Sunday, 07 December 2008

WILLIAM JEFFERSON: THE VOTERS SPEAK

Ken Berwitz

As dirty as he is, it was still close.  But yesterday voters in the 2nd district of Louisiana (mostly New Orleans) removed him from congress.

By 50% to 47%, William Jefferson lost his house seat to Republican Anh Cao, who will become the first native Vietnamese member of congress.

Here are the particulars, from excerpts of the Associated Press article:

Voters oust indicted La. congressman

Unofficial returns show Republican Anh Joseph Cao has won seat

Image: Anh "Joseph" Cao

updated 12:53 a.m. ET, Sun., Dec. 7, 2008

NEW ORLEANS - Voters in Louisiana sent two Republicans to Congress on Saturday, ousting indicted Democratic U.S. Rep. William Jefferson in one race and narrowly keeping a seat vacated by a retiring incumbent in the other.

In the 2nd Congressional District, which includes most of New Orleans, Republican attorney Anh "Joseph" Cao won 50 percent of the vote to Jefferson's 47 percent and will become the first Vietnamese-American in Congress. His only previous political experience was an unsuccessful 2007 bid for a seat in the state legislature.

In the 4th Congressional District in western Louisiana, Republican John Fleming squeaked past Democrat Paul Carmouche in the race to replace retiring 10-term Rep. Jim McCrery, R-La. Only a few hundred votes separated the two.

Republicans made an aggressive push to take the 2nd District seat from the 61-year-old Jefferson, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, laundering money and misusing his congressional office.

Unofficial results showed Cao winning 50 percent of the vote to Jefferson's 47 percent.

"The people of the 2nd District have spoken," Cao, 41, told supporters at a restaurant near the French Quarter. "We want new direction. We want action. We want accountability."

Blaming low turnout
In a speech that was gracious but stopped short of concession, Jefferson blamed low voter turnout for his showing and said supporters may have thought he was a shoo-in after he won a Nov. 4 primary in the predominantly black and heavily Democratic district.

"I think people just ran out of gas a bit," he said. "People today flat didn't come out in large numbers."

Greg Rigamer, a New Orleans political consultant, said his analysis showed turnout in predominantly white sections of the district was double that in black areas. He said that helped push Cao to victory over Jefferson, who became Louisiana's first black congressman since Reconstruction when he took office in 1991.

"This is quite a feat," Rigamer said of Cao's victory.

New Orleans voters had long been loyal to Jefferson, re-electing him in 2006 even after news of the bribery scandal broke. Late-night TV comics made him the butt of jokes after federal agents said they found $90,000 in alleged bribe money hidden in his freezer.

Cao came to the United States as a child after the fall of Saigon in 1975 and went on to earn degrees in philosophy, physics and law.

Both the 2nd and 4th Congressional District races were postponed because of Hurricane Gustav.

The national GOP also backed Cao, an immigration lawyer, with a barrage of advertising portraying Jefferson as corrupt.

Prosecutors contend Jefferson used his influence as chairman of the congressional Africa Investment and Trade Caucus to broker deals in Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and other African nations on behalf of those who bribed him.

The 2007 indictment claims Jefferson received more than $500,000 in bribes and demanded millions more between 2000 and 2005, including the $90,000 found in the freezer of his Washington home. Jefferson denies wrongdoing.

No trial date has been set.

Demographically, Jefferson lost because there were something like double the usual number of votes from White districts, and those districts went for Cao.  But it is also true that Jefferson lost significant support among Black voters as well.  Without that drop-off he would have been re-elected. 

Therefore, I am delighted to note that people of both colors contributed to this dirtbag's demise.

It's a lot more than the Democrat-controlled congress was willing to do. 

Here was a man caught on tape taking a six-figure bribe.  When they searched his home they found almost all the money hidden in a freezer.  And there was no reprimand of any kind, just removal from the House Ways and Means Committee (with Rangel still chairing it I wonder why they bothered).  In almost all other respects, political life went on for Jefferson as if none of this ever happened. 

Compare that to the treatment afforded, say, "Duke" Cunningham or Richard Ney on the Republican side.  Notice any difference?

As we see over and over again, in politics it is good to have that -D at the end of your name.


SEAN PENN AS HARVEY MILK

Ken Berwitz

Sean Penn's politics may range from goofy to grating to infuriating.  But there is no getting away from his talents as an actor.

My wife and I saw "Milk" this afternoon, in which Penn plays San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk.  As you may remember, Harvey Milk was the first openly gay person elected to public office in California.  In 1979 he, along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, was shot to death by a disgruntled fellow City Supervisor named Dan White.

The performances in "Milk" were excellent throughout.  But Penn was in another league.  If you ever saw footage of Harvey Milk, you would know that his facial expressions and mannerisms were amazingly identical.  And his acting?  Incredible altogether.

Sean Penn has already won an academy award for his portrayal of Jimmy Markum in "Mystic River".  It wouldn't surprise me at all if that oscar finds itself with an identical twin next year.


A REPUBLICAN WINNING STREAK?

Ken Berwitz

That's a strange title, given that it's just a month or so after Republicans got their backsides handed to them in the Presidential election, and lost so many house and senate seats.  But it's true.

Since then:

-In Georgia, Saxby Chambliss won the senate runoff against Jim Martin, to retain his senate seat;

-In Minnesota, Norm Coleman apparently has won the recount against al franken to retain his senate seat -- although there is a good chance franken will try any legal contortion he can dream up to prevent this reality from standing;

-In Louisiana (as noted in the previous blog), Republican Anh Cao has defeated William Jefferson in the 2nd congressional district.

-Also in Louisiana, Repubican John Fleming nosed out Paul Carmouche in the 4th congressional district for (Republican) Jim McCrery's seat after McCrery retired.

Granted, none of this stacks up in dimension to what happened on November 4.  But it all counts.  And maybe it will jump-start Republicans on the way to what they better hope will be a major comeback in 2010.


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