Sunday, December 07, 2008

Jefferson Loses in Louisiana

It might not be a sign that hell has frozen over -- though certainly one that lumps of illicitly acquired cash have been frozen -- but indicted long-term Louisiana incumbent William Jefferson has been defeated in a congressional runoff election in the state's second district. Anh "Joseph" Cao (pronounced like "gow"), a lawyer with little previous political experience, becomes the first immigrant from Vietnam to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Cao is also the first Republican to represent the New Orleans-based district in many decades.

Jefferson's defeat marks one of the first times in modern memory that Louisiana voters have rejected a politician who lived under a cloud of corruption. (Remember Edwin Edwards' campaign slogan, "Vote for the crook, it's important", which he used to defeat Klansman David Duke?)

A Wikipedia entry on Jefferson notes that in August 2005,

FBI agents raided Jefferson's home in Northeast Washington and, as noted in an 83-page affidavit filed to support a subsequent raid on his Congressional office, "found $90,000 of the cash in the freezer, in $10,000 increments wrapped in aluminum foil and stuffed inside frozen-food containers." Serial numbers found on the currency in the freezer matched serial numbers of funds given by the FBI to their informant.
With regard to yesterday's runoff election, veteran political observer Hastings Wyman writes in Southern Political Report:
With all precincts reporting, Cao (pronounced “Gow”) had 33,122 votes (50%) to Jefferson’s 31,296 (47%). In a district that is 64% African-American and only 2.7% Asian, as well as about two-thirds registered Democrats, the results underscored the voters’ reaction to Jefferson’s ethical problems; the congressman will stand trial in early January on multiple federal bribery and corruption charges.

Cao, who becomes the first Vietnamese American in Congress, came to the United States from Saigon -- now Ho Chi Minh City -- when he was eight years old. He has an undergraduate degree in physics, a master’s degree in philosophy and a law degree. His only previous political experience was as an independent candidate for the state House of Representatives in which he came in fifth in a field of six.

Despite his lack of a significant political record, Cao, 41, had top-ranking support, including Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and US Rep. Steve Scalise (R) from the neighboring 1st District (Metairie, etc.), as well as some Democrats, including Helena Moreno, who lost the Democratic runoff to Jefferson on November 4; former District Attorney Harry Connick (father of the singer); and several New Orleans city council members.

While Cao made only passing references to Jefferson’s legal problem in the campaign, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) financed direct mail and automated phone calls that labeled Jefferson “crooked.” In his statement congratulating Cao, NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (OK) said, “Joseph Cao represents a new era in Louisiana - one in which voters continue to reject the politics of corruption.”
(In the photo above, Congressman Jefferson [right] shakes hands with Joseph Wilson, then the U.S. Ambassador to Gabon, at a reception sometime in 1993 or 1994.)


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