Alexander Staying Put for Now

Posted March 5, 2004 at 6:18pm

After publicly contemplating a party switch, Rep. Rodney Alexander (La.) has decided to remain a Democrat, he said in a statement Friday.

“Although I am flattered by the offers of the Republicans to join their ranks, I am deciding to stay where I am,” said Alexander.

Democrats had already watched Texas Rep. Ralph Hall (R) switch parties in January and expressed relief that Alexander had ultimately decided to stay put.

“We are very happy that Congressman Alexander has chosen to remain in our Caucus,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Communications Director Kori Bernards. “We have always known he is an independent leader for Louisiana, and he will remain so.”

As late as Thursday evening, however, Democratic operatives were pessimistic about their chances of keeping Alexander in the fold, and some expressed concern that he would announce his party switch as Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D), the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, toured the Bayou State on Friday.

Instead, Alexander decided to stay put.

“I’ve always said that I want to do what’s in the best interest of the people of Louisiana’s 5th district, not necessarily what’s in the interest of either party,” Alexander said.

The main issue of concern to Alexander, according to knowledgeable sources, was that while the Democratic leadership has to this point been very willing to help him in securing dollars for his district, if he won a second term, that attention would decline significantly.

The sources insisted that Alexander had not received promises of a seat on an exclusive committee or other plums from the leadership in exchange for him staying in the party.

Alexander is one of the most conservative members of the Democratic Caucus. He has regularly sided with Republicans on key issues including support for President Bush’s tax-cut plan and the Republican prescription drug proposal.

Alexander said he was elected on a “pledge to fight for better access to affordable health care, prescription drug coverage, jobs and a better education system. And that’s the fight I will continue to wage, regardless of my political party.”

He has already pledged not to support Kerry in the presidential race, telling a local paper: “I didn’t think [Kerry’s] views are consistent with my own, or my Congressional district.”

Alexander was elected to the conservative northeastern Louisiana 5th district in a December 2002 runoff.

He defeated Lee Fletcher (R), chief of staff to former 5th district Rep. John Cooksey (R), by just 974 votes in a district that gave Bush 57 percent of the vote in 2000.

Cooksey, who held the seat from 1997 to 2003, has formed an exploratory committee to begin raising money for another bid.

Polling conducted by Alexander’s campaign shows him with a double-digit edge over Cooksey.

Republicans currently hold 228 House seats to Democrats’ 205; there is one Democratic-leaning independent and one vacancy.