U.S. Rep. Alexander joining Jindal administration

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, joined the Jindal administration one day after announcing he would not seek re-election.

The special primary election to find his replacement will “likely” be scheduled for Oct. 19 for the district that runs from northeast Louisiana extending south into parts of Baton Rouge.

Gov. Bobby Jindal announced Wednesday that Alexander will be his secretary in overseeing the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs. Alexander’s resignation from Congress is effective Sept. 26, and he will take over as secretary on Sept. 30.

In an earlier interview with The Advocate, Alexander said he planned to take the job if it was offered.

“I don’t think there’s a more honorable profession than representing veterans,” Alexander said, calling veterans “vastly under-recognized for their role.”

Alexander, 66, on Tuesday cited partisan gridlock in announcing his decision not to seek re-election. He emphasized Wednesday that the veterans affairs job was not part of that decision, although it does accelerate his departure from Congress.

“I had already decided I wasn’t going to seek another term,” Alexander said. “But I’m still a relatively young man. I’m not that old.”

Jindal also heaped praise on Alexander for his bipartisan work in Congress and said he will make a great cabinet member.

“As I’ve said many times before, we shouldn’t have to wait until Veteran’s Day or the Fourth of July to thank our heroes,” Jindal stated. “Every day should be Veteran’s Day, and I know that Rodney understands the needs of these courageous men and women.”

Alexander stepping down means there will be a special elections to find his replacement soon, rather than in 2014.

Jindal’s press secretary, Sean Lansing, said the “likely” election dates will be Oct. 19 for the open primary election and Nov. 16 for a general runoff election.

If that is the case, Secretary of State Tom Schedler said the “drop-dead date” for candidate qualifying would be Aug. 23.

State Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, has the early lead as the only officially announced candidate thus far. He already has an endorsement from U.S. Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden.

“I’m definitely making a congressional run,” said Riser, who noted that he began fundraising this week. “I look forward to the campaign and getting out and working with the people.”

Riser, who is a funeral home owner, said self-financing likely will play a role in his campaign. He said the special election and short timeframe “changes things significantly” and “definitely accelerates the race.”

Another potential candidate, state Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, said he will not run and will instead back Riser. The two share an apartment when in town for the legislative session.

Alexander’s chief of staff, Adam Terry, also could be a candidate.

As for Democrats, the top potential names include Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy, Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, state Sen. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston; and state Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, among others.

Gallot said he is considering running, although he did express some concern about the short election timeframe.

“My phone hasn’t stopped ringing since (Tuesday),” Gallot said. “It certainly is an intriguing possibility. All of this is developing so fast.”

Gallot said the race will “boil down to the individual” and that the “right Democrat” can win in the district that has a registered majority of Democrats, even if many of the registered Democrats no longer vote that way.

Mayo said he is considering the race and that he likely will decide by the end of Friday because of the “quick turnaround.”

“It’s a strong possibility a Democrat can win,” Mayo said, noting that Alexander was first elected as a Democrat.

Alexander’s 5th congressional district — the largest geographically in the state – stretches from northeastern Louisiana to St. Landry Parish to parts of the Baton Rouge metro area and Washington Parish.

Advocate reporter Michelle Millhollon contributed to this report.