Presenting himself for the first time to his new Republican brethren, party switching Rep. Rodney Alexander (La.) briefly brought a taste of the old-fashioned revival meeting to the floor of Madison Square Garden on Monday.
“Some say I’m confused. Well, I was confused,” Alexander said, his voice booming. “That’s why I switched parties — and now I’m not confused.”
The remark elicited easily the most enthusiastic and sustained applause of the hour, which had been given over to a procession of GOP Congressional candidates selected to showcase some of the party’s top prospects and a diversity of backgrounds.
It was an unofficial coming out party for the first-term lawmaker, who stunned Capitol Hill in early August by changing his political affiliation only minutes before Louisiana’s filing deadline. On Monday, he cast his decision before delegates as the natural consequence of his ideological outlook.
“I am pro-2nd Amendment,” Alexander said at the very outset of his speech, right after he declared himself a “new Republican.” The reference was to the part of the Constitution that protects the “right to bear arms.”
Some explanation to the delegates seemed appropriate. Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said he had first spoken with Alexander in February; when the Louisianan didn’t switch in April, as the GOP leadership had expected he might, Hastert said he assumed a switch was not in the cards — if not completely off the table.
“He was, in my opinion, being abused [by Democrats] for his views,” Hastert said in an interview. The Speaker said Alexander has not yet been appointed to any committees.
Alexander’s last-minute maneuver unleashed a torrent of anger from his former party, with Democratic leaders calling him a “traitor” — and very likely less flattering things in private. At that late stage of the process, Democrats lacked the time needed to field an opponent.
“It really demoralized their side,” said Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.). He added that the switch came at an opportune time for Republicans, who had suffered defeats in two hotly contested special elections this year.
In an interview following his speech, Alexander said he has gotten a warm reception at the convention and had a chance on Monday morning to meet with both Hastert and Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
He said he would be sticking around New York through the week to attend events being held in conjunction with the GOP’s quadrennial gathering.
As for his departure from the Democratic Party, Alexander said his conservative positions were simply more compatible with the GOP. He hopes his former Caucus mates will one day understand.
“I’ve tried to call a few of them, but they haven’t called back,” Alexander said, adding, “I still consider them friends.”
Alexander’s re-election chances were further boosted Monday when a state appeals court overruled a previous decision that would have re-opened filing in the 5th district.
The appeal, filed by Zelma “Tisa” Blakes (D) and former state Rep. Jock Scott, seems to end any Democratic hopes of fielding a serious candidate to oppose Alexander in the fall.
The appeals court also rejected an attempt to disqualify Alexander from the ballot entirely.