Alexander faces 2 in bid to remain in Congress seat
by jordan blum
Advocate Washington bureau
November 02, 2012
WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, has served as an elected official for more than 40 of his 65 years, but he said he developed a “distaste” for politics growing up.
Alexander said he saw his father, James, overworking himself on the Jackson Parish Police Jury while trying to provide for his family and decided he did not want to do the same.
Obviously, he changed his mind and grew to embrace politics. Alexander ended up serving on the Police Jury with his father for eight years before making his way to the Louisiana Legislature and, eventually, to the U.S. Congress.
Now Alexander is running for re-election Nov. 6 against two opponents without any public office experience and no significant financial backing in Libertarian Clay Grant, of Boyce, and No-Party candidate Ron Ceasar, of Opelousas.
“I enjoy what I do,” Alexander says after pointing to a 1975 Police Jury re-election sign he keeps in his Washington, D.C. office. “It gets frustrating at times, but despite our faults, we have the best the world has to offer.”
Thanks to congressional redistricting and successful political jockeying that kept him from having to run against another incumbent, Alexander’s new district goes from the Arkansas line to St. Landry Parish to parts of the Baton Rouge metro area and Washington Parish. That broad geographical region keeps him on the road a lot, he said.
“The paper mill in Bogalusa looks just like the one I grew up next to in Jonesboro-Hodge,” he said. “The people are the same. They want the government to protect them and stay out of the way.”
After nearly 10 years in Washington, D.C., the low-key congressman with the Southern drawl who describes himself as “country folk from Quitman” is now the dean of the Louisiana House delegation.
“Some people say I don’t talk enough. Some say I’m too quiet, too reserved,” Alexander said. “But I think we’ve always been able to get people to listen when we have something to say.”
University of Louisiana at Monroe political scientist Josh Stockley said that much is genuine, describing Alexander as someone who focuses more on district needs than national politics and issues.
“He (Alexander) flies under the radar,” Stockley said. “Quietly, he has become the dean. He doesn’t make a lot of headlines and probably prefers it. He’s more of a pragmatist than an ideologue.”
That may be why, while still clearly skewing conservative, the National Journal’s liberal and conservative rankings describe Alexander as the closest person to a centrist in the Louisiana House delegation.
The other factor is Alexander serving as a Democrat throughout his career until 2004. He controversially switched parties virtually at the last minute and prevented any additional Democrats who were not already qualified from getting into his first re-election bid.
Back then, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., called him a coward and Democratic strategist turned analyst James Carville infamously said Alexander “was known as the stupidest Democrat in Louisiana, which would probably make him the smartest Republican in Washington.” Landrieu has since said they have mended their relationship.
As the former Blue Dog Democrat describes it now, he knew the national Democrats were upset with much of his right-leaning voting record and he was planning to switch to the GOP after the 2004 election. But with a lesser-known Democrat opting to run against him prior to the end of qualifying, he said he opted for the late-decision switch.
As for some of his current pet projects, he is preventing regulations proposed by the Department of Labor and the Department of Energy that he argues will hurt Louisiana’s lumber, agriculture and natural gas industries.
For instance, he stopped U.S. Department of Labor plans to severely limit the tasks children and adolescents could perform on farms and other migrant worker proposals to force companies to pay prevailing wages. Alexander cited having to pay a migrant worker $17 an hour to plant trees.
Alexander said he is working closely on levee protection issues in Louisiana and that he is constantly working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on river dredging concerns.
“We’re losing the value of the Mississippi River because we’re not properly maintained,” Alexander said of river depths that must be dredged and deepened.
One area where Alexander is less effective, though, to his district is obtaining congressional earmarks for projects in Louisiana. He was known as one of the top gatherers of earmarks in Congress, but that went away with the earmark ban after Republicans took control of the House in 2010.
Alexander said he is still in favor of congressional earmarks and the loss of power members of Congress have in obtaining funds for local projects. In the wake of the spread of the tea party movement, Alexander said much of the public came to blame earmarks on the government’s spending problems.
Alexander said he is happy to stay in his current seat with an eye toward moving up the ladder on the powerful U.S. House Appropriations Committee.
Alexander said he wants to serve until he feels he can no longer make a difference.
“I think people sense we care about their concerns, and we’re paying attention,” he said.