Alexander steps down from Veterans Affairs post

After less than a year on the job, Rodney Alexander, the former congressman, stepped down Tuesday as the Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs.

Gov. Bobby Jindal appointed David LaCerte, the department’s chief lawyer, as his successor.

Though his abrupt departure sparked an afternoon of speculation that he intended to run for the seat he left eight months ago, Alexander will be joining Paul Rainwater, Jindal’s former chief of staff, working as a lobbyist.

“Rodney and I are going to work together. Rodney and I have known each other for a very long time. He’s got a great reputation in Congress. He was a good legislator,” Rainwater said. “… It’s a good fit.”

Alexander will work out of Baton Rouge but focus on state and federal issues.

The collaboration came together a few weeks ago, when Rainwater and Alexander discussed working together. Rainwater said it’s natural for people to be looking for other opportunities at the end of Jindal’s second term in office.

Term limits prevent Jindal from seeking re-election next year.

Rainwater said he and Alexander will share clients but have not formed an official business partnership.

The former congressman did not tell his staff about his decision until Monday evening. Many workers did not learn their boss was leaving Tuesday until the news release late in the afternoon.

Alexander did not return a phone message left at his home Tuesday.

Alexander, 66, suddenly announced his resignation from Congress in August. He cited partisan gridlock in announcing his decision not to seek re-election.

The next day, Jindal announced Alexander would join the administration as cabinet secretary and gave a short date for the special election to fill his seat. He became secretary of the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs on Sept. 30.

State Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, seemed ready to run almost immediately after the governor set an Oct. 19 special election, with a website quickly operational and campaign consultants quickly hired. He hired Timmy Teepell, Jindal’s political adviser. Most of the congressional delegation and leading Republicans in the U.S. House leadership endorsed Riser.

Running as conservative Christian family man with the support of the stars of the popular television show “Duck Dynasty”, Vance McAllister surprised the political world by upsetting Riser, the GOP leadership’s chosen candidate in the November runoff.

McAllister, R-Swartz, however, said he would not run for re-election in November after security video showed the married congressman giving a lingering kiss to an aide, the wife of a friend. There had been much speculation that Alexander might seek his old job.

But as recently as Friday, Alexander denied interest in running again when asked specifically if he would.

Robin Keller, the Veterans Affairs Department spokeswoman, said Alexander looked her in the eye on Tuesday morning and said he was not running for Congress. “He is pursuing other opportunities outside of government,” she said.

Riser, R-Columbia, said Tuesday that he does not think Alexander is looking at making another bid for Congress, though he doesn’t know why his friend quit.

Asked if he is considering the race, Riser said, “I am seriously looking at it right now. Just finished the session. Just taking a little time.”

He said he has no timetable on when he plans to make a decision.

“I am sorry to see Secretary Alexander step down from his post,” Jindal said in a prepared statement. “Rodney has dedicated his life to public service. He has served our state with honor and integrity, and I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

LaCerte, the new head of the state department that helps veterans, has been the department’s deputy secretary and executive counsel since June 2010.

He is a former U.S. Marine and led the first Marines into Afghanistan and Pakistan only weeks after 9/11. He led more than 100 combat patrols during the conflict.

LaCerte, who lives in St. Gabriel, graduated from Nicholls State University and LSU’s Paul M. Hebert Law Center. He also studied international law in Lyon, France.

His wife, Mandy, is a high school principal, and they have a daughter.

“It is important that we have a leader in place that understands the needs of our military men and women and their families,” Jindal said. “David is that leader, and I look forward to continuing to work with him.”

Michelle Millhollon and Will Sentell, of The Advocate Capitol news bureau, contributed to this report.