Beam: Congress losing compromisers

Published 1:28 am Sunday, August 11, 2013

U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander of the state’s 5th Congressional District is leaving Congress. So, why should those of us who live in the 3rd District really care? It’s because the congressman’s resignation brings up a number of interesting related and side issues.

Being a member of Congress has a lot of pluses, but more and more of its members are dropping out. Their biggest beef is the inability to get anything done. And Alexander, a Republican from Quitman, talked about that when he announced his resignation.

“Rather than producing tangible solutions to better this nation, partisan posturing has created a legislative standstill,” he said. “Unfortunately, I do not foresee this environment (changing) anytime soon…”

One day after Alexander announced he wouldn’t seek re-election, he was picked by Gov. Bobby Jindal to become secretary of the state Department of Veterans Affairs. Alexander said the job offer was not part of his decision not to run again. However, taking the job brings up an interesting retirement question. More on that later.

National Journal, a Washington, D.C., political news magazine, asked in a column last week, “Is Congress simply no fun anymore?” It interviewed former congressmen and got some blunt answers.

“I miss Congress like I miss an abscessed tooth,” said former Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio.

Former Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., quit after 24 years.

“Civility is a thing of the past,” he said. “It used to be … the other party was referred to as ‘the other side.’ Now they’re the archenemy and you shoot to kill on sight, and it is bizarre.”

State Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, quickly became the favorite to replace Alexander. His Senate district is in the heart of the 5th Congressional District. It is the largest in the state and stretches from northeastern Louisiana to St. Landry Parish and parts of Baton Rouge.

Others are expected to run, but two state congressmen moved quickly to endorse Riser. They are Reps. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, who represents this area, and John Fleming, R-Minden, who represents the 4th District that stretches down to include Allen, Beauregard and Vernon parishes.

Those endorsements bring up another issue. Why are sitting congressmen telling voters whom they prefer in other districts? Shouldn’t they restrict their political interests to those issues affecting the areas they serve? Voters can sort out their own political preferences.

It was obvious minutes after Alexander announced his plans that ultra-conservatives considered it to be good riddance. They despise compromisers.

MacAoidh on The Hayride said, “… As a member of Congress he’s been what some would call the biggest RINO (Republican in Name Only) in the state.”

Alexander was definitely a moderate, but he demonstrated something some other Republicans would like to be able to do. McClatchy Newspapers said compared with other Republicans in the House, Alexander was unusually adept at drawing black votes.

The 5th District is one-third black, the largest share among the 234 House districts held by Republicans, McClatchy said. And none of those seats are held by blacks.

In last year’s congressional elections, McClatchy said an analysis showed Alexander drew 43 percent of his black constituents’ votes, four times more than the typical Republican lawmaker gets.

Alexander also had some advice for the Republican Party. He said the way to court black voters is to go into their communities, avoid inflammatory language, don’t come across like a big shot and answer all questions forthrightly, no matter how tough.

“You would think leadership would recognize that someone who gets 78 percent of the vote in a 33-percent black district might ask me how I do that,” he said.

Unfortunately, we live in a different political climate from one that believes in compromise and getting along, whatever one’s political persuasion. Bill Galston is a co-founder of No Labels, which has put together a congressional Problem Solvers Coalition. He told National Journal those who come to Washington unwilling to compromise “say that gumming up the works is not part of the problem, it’s part of the solution.”

Only time will tell what kind of congressman voters of the 5th District will send to Congress. However, the odds are he won’t be as willing as Alexander has been to try and get things done — particularly if it involves any kind of compromise.

Now, to that retirement issue involving Alexander. C.B. Forgotston, the private citizen from Hammond who has become a zealous government watchdog, brought up the subject. Forgotston said Alexander went out of his way to say he isn’t currently a member of the Louisiana State Employees Retirement System. However, Alexander did join the system in 1988. He ended his membership in April of 1989, but was a member again from December 1996 to January 2003.

Alexander will be eligible for LASERS again when he takes over the $130,000 job of running the state veterans department. The important unanswered question now, according to Forgotston, is whether Alexander plans to rejoin the Louisiana State Employees Retirement System. If he does, the higher salary would enhance his state retirement. Alexander also qualifies for a federal pension.

As you can see, the resignation of Alexander and other congressmen makes for interesting and informative reading.

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Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or