Sign-up begins for 5th District congressional race

Associated Press photo by MELINDA DESLATTEState Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, smiles after signing up in the 5th District congressional race on Monday. Qualifying for the October special election opened Monday and runs through Wednesday.
Associated Press photo by MELINDA DESLATTEState Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, smiles after signing up in the 5th District congressional race on Monday. Qualifying for the October special election opened Monday and runs through Wednesday.

Three state legislators — two Democrats and a Republican — signed up Monday to run for the 5th District congressional seat.

State Sen Neil Riser, R-Columbia, and Democratic state Reps. Marcus Hunter, of Monroe, and Robert A. Johnson, of Marksville, were the first candidates to officially qualify Monday for what is expected to be a very crowded race to replace U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, who abruptly announced plans to resign before his two-year term expired next year.

Qualifying at the Secretary of State’s Office continues through 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The primary election is Oct. 19. A runoff, if necessary, is scheduled for Nov. 19.

Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, a Democrat, said he planned to run and would qualify Tuesday.

State Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, and others have said they would consider running too.

Riser said he is a conservative, family man and that set him apart from other possible candidates. He said he has shown as a state senator and committee chairman a willingness to work with Democrats.

The Republican also reminded reporters that he sponsored the law that requires courts to adopt a strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution when considering gun issues.

Hunter said gun rights are an important issue and that efforts should be made to ensure that guns are registered. “I have a gun in my car right now. I want to keep it,” Hunter said.

Johnson made it to the Secretary of State’s Office with just minutes to spare before candidate qualifying ended for the day.

Johnson made a campaign stop on his way to Baton Rouge.

With a short window until the election, he said he likely will use a media campaign to reach voters.

He said the biggest issue in the race is the economy. The district includes the poorest parts of the state.

Johnson said he wants to make the district flourish by turning the American dream into an American reality

Hunter said he has raised no money to date but expects a crowded field of candidates. But with an eight-week race, he said he doesn’t think he needs more than a $250,000. Hunter said the northeast corner of the state is just as important as Shreveport, Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Riser predicted he’d need about $1 million to buy enough advertising in three media markets.

Alexandria lawyer and Republican former Grant Parish District Attorney Ed Tarpley said he decided against running.

“I have just looked at this thing ... and just came to the conclusion there was not enough time to run an effective campaign.”

Running in more than 20 parishes in just nine weeks is too difficult for someone without a head start, he said.

Alexander announced he would resign in September, then the next day took a job in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration as secretary of the state Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Riser announced his plans to run, then set up a website and got the endorsement from three of the five GOP members from Louisiana in the U.S. House: U.S. Reps. Charles Boustany, of Lafayette; John Fleming, of Minden; and Steve Scalise, of Jefferson.

Other candidates have alleged the scenario was set up by the governor and his allies to assure Riser won the election.

Riser said he is still interviewing campaign personnel, including Timmy Teepell, Jindal’s top political adviser.

The 5th District is one of the poorest congressional districts in the nation. It covers all or part of 24 parishes across northeast Louisiana, through much of central Louisiana, across the northern Baton Rouge metro area — though not East Baton Rouge Parish itself — along the state line with Mississippi through the Florida Parishes to Washington Parish at the toe of the boot.

The secretary of state reported 461,109 registered voters in the district, 309,422 of whom are white and 132,156 are registered as Republicans.

Jordan Blum of the Advocate’s Capitol news bureau contributed to this report.