LA-05 and Engaging the Establishment

On Saturday, there was an election in Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District to replace Rodney Alexander, who retired earlier in the year and was immediately offered a job in the state government. Alexander, on most conservative scorecards, was the lowest-ranked Republican in the state’s delegation. This is largely due to the fact that Alexander was a Democrat-turned-Republican, a move he made at the last second before an election. It was a politically brilliant move for him because the Republicans hadn’t fielded a candidate yet and the Democrats weren’t going to challenge one of their own.

The district kept electing him after that. Until he retired, that is.

Louisiana is a red state, but many of its politicians  just painted themselves that color. For the past several years, as the state turned Republican, magically enough, its politicians did, too! And that brings us back to LA-05.

The candidates were Neil Riser and Vance McAllister. The former was seen as an “establishment” candidate, pushed by the Jindal administration and receiving endorsements from folks like Eric Cantor. The latter seemed like a solid anti-establishment choice until he called for expanding Medicaid in the state.

During Friday’s debate, he made it clear that because of the high poverty rate in the 5th District — one of the highest in the country — he believes the governor should accept the Medicaid expansion. He also criticized Jindal for his push to do away with the state’s charity hospital system.

“Our governor and Sen. Riser right here have gutted (heath care) to the core and privatized it,” said McAllister, adding, “Before we give handouts, we need to give hand-ups.”

Mary Landrieu’s staff celebrated the election of McAllister when the final reporting was over. Her communications director, Andrew Zucker, summed up their feelings nicely.

I didn’t much care for the race in this district. Given that it’s Louisiana, a Republican was going to fill that seat. But that district continued to elect Alexander with no problem, so I am deeply suspicious of whoever they elect as it is. Establishment versus Liberal Republican became an awful thing to deal with, so I ducked out and prepared for next year. The bigger battle for the state is against Landrieu, after all.

So the question I have to ask, and one we definitely need to ask ourselves as we get into 2014, 2016 and beyond, is this: Is it safe to assume the Establish is automatically a bad, bad thing and should be removed at any cost? In the case of McAllister, it appears that our state may have elected another Lamar Alexander, who ran on a conservative platform and has been anything but.

Don’t take me for a RINO here, either. I fully support removing McConnell and Boehner, and several others like them. But is there the possibility that when we go full anti-Establishment, we throw the baby out with the bath water? If someone “smells” of the Establishment, does that mean we need to do anything within our power to make sure they never hold office? And what, exactly, does “Establishment” mean? It’s a definition we need if we’re going to use it as a platform to sweep out bad conservatives. And it’s one we’ll need soon.