Vance McAllister back in U.S. House 5th District race

‘Kissing congressman’ reverses earlier decision

U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister announced Monday that he would run for re-election after all.

McAllister, who assumed office in November, had said he would not seek re-election after being caught kissing a married staffer. McAllister, of Swartz, has been married for 16 years and ran on a staunch family values platform. But constituents told him he acted too hastily, he said.

McAllister released a statement moments ahead of a news conference at the American Legion Hall in Monroe.

“Today, after consulting with my wife and family, I have made a decision to run for re-election for the 5th Congressional District. Without a doubt, this decision comes after much thought and prayer. This district has been home to me and my family all of my life. I know the needs of this congressional district very well. I also know that this district needs a strong, conservative voice in Congress. I plan to continue to stand up for our veterans, bring common sense solutions to our nation’s problems and most importantly I will fight to get our fiscal house back in order,” he said.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, who urged McAllister to resign in the wake of the kissing scandal, expressed disappointment at the congressman’s decision. “Congressman McAllister made the right decision earlier when he said he would not run again. It is disappointing he changed his mind,” the governor said Monday.

McAllister entered the American Legion Hall carrying his 3-year-old daughter and with his wife, Kelly, holding his arm.

She introduced McAllister to about 50 supporters, saying: “I’m so proud of my husband and our family and so thankful, too, more than anything.”

The crowd included bikers and veterans wearing American Legion hats, but no local state legislators. Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, who endorsed McAllister in last fall’s runoff, also was not present.

McAllister said he arrived at his decision after discussing it with his wife over the weekend. He said she pointed out that he won the election last fall with 60 percent of the vote. McAllister said his constituents deserve a voice in the voting booth.

“You need to lose 60-40 if that’s their choice,” McAllister quoted his wife as saying.

After the announcement, McAllister and his wife walked out hand-in-hand.

On the porch, McAllister greeted supporters while his wife and five children retreated to an air-conditioned Cadillac Escalade. McAllister said he expects one of the campaign’s issues will be his philandering with former staffer Melissa Anne Hixon Peacock, who at the time was a scheduler in his Monroe district office and is the wife of a longtime friend.

A security camera videotaped McAllister, his shirt untucked, giving Peacock a lingering kiss in the darkened Monroe office. The video went viral in April and made Louisiana’s “kissing congressman” the focus of media attention around the world.

“I made a mistake. I’m not pretending I didn’t. I own up to it,” McAllister said, adding that, beyond acknowledging his own culpability, he would not address details about the incident when attacked by opponents.

About 70 percent of the nearly $1 million raised for the 2013 race came from McAllister’s pocket in the form of loans and contributions, according to Federal Elections Commission disclosures. His account shows he had $8,425 on March 31.

McAllister vowed to self-finance his re-election campaign, if necessary.

He said he spent a lot of money getting name recognition during the campaign last fall. “Fortunately, that’s not a problem this time around,” he said, prompting laughter among supporters, as did several other allusions to his unexpected celebrity because of the videotaped encounter.

The mostly rural 5th District covers 24 parishes in northeast Louisiana, the central part of the state and the rural parts of the Florida parishes along the Mississippi state line. The voters favor Republicans.

McAllister, a first-time candidate, emerged to find a place in the runoff last fall that attracted only 19 percent of registered voters. He won the race against fellow Republican Neil Riser, a state senator from Columbia who had been endorsed by most major Republican players in Louisiana and whose campaign was run by Jindal’s chief political strategist.

They were competing for the remaining year of the term of Rodney Alexander, who abruptly announced in August 2013 that he would resign.

Using mostly his own money, McAllister assembled a seasoned team from Washington, D.C. He capitalized on his friendship with the Robertson family from the popular reality television series, “Duck Dynasty,” with whom he goes to church.

Several of the Robertsons made commercials on his behalf.

He said Monday he was unsure if the Robertson family would support his re-election bid. A nephew of “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson, Zach Dasher, of Monroe, has announced his intention to run. McAllister said he remains close friends with the Robertsons. “The relationship is still the same,” he said.

McAllister ran as a conservative Christian who would bring traditional family values to Washington. But he said he also would work with Democrats and respect President Barack Obama, even though he did not agree with their policies. He said he was still conservative and still a Christian.

After the security tape was released, Jindal on April 10 called on McAllister to resign. The statement came only hours after the state GOP issued a similar request.

U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., met with McAllister and told him to resign. Cantor later told reporters: “I just said, ‘Look, when we took the majority in 2001, I had said that we should hold ourselves to a higher standard.’ And that’s why I did what I did, and I told him I thought he should resign. Because, in my mind, what happened does not meet that higher standard.”

McAllister responded in a prepared statement. “I do not feel it’s in my constituents’ best interest to leave them without representation for the second time in less than a year. My district deserves a voice and a fair election process, not an expensive potential special election that benefits the establishment.”

He did say, however, that he would not run for re-election.

Riser and Alexander announced recently they would not seek the congressional seat.

Six candidates have announced they are running. Other than McAllister and Dasher, the other four candidates are: Republican Ralph Abraham, of Alto; Republican businessman Harris Brown, of Monroe; Republican former District Attorney Ed Tarpley, of Alexandria; and Libertarian Clay Grant, of Boyce.

Karen Peterson, chairman of the Louisiana Democratic Party, said several prominent Democrats are looking at entering the race and will make their announcements in coming weeks.

She said she hopes the Democrats can rally around a single candidate because the November election likely will attract a far greater turnout than last fall’s special election, which could help propel a Democrat into the runoff.

Candidates have to file the necessary paperwork between Aug. 20 and Aug. 22. All candidates who qualify run on the same Nov. 4 ballot. If no candidate garners at least 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters will meet in a Dec. 6 runoff.