Fifth District congressional candidates Sen. Neil Riser and Vance McAllister will square off Saturday in the general election to name former Congressman Rodney Alexander’s successor.
The pair emerged from a field of 14 candidates in the October primary. A little more than 100,000 of the roughly 480,000 registered voters in the 5th District cast ballots in the primary election. Riser captured 32 percent of the vote while McAllister recorded 18 percent of the vote. Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, who has since endorsed McAllister, ran third with 15 percent of the vote.
Alexander resigned from the House to become secretary of the state Office of Veterans Affairs.
Throughout the campaign, McAllister has presented himself as the “outsider” who’s running against the political establishment. Riser has campaigned on his experience stemming from his six-year tenure in the state Senate.
Both candidates are Republicans.
The overriding issue in the campaign, though, has been differences over the Affordable Care Act, better known as ObamaCare, as well as Gov. Bobby Jindal’s refusal to expand the state’s Medicaid program. Expanding Medicaid is a key component of ObamaCare.
McAllister says he supports the expanding Medicaid though he opposes ObamaCare.
“ObamaCare is a nightmare but it’s here and the Medicaid expansion is how we can deal with it,” said McAllister, a native of West Carroll Parish who now lives in Swartz.
McAllister spoke to The Ouachita Citizen Tuesday to elaborate on his position on ObamaCare after saying during a televised debate Friday that the state should expand its Medicaid program.
Riser says he has opposed ObamaCare, including expanding Medicaid, since President Obama first introduced his health care reform package in 2009.
“We voted last year against the expansion of Medicaid in the state,” said Riser, of Columbia. “A Medicaid expansion in the state would cost us $1.7 billion over the next 10 years. It is a key part of ObamaCare.”
McAllister says he “never mentioned he was in favor of anything” during last week’s televised debate on Louisiana Public Broadcasting.
“I was asked a question about what should we do about expanding Medicaid and I told them expanding Medicaid was something we ought to do because whether we like it or not, the state of Louisiana is about to have a $50-million shortfall,” McAllister said. “We have got to get money to cover this single-payer insurance program coming down.”
McAllister says the state cannot cover the costs incurred by the implementation of ObamaCare unless it takes the “money offered through the Medicaid expansion.”
“We are going to have to cut more health care and higher education, and pretty soon, we will not have anything else left in this state,” McAllister said.
Riser says negative impacts to higher education and health care costs are guaranteed if the state expanded its Medicaid programs.
“The money to cover the $1.7-billion costs of expanding Medicaid would come from higher education and health care,” said Riser, who chairs the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee.
McAllister says he would “repeal ObamaCare if there was ever a vote to repeal it.”
“The fact of the matter is we have tried several times (to repeal ObamaCare) but have failed to do so,” McAllister said. “I will continue efforts but in the meantime, we have innocent people in the district who are being hurt by ObamaCare so we have to mitigate the problems.”
Riser says ObamaCare is a “critical issue right now for our country where it is hurting our economy and raising health care costs.”
“As we speak, 93,000 Louisiana residents are losing their insurance because of ObamaCare,” Riser said. “Recently, my mother-in-law, who is in a nursing home, received notification that she lost her prescription portion of her insurance, which was a result of the rollout of ObamaCare.”
McAllister says his support of expanding the state’s Medicaid program should not be interpreted as support for ObamaCare.
“I do not know if people will perceive my support of Medicaid expansion as support of ObamaCare, but I can only tell you the truth,” McAllister said. “But the truth is that we have to take the cards being dealt us and make the best of it with the expansion of Medicaid.”
“Don’t believe what my opponent and the propaganda says about me,” McAllister added.
Riser says ObamaCare was continuing to “damage our country” by “mandating people and forcing them to get something they may not want.”
“It is a tax on our business,” Riser said. “Businesses are now afraid to hire more than 50 employees because the implementation of it. I am not afraid to fight the president on this if he is willing to sit down and listen to our concerns and where I can explain the failures of ObamaCare and its implementation.”
McAllister says he is trying to avoid being “political with every issue that comes up” and “look at things with an open mind.” To that end, McAllister says he made a decision to invest his own money in the race.
“The money I have put into my campaign has come mostly from myself and not from special interest groups,” McAllister said.
Thus far in the campaign, McAllister has spent $825,000 of his own money on the race, according to Federal Election Commission records. He’s collected about $100,000 in contributions for his campaign, according to the FEC.
The 5th District of Louisiana in the U.S. House includes all of northeastern Louisiana, much of central Louisiana and dips into Acadiana in the south-central portion of the state. The district also includes parts of the Florida Parishes.
The 5th District is the largest congressional district in the state geographically.
Polls open Saturday at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.