The idea of referring to Louisiana as a state which has adopted integrated, progressive, reform politics would have been unimaginable just a short time ago.
Yet almost two years ago the state elected Republican Bobby Jindal as Governor. Governor Jindal, of Punjabi Indian heritage, born a Hindu and convert to Catholicism, was earlier elected to Congress in 2004. Jindal had lost the gubernatorial election in 2003 52-48% to Democrat Kathleen Blanco, whose demonstrated incompetence during Hurricane Katrina assured his election this time. Governor Jindal won 54% of the vote and carried 60 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes in the wide open election in 2007. He is the first non-white Governor of Louisiana since Reconstruction.
On Saturday, December 6, 2008 the voters of New Orleans and part of surrounding Jefferson County elected a Republican, Vietnamese American, Anh Joseph “Joe” Cao, to Congress in the Second Congressional District by a 50% to 47% vote over the incumbent Democrat, Congressman William Jefferson.
Louisiana is the state where David Duke, a former Grand Master of the KKK, ran for Governor as a Republican and won a spot in the runoff in 1981.
The election of Cao may be viewed in two lights: the rise of the Vietnamese Americans in America, and continuing public disgust with political corruption.
Cao ran as a Republican in a district that is 11% Republican by registration and 60% African American. Vietnamese Americans comprise only 3% of the registered voters in the District.
Unlike the earlier Chinese, Japanese, and Pilipino immigrants to America, the Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians have only been here for less than four decades. These later Asian immigrants were not subject to the discriminations inflicted on the earlier Asian immigrants, especially the Chinese and Japanese, for about a century.
The 2000 Census recorded about 1,200,000 Vietnamese Americans with the heart of the Vietnamese community in Orange County, California. 150,000 live in the County, with the largest concentration in Westminster and surrounding areas. The official nickname for this community is Little Saigon.
Tony Lam was elected to the Westminster City Council in 1992 as the first Vietnamese elected to public office in America. As of January a majority of the Council will be Vietnamese Americans. Others have been elected to the California and Texas legislatures, school boards, water districts, the Orange County Board of Supervisors, and judgeships. Quite a record of assimilation into America!
Joe Cao represents the American dream. He came to America at the age of 8 on a military evacuation plane during the Fall of Saigon. He has degrees in physics (Baylor), religion (Fordham) and law (Loyola of New Orleans).
The other lesson is just a significant. The American public is increasingly intolerant of public corruption. Congressman Jefferson was the nine term, 16 count indicted incumbent found with $90,000 frozen cash in his freezer.
Admittedly turnout was low in a District carried by Senator Obama with 75% of the vote. The white vote was 28% and the African American turnout was 14%.
A large amount of the Republican debacle in the midterm elections of 2006, carrying over into 2008, came in the form of voter rejection of ethically charged Republicans. The names were a veritable Who’s Who of Congressional Republicans: J.D. Hayworth, John Hostettler, E Clay Shaw, Jim Ryun, Charlie Bass, John Sweeney, Richard Pombo, Curt Weldon, Mike Fitzpatrick, Don Sherwood, Nancy Johnson, and Senator Conrad Burns.
Some were indicted: Bob Ney, Randy “Duke” Cunningham, and Rick Renzi. Senator Ted Stevens was recently convicted. Others were connected to Jack Abramoff, Mark Foley, and Cunningham.
Two ethically charges Florida Congressmen lost reelection last month: Republican Tom Feeney and Democrat Tim Mahoney, who ironically was Foley’s successor.
Let us not forget that a jury holds the fate on federal corruption charges of former Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona, “America’s Sheriff,” in its hands over this Holiday Season.
Louisiana has quite a history of corruption with Governors Huey Long and four term Edwin Edwards, whose famous quote about Louisiana’s voters was that they would continue to elect him “unless he was found in bed with a dead girl or live boy.”
Let us also not forget the New Orleans Police department, which was historically the lowest paid major police force in the United States on the premise that they would make it up elsewhere. Some of New Orleans’s “finest” distinguished themselves during Katrina by driving Cadillacs off a dealer’s lot in the Big Easy to Houston. Even prior to the hurricane, the city and state were initiating efforts to rid the N.O.P. D. of corruption.
Congressman Jeffferson’s defeat resolves one ethical problem for the Congressional Democrats, but Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, John Murtha of Pennsylvania, and Charles Rangel of New York remain in Congress. The Democrats turn at the Washington corruption trough has come.
Joe Cao may only hold the seat for two years as the Democrats will run a candidate against him in the next election, looking to Chicago as precedence. Chicago voters in 1994 voted out the powerful Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, after his indictment for petty corruption (postal stamps). His victor, Republican Michael Patrick Flanagan, lost the seat two years later to a rising star in Illinois politics, Rod Blagojevich.
Regardless, Joe Cao made political history in a year of political history.