Alexander to back Riser

U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander is planning to endorse state Sen. Neil Riser to fill the 5th congressional district seat that he is vacating next month, Alexander’s press secretary said Thursday.

Riser also will work with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief political consultant, Timmy Teepell, and the OnMessage Inc. political consulting firm, Teepell confirmed Thursday.

Such developments likely will add fuel to the fire of critics alleging that Alexander and Jindal coordinated to give Riser every advantage in the Oct. 19 open primary special election.

Earlier this month, Alexander announced he would not seek re-election in 2014 and then, the next day, he accepted a job in Jindal’s cabinet overseeing veterans’ affairs. Riser, R-Columbia, almost immediately stated his plans to run, launched a campaign website and received the endorsements of U.S. Reps. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette; Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson; and John Fleming, R-Minden.

One day prior to Alexander’s initial announcement, Riser submitted his statement of candidacy to the Federal Election Commission, according to FEC records.

Alexander, citing partisan gridlock, has argued he was planning not to run for Congress again before he was offered the job by Jindal; Riser has said he planned for a long time to run for the seat whenever Alexander opted to step down.

But, when congressional qualifying ended Wednesday, 14 candidates still signed up for the election despite the quick turnaround, and several were critical of how things had unfolded, including Republican candidates such as state Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, and former congressman and state Public Service Commissioner Clyde Holloway, of Forest Hill.

“I feel like we tried to have an appointed congressman,” Holloway said Wednesday of Riser.

Previously, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said he would stay out of the race, but suggested that things “didn’t happen by accident.”

“Obviously, it’s a very quick election, and it’s obvious that didn’t happen by accident,” Vitter said when asked if he thought Jindal had a hand in the timing.

Kirby Goidel, a political analyst and director of the LSU Public Policy Research Lab, said the election is not “fixed” per se, “but it was set up so a particular candidate is advantaged.”

The reality is such occurrences are pretty common in politics, Goidel said. “It’s a pretty smart thing to do to maintain the seat,” he said.

Out of the other candidates running, high-profile Democrats include state Rep. Robert Johnson, of Marksville; state Rep. Marcus Hunter, of Monroe; and Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo.

Also on the ballot: Fairbanks oil and gas landman Tom Gibbs; Lettsworth resident Peter Williams; Baton Rouge underwriter S.B.A. Zaitoon; Delhi resident Henry Herford Jr.; Calhoun resident Phillip “Blake” Weatherly; New Orleans real estate agent Eliot Barron; Monroe businessman Vance McAllister; and former state Rep. R. Weldon Russell III, of Amite.

Barron is with the Green Party. Herford and Zaitoon are Libertarians. McAllister and Weatherly are Republicans. Russell is a Democrat. Gibbs and Williams have no party affiliation.

Barron and Zaitoon do not live in the district, but that is not legally necessary.

Gibbs ran against Alexander, R-Quitman, three years ago. Gibbs drew 33,279 votes to Alexander’s 122,030 votes.

The 5th District is one of the poorest congressional districts in the nation. It covers all or part of 24 parishes across northeastern Louisiana, through much of central Louisiana, across the northern Baton Rouge metro area — though not East Baton Rouge Parish itself — along the state line with Mississippi through the Florida Parishes to Washington Parish.