’s an elected official and it would allow him to tour and at least explore the possibility,” Goidel said. “My cynical thought is every politician wants to be governor or president someday, or at least entertain the possibility.”

But Pearson Cross, political science department chairman for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said he considers an Alexander gubernatorial bid to be a “long shot,” especially because Alexander does not jibe ideologically enough with Jindal for Jindal’s support to make sense.

“I’ve never really seen Rodney and Jindal as simpatico,” Cross said.

For instance, Alexander bemoaned the partisan gridlock in Congress as a key reason he is stepping down.

Last week, Jindal said Republicans should consider every potential possibility to de-fund the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, including the possibility of a government shutdown if Democrats do not agree to cut the spending.

Alexander called such a shutdown threat dangerous, even though he supports repealing Obamacare.

He also criticized the “ultraconservatives” who are splintering the GOP and contributing to the gridlock.

Regardless, 2015 could end up with a crowded field for governor. Vitter already has a Super PAC raising money for him to run for governor or re-election, while Dardenne has already said he is planning to run. Kennedy has indicated he is strongly considering it, as is state Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield. On the Democratic side, state Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, already declared he is running.

And there’s still ample time to see if Alexander will consider adding his name to the field.

Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.com.