Candidates for the 5th congressional district race

Map of 5th Congressional District
Map of 5th Congressional District

Republican Monroe businessman Vance McAllister has the support and consultation of “Duck Dynasty” television star Phil Robertson.

Eliot Barron is a New Orleans resident who does not live in the congressional 5th District, but he is running to promote the Green Party of Louisiana.

Henry Herford Jr., of Delhi, was arrested last year at the Republican State Convention in Shreveport over GOP infighting and for not standing down while speaking in support of the Ron Paul presidential campaign.

Now he is a Libertarian and a “recovering Republican.”

The men are among a handful of the candidates running for the Oct. 19 special congressional election who are not currently serving as elected officials. Early voting begins Saturday.

The others are former state Rep. Weldon Russell, D-Amite; Louisiana Black Farmers Association President Peter Williams, of Lettsworth; oil-and-gas landman Tom Gibbs, of Calhoun; engineer and farmer Phillip “Blake” Weatherly, a Republican from Calhoun; and insurance underwriter S.B.A. Zaitoon, a Baton Rouge Libertarian.

They help make up a total of 14 candidates running for Congress in the seat vacated last week by Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, who took a cabinet position in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration.

The redrawn 5th District is the state’s poorest, most rural and by far the largest geographically, stretching into 24 parishes from Monroe down to Alexandria and into the Florida Parishes, which include the north Baton Rouge suburban and bedroom communities in East Feliciana Parish.

The GOP options

Weatherly, 30, is not part of the Republican establishment, but he contends he is the right GOP candidate for the district.

“People are seeing more of what they want in the other candidates,” Weatherly said. “More than anything, I’m hearing that we want a conservative who’s not a career politician.”

He said too many members of Congress answer to their political parties and gridlock — and now a partial government shutdown — ensues. “We need to answer to Louisiana first.”

Weatherly’s campaign website features a photo of his 4-year-old daughter skeet shooting.

He is running a campaign with a platform on being anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage, while supporting small government, a strong military, fixing a broken health care system, simplifying the tax code and fighting federal government surveillance overreach.

McAllister, 39, is hosting a fundraiser and “Family Fun Day” on Saturday in Monroe with Duck Commander Phil Robertson, former New Orleans Saints stars Deuce McAllister and Michael Lewis.

McAllister, the candidate, said he sought counsel with Robertson and prayed with him before deciding to run for Congress.

“I’m a conservative because of political faith,” McAllister said. “It’s one nation under God. That’s what we need to get back to.”

McAllister owns a laundry list of businesses, including Subway franchises, a pipeline construction company and an events promotions company for wrestling and mixed martial arts.

McAllister has a platform to “fight Obamacare” and investigate the IRS. He is a pro-Second Amendment, anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage candidate.

“There’s a whole bunch of career politicians running in this special election just to get their next taxpayer-funded job and go to Congress and do nothing like the rest of them,” McAllister says in an online video.

The Blue Dog Democrat

Weldon Russell has served on the Amite City Council and he had a term in the Louisiana Legislature in the 1980s, but he said it has always been a dream to run for Congress.

He calls himself a “pro-God, pro-gun, pro-life, pro-oil Blue Dog Democrat.”

“I never left politics. I’ve always been involved in community politics,” Russell said.

Russell said he remembers the Sputnik Soviet satellite announcement when he was in school and how it motivated a generation of Americans to thrive in the math and science fields.

As such, he supports strengthening education standards in the Common Core curriculum, although he criticized how the state hurriedly implemented it and overburdened teachers.

Russell said he is the kind of moderate candidate who can work across party lines and get things done in Washington.

He backs equal pay for women, as well as the Medicaid expansion to insure more Louisiana residents that Jindal has rejected.

“We need to take care of the poor and those who cannot care for themselves,” Russell said, but do it in a “fair way” without “handouts.”

The 5th District is one of the nation’s poorest, he noted.

The U.S. Census Bureau calculated 186,627 families live in the 5th District and, of that number, about four in every 10 qualify for food stamps and would have been covered by Medicaid had Jindal allowed expansion through the Affordable Care Act.

The median household income is $34,421 for people living in the 5th District, as opposed to $54,575 for the Baton Rouge-s 6th District.

Russell also touted some of his legislative successes, such as authoring the Louisiana Child Protection Act to protect children from “predators” and another law that ensured licensed emergency medical technicians were in every ambulance.

The Libertarian movement

Herford said he was first motivated to enter the race because of unproven allegations that Alexander and Jindal worked together to set up state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, to win the special election that was called on short notice.

Herford called it a “nasty deal” to give Riser early notice and a leg up.

