ALEXANDRIA — U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers glanced over at the slim computer on the counter at Alexandria Middle School’s library.
“So a Chromebook is just a mini-laptop,” Rogers said, looking to the teachers around him for confirmation.
The Republican congressman from Saks spent an hour Thursday walking the halls of the newly built Alexandria Middle School, where 580 students play in a gym that smells like fresh pine and eat in a cafeteria with booths like those at a sit-down restaurant.
School officials were eager to show Rogers around the school, a $17 million project that is the most concrete evidence of population in Alexandria, an unincorporated community that increasingly looks like a small town. Led by two middle-school students, the congressman shook hands with teachers, asked students about their favorite classes — and did little one might expect from a House member just two months away from an election. Rogers initially said he wouldn’t talk to reporters about anything but the middle school.
“I’m not giving an interview,” Rogers told a reporter after the tour. “If you want to talk about this, I will, but I’m not giving an interview.”
Rogers faces Democrat Mallory Hagan, a former Miss America and broadcast journalist from Opelika, in the general election Nov. 6. Hagan in recent months has traveled the district criticizing Rogers for his positions on kitchen-table issues such as access to health care, and has occasionally criticized the congressman for not consenting to a public debate with her.
“Where is Rep. Rogers on the issues that matter to Alabama families, like rural healthcare and hospitals that are closing in our district?” Hagan’s campaign said in a mass email last week.
Rogers, by most accounts, has spent the August recess in low-key visits with local officials and civic groups — the kind of visits that, in a non-election year, would be called “constituent service.” Stops in the past week, at Jacksonville’s Spirit on Mountain Street, at the Heflin Fire Department and at fire station and an insulation plant in Chambers County, seem to have been announced after the fact, on social media.
Rogers didn’t call attention to his visit to Alexandria Middle, though Calhoun County Board of Education president Mike Almaroad announced it in a school board meeting Tuesday.
School officials said they organized the visit simply to show off the new school, not in order to make a specific request from Rogers. Like most schools, Alexandria Middle was built mostly with local and state money.
“If we get into a situation where there’s federal grant money we need, he could make things happen for us,” Almaroad said.
Rogers on the tour said little about school policy and asked simple, factual questions about issues like student-teacher ratio and the number of national board-certified teachers in the district.
“I’m trying to be aware of what’s going on in my district, with my school system,” Rogers said when a reporter pulled him away from the tour briefly.
Rogers said the idea of the school tour came up when local school officials came to talk to him about “legislation on the national level about superintendents.” Rogers said he didn’t recall details of that legislation. Almaroad said the school board had approached Rogers with legislative proposals from the Alabama Association on School Boards, but he too said he didn’t recall details. Attempts to reach AASB officials Thursday were unsuccessful.
Asked what needs Rogers might be able to help with, Principal Shannon Finley said that as an administrator with a brand new building, she was reluctant to discuss the school’s needs.
“We need art supplies for our art classroom,” she said. “We don’t have an art teacher, but that’s probably another topic.”
Despite his statements about giving an interview, Rogers did take questions on two non-school related topics as he left the school building. He said he didn’t think local industrial leaders were worried about the trade agreements between the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
“I hear from some of them,” he said. “They’re all optimistic.”
President Donald Trump announced a trade agreement with Mexico earlier this week, and agreement that among other things would regulate the amount of North America-made equipment that can go into automobiles here. Ted Pratt, spokesman for the Honda plant in Lincoln, said earlier this week that company officials had “not had an opportunity to review” the agreement. Attempts to reach New Flyer, the Canadian company that builds buses in Anniston, were unsuccessful.
Roger said he expected manufacturers to be better off as a result of Trump’s trade moves.
“Farmers, too,” he said. “It’s working. We’ve got a Mexico agreement, we’ll have a Canada agreement soon and I bet we’ll have a China agreement soon.”
Rogers is one of the most vocal advocates of a potential sixth branch of the military, a Space Force or Space Corps, to conduct orbital warfare. Trump in recent weeks has taken up that call. Asked if the creation of a Space Force held any advantages for the 3rd Congressional District, Rogers had a short answer.
“Safety and security,” he said.
The exchange took about one minute, and Rogers headed off to his next appointment.