When Rep. Rodney Alexander switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party nine years ago, he did so in the ugliest way possible. The conservative Louisianan waited until the very last minute to file his re-election paperwork, not because he was struggling with a moral dilemma, but because he wanted to make it impossible for Democrats to run a candidate against him.
Earlier in 2004, Republicans had tried to get Alexander to switch, but he declined, vowing to stick with Democrats. And then he flipped, literally a half-hour before the local filing deadline, in an unusually sleazy move.
This week, Alexander announced his retirement from Congress, decrying "partisan posturing." From his official statement:
"Rather than producing tangible solutions to better this nation, partisan posturing has created a legislative standstill. Unfortunately, I do not foresee this environment to change anytime soon. I have decided not to seek reelection, so that another may put forth ideas on how to break through the gridlock and bring about positive change for our country."
Reading this, it might be tempting to think Alexander is eager to be a constructive lawmaker, putting aside cheap tactics in order to get things done, but has been stymied by a dysfunctional system.
But that's not quite reflective of Alexander's record. Indeed, as Juliet Lapidos reported yesterday, "It's hard to disagree with Mr. Alexander's characterization of Capitol Hill, but his statement makes for surreal reading nonetheless because the Congressman has voted to repeal healthcare reform 40 times. For those not keeping track, that's every possible occasion."
If Alexander is sincere about "producing tangible solutions," why hasn't he played a more productive, cooperative role? The Louisiana Republican is frustrated by the "legislative standstill" and "gridlock," and he doesn't expect this "environment to change anytime soon," but isn't that largely because the House is dominated with members whose voting records are indistinguishable from Rodney Alexander's?
And this, of course, leads to the related question of why the congressman would denounce the very gridlock he's contributed to directly on Capitol Hill.
My hunch is, it's because Alexander thinks it's what Louisianans want to hear -- and he may soon ask for their votes again.
Alexander’s statement boils down to this: Congress isn’t a very fun place to be and I am done with it. (One caveat: Alexander is mentioned as a potential candidate for the open Louisiana governor’s seat in 2015 and he left that door wide open in interviews on Tuesday. UPDATE, 1:30 pm: Alexander is expected to take a job in the administration of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal later today.)
It was, to be sure, unusual to hear a sitting member of Congress lamenting what's become of the institution in such blunt terms. But given the larger context, it appears Alexander is interested less in Congress' future and more in his own -- the lawmaker doesn't want to be tarnished by the stain of Congress' unpopularity when he runs for governor in a couple of years.