McAllister resisting calls for his resignation

U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister bucked mounting pressure Thursday from Gov. Bobby Jindal and other Republicans who demanded he resign in the wake of a kissing scandal that has roiled party leaders and threatened to pose a lingering election-year distraction.

McAllister, R-Swartz, has become increasingly exiled since surveillance footage surfaced Monday showing him in a lengthy, amorous embrace with a married staffer in his district office in Monroe.

A growing chorus of GOP officials urged the freshman congressman to stanch the controversy by stepping down — a push that has raised thorny questions for conservatives who responded impassively years ago to revelations that Sen. David Vitter, R-La., had been linked to a prostitution ring in Washington, D.C.

“Congressman McAllister’s behavior is an embarrassment, and he should resign,” Jindal said in a statement. “He says he wants privacy to work on his issues with his family. The best way to get privacy and work on putting his family back together is to resign from Congress.”

The governor’s remarks came hours after Roger Villere Jr., the chairman of the Republican Party of Louisiana, blasted McAllister’s actions as “a breach of trust” that “can only be rectified by an immediate resignation.”

“Mr. McAllister’s extreme hypocrisy is an example of why ordinary people are fed up with politics,” Villere said in a statement, adding that he was praying for McAllister and the families involved.

McAllister campaigned as a God-fearing family man last year, claiming Louisiana’s congressional 5th District seat in a special election over state Sen. Neil Riser, a Jindal ally who was backed by the GOP establishment.

“I call on Mr. McAllister to put the interests of his nation, state and party above his own and step aside,” Villere added.

Villere, elected chairman of the state Republican Party in 2004, sounded a sharply different tone in 2007 when Vitter confessed to committing “a very serious sin” after it was revealed he had been the client of a dubious Washington escort service. At the time, The Times-Picayune quoted Villere as saying Vitter and his wife had made forceful statements that would likely help them weather the scandal.

“If nothing else comes out and this is all there is,” Villere said at the time, “then three weeks from now this will all be behind” him.

Villere did not return calls Thursday seeking further comment on why he took disparate positions in the two cases.

Asked why GOP leaders had not demanded a resignation from Vitter, Dan Kyle, the state party’s treasurer, said: “I can’t answer that.”

“But to me, it’s two different situations,” Kyle added. “He had been elected and in office a long time. This man (McAllister) ran on family values, and 30 days later this video was taken. You don’t get any more hypocritical than that.”

Vitter, who is running for governor next year, was not among those calling for McAllister to resign. He issued a statement saying his “sole focus and reaction is about the McAllister family and the other family directly involved. My thoughts and prayers go out to them, and I wish them real and deep comfort and healing.”

Louisiana Democrats seized on the apparent contradictions, noting Vitter implicitly confessed to soliciting a prostitute — a crime — in addition to committing adultery. Said Stephen Handwerk, executive director of Louisiana Democratic Party: “We believe if the Louisiana GOP is going to call for resignations based on conduct unbecoming a member of Congress, they should try to be consistent about it.

“Our junior senator has never been censured by the Louisiana Republican Party,” he added, referring to Vitter. “As a matter of fact, they continue to support him, even though he has never denied a serious crime while committing his serious sin. Irony must be dead in Louisiana.”

The McAllister scandal erupted Monday when the Ouachita Citizen newspaper of West Monroe published an online video of McAllister passionately kissing Melissa Anne Hixon Peacock, a 33-year-old aide who is the wife of a longtime friend, in December. The video quickly went viral and became a national sensation — The Washington Post referred to the scandal as “smoochgate” — in part because of the conservative, family-first platform that McAllister rode to victory in the fall.

McAllister, who had not previously held public office, was dubbed the “Duck Dynasty” candidate after the stars of that West Monroe reality television show endorsed him.

In his brief tenure, McAllister has been “a little bit of a rebel,” making some critical statements about the Republican Party and staking out positions at odds with the mainstream GOP, most notably his contention that his constituents would be better off if the state expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

“He kind of marches to the beat of his own drum,” said Joshua Stockley, an associate professor of political science at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, who has closely followed McAllister.

Former U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, who vacated the seat at midterm to become state secretary of veterans affairs, said Thursday that Jindal’s statements would likely have little impact on McAllister’s decision because McAllister felt like he defeated Jindal in his upset victory of Riser, R-Columbia.

“I don’t think it would carry any weight for McAllister,” said Alexander, who added he would consider running for the seat again if McAllister resigns. “But I certainly think any time the governor feels like it’s creating such a problem that someone needs to get out of the way that it’s a serious concern.”

Bernie Pinsonat, a Baton Rouge political consultant, said Republicans called for McAllister’s resignation with an eye toward the election in the fall. He said the Vitter scandal was different because he was a long way off from seeking re-election when that controversy began dominating the news, whereas McAllister must face the voters again in just a few months. A resignation from Vitter also would have allowed his replacement to be appointed by the Democratic governor in office at time, Kathleen Blanco.

“I think the party’s trying to run interference and get an embarrassment out of the way so that the Democrats can’t keep pointing to him in the upcoming elections,” Pinsonat said of McAllister. “You’ve got a very important United States Senate race going on. They want to keep the focus on Obamacare and Barack Obama and not have to be defensive about Congressman McAllister. If this guy’s out there even running for office, he’s a distraction.”

Mark Ballard of The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau contributed to this report