“The deal that never happened, but did,” Herford said, referencing the denials of those involved.

Herford also is pushing the Libertarian goals of small government, limited U.S. intervention abroad, and to undo much of the Patriot Act that allows the “government to spy on us,” he said. “I don’t want anyone listening to my phone calls.”

He wants to abolish the Department of Homeland Security.

Herford called the partial government shutdown “scary” because all of a sudden hundreds of thousands of workers are no longer receiving paychecks.

“Everybody’s mad at both parties,” he said. “Nothing is happening and they’re ready for a change.”

The other Libertarian in the race is S.B.A. Zaitoon, who does not live in the district, but has made it a habit of running in various elections in recent years.

The Syrian-born insurance underwriter says his top issue is to limit U.S. involvements in the Middle East — “Don’t mess with Syria — No. 1.”

Citing the vast geographical size of the district, Zaitoon said he wants to take some of the dollars the nation spends abroad and build a highway loop in the 5th District to improve the state’s infrastructure.

Zaitoon is not actively fundraising in the race.

“When you’re a short guy with an accent, no one is going to give you any money,” he said with a laugh.

A Green Party choice

Eliot Barron said he is part of the movement to shift the Green Party more from far-left environmental radicalism — although environmental sustainability remains key — and more toward focusing on “grassroots democracy.”

Barron said he wanted to ensure the congressional seat was challenged and that he reached out to Green Party supporters in the district about running. When no one within the district stepped up, Barron opted to run himself.

In Louisiana, candidates do not have to live within a congressional district to run.

In a state lush with greenery and natural resources, Barron said, it is important to push sustainability and to keep accidents such as the Bayou Corne sinkhole from occurring.

“Louisiana is literally the greenest place I’ve ever been,” he said.

Barron said he wants to work to “close the income gaps” in Louisiana and to “break the impasse” in Washington.

“I’m trying to shake things up,” he said.

The Independent choices

Peter Williams, a tree farmer and political advocate, said he is the true independent candidate who best represents the people in the district.

“No one better understands the needs of the poor and the needs of the farmers in rural areas,” Williams said, noting many people in the district lack clean drinking water and the Internet.

Williams said he did not initially plan to run, but he decided he is well suited to help the district with his compassion for all people of all colors.

“I’ve tested the waters … and I’m liking the temperature,” he said.

“I’m the reality candidate,” Williams added. “I geared to bring common sense back to Washington.”

It is important to have civility and to make decisions based on what is best for the district, and not political parties, he said. “Bickering is fine, but do it on your own time and not at the expense of the American taxpayers,” he said.

Williams said he is a strong advocate of education, the family structure and “Christian values.”

“You work hard, you take what is given to you and you make the best of it,” he said, arguing that the government can also give back to its people.

The other No Party candidate is Tom Gibbs, who unsuccessfully challenged Alexander two years ago.

“Both of the parties have failed us completely,” Gibbs said, arguing that the district needs “someone who can bridge that gap in communication” and not just another career politician.

Gibbs said he is running as an independent because he likes to consider issues objectively and look at both points of view.

Gibbs said his top issue is reducing the federal deficit. “We’re selling ourselves to the Chinese and other countries by continuing to borrow,” he said.

He wants to limit military interventions abroad — “We don’t have to police the rest of the world” — and cut foreign aid. Invest more of that money in education, he said, including significantly investing more in teachers and their salaries.

A U.S. Army veteran, Gibbs said he wants Congress to get out of the business of enacting wartime policies.

“Congress needs to stay out of the generals’ way,” he said. “It’s not pretty. It’s war. It’s nasty.”

After his top priorities are addressed, Gibbs said, “Then we can argue about all the dumb stuff after that.”

As for the district’s demographics, one-third of the mostly rural district is African American and 50 percent of the total registered voters are Democrats — compared with 27.5 percent Republicans — although many of the registered Democrats may no longer vote that way.

About 60 percent of the district backed GOP nominee Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama last year.

After Alexander switched to the Republican Party in 2004, he never faced strong Democratic opposition.

Secretary of State Tom Schedler said, based on past special congressional elections, he expects a maximum of 25 percent of the district’s 481,294 registered voters to cast ballots on Oct. 19.

About 21 percent of the registered voters live in Ouachita Parish and another 17.4 percent live in Rapides Parish. Roughly 15 percent live in the Florida parishes.

The elected officials also on the 5th District ballot are Riser, R-Columbia; state Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe; Republican Public Service Commissioner Clyde Holloway, of Forest Hill; Democratic Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo; and state Reps. Robert Johnson, D-Marksville; and Marcus Hunter, D-Monroe.