Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008's Winners, Losers and Others

As the title sums up nicely the column’s theme, I’ll forgo the snarky summary that generally preface year-end reviews and just cut to the chase.


Barack Obama: Even if the Illinois Senator had lost the general election, the folks at Time Magazine would’ve still anointed him their Person of the Year, not without some merit. Obama’s historic nomination wasn’t a cakewalk, having wrestled it from the politically ferocious Clintons after an exhausting battle that started on January 3rd in the Iowa caucuses and did not conclude until South Dakota and Montana’s June 3rd primaries. And in retrospect, it seems that beating Hillary was the hard part. Yes he did.

Joe Biden: The senior US Senator from the tri-county state of Delaware entered 2008 hoping that at best he would close the year out as the incoming Secretary of State. That is assuming he was not suffering from delusions of grandeur. Biden’s 2008 bid for his party’s nomination was declared DOA within 100 hours of the New Year’s ball being dropped at Times Square, which seems pretty bad until considering his White House bid from 20 years earlier didn’t even make it to the election year. Yet Obama looked past Biden’s past and made the gaffe-prone politician his running-mate, which says something about the president-elect…in a good way. Here’s to at least four more years of “Stand Up Chuck!”

Sarah Palin: Sure she was on the losing-end of a Democratic landslide and had to endure the most concerted media assault since Richard Nixon was getting kicked around. Did I mention having to endure her teenage daughter’s personal life get splashed across the cover of tabloids, most notoriously on OK! magazine, which ironically in the same month had a glowing spread of the seemingly wholesome Obama family. But the Alaskan governor weathered the worst of it, emerging from pre-convention obscurity and post-election backstabbing as one of the GOP’s most powerful and popular figures. Palin’s tour through Georgia turned out the Republican base in US Senator Saxby Chambliss’s big runoff victory, proving that the backbiting by McCain staffers did little to diminish her considerable standing with the Republican faithful. If she seeks it, Palin will be the candidate to beat for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.

Joseph Cao: A little over a year ago, Cao came in a distant fifth place for state representative (for the record, I ran a close third in that same race). A few months later, the Saigon-native was soundly defeated as a candidate for delegate to the state GOP convention. After securing a spot as a delegate to the Republican National Convention, Cao was forced to evacuate his family via a straight drive to the Minnesota convention. Though Gustav spared most of the people who had lost much in Katrina three years prior, Cao was not in that group as his New Orleans East home flooded again. Yet the same storm that put water into his living room would help put him in Congress with the additional assistance of financing from Uptown New Orleans Republican donors (not so much from the RNC thank you very much Chairman Duncan) and a lot of Obama voters that thought ending the embarrassment of Bill Jefferson was more important than party affiliation, ideology or race.

Mary Landrieu: Despite facing what on paper should have been her toughest opponent for US Senate, Landrieu won by her biggest margin ever despite having to share ballot space with her party’s not so popular presidential nominee, at least in Louisiana. Because of Louisiana’s conservative voting tendencies, Landrieu is going to have to probably fight off another tough challenge in 2014. But to quote Hyman Roth from Godfather II, “This is the business we chose”.

Howard Dean: And you all laughed when he was picked to head the Democratic National Committee after the 2004 Republican triumph. I knew better. His leadership of the Democratic governor’s campaign arm produced his party’s lone instance of forward progress in 2002. He who screams last, scream loudest. YEEEEEAAAAGGGHHH!!!

Bobby Jindal: His “rockstar” status in the party is only eclipsed by Palin’s though the Louisiana governor possesses more broad appeal. Though he didn’t speak at the Republican National Convention, the nation got a more favorable glimpse of Jindal on the job while Louisiana was threatened by two major storms in September. By spurning McCain’s veep advances and vetoing the radioactive legislative payraise, Jindal secured himself on the homefront while keeping his national options open. If Jindal and Palin both sought the Republican nomination in 2012, the race would quickly devolve into a duel effectively freezing out the rest of the competition, much like what Clinton and Obama did to Biden, Richardson, John Edwards and Chris Dodd.


Hillary Clinton: She had to eat an enormous campaign debt and contributed very little towards Obama’s re-election. For a former First Lady and a Clinton, Secretary of State must seem like a pretty meager consolation prize, after all it’s not like she’s Bill Richardson or John Kerry. Had Hillary won the Democratic nomination, she would’ve beaten McCain in a rout. Now she’ll pass her days at Foggy Bottom replaying in her mind the events that caused her to miss out on what was perhaps her only chance of being president.

RNC Chairman Mike Duncan: In his mind, presiding over the national GOP during the party’s worst electoral disaster since Watergate does not make one a loser. Letting the national committee make it official by bothering to stand for re-election in January will.

Bill Jefferson: The indicted soon-be-former congressman eluded political defeat at the hands of Karen Carter in 2006, watched another serious rival, Derrick Shepherd, get sent to jail and held off six challengers in his successful bid for renomination in 2008. Only to suffer the supreme humiliation of being beaten by an Asian Republican in an overwhelmingly black majority congressional district. For “Dollar Bill”, it’s likely that the worse has yet to come.

The Gambit Weekly: Two words: no endorsement. That was the position of that newspaper on the eve of the Second District Congressional general election between Jefferson, Cao and two minor party candidates. Now the thing about the closed primary is that there are no runoffs once the party primaries are concluded, meaning no matter how many candidates run, that election is the end of the line. You must make a choice. The Gambit Weekly, which prides itself as a progressive, good government-oriented publication, chose to stick its head in the ground refusing to get behind the indicted congressman or his lone credible opponent, who just so happened to be a Republican. Why might you ask? Because he was endorsed by the Family Research Council. OK…
Oh, but the FRC, a social conservative group that backs most pro-life candidates, is headed by former State Representative Tony Perkins. Ahhhh. Um. Why is this important? Because Perkins, while working for another candidate for federal office in 1996, once paid David Duke money for a mailing list. And what does this “Kevin Bacon Political Logic” have to do with defeating fore re-election an individual whose tenure in office hampers our region’s post-Katrina recovery effort and tells the rest of America that never mind what Bobby Jindal is telling you, Louisiana still has a long way to go in changing our corrupt imagine. In short, the Gambit Weekly tried to play Harry Lee by depressing turnout amongst its white liberal readers. We should be grateful that they have more of a big picture outlook of the world than its publishers.


David Vitter: After enduring what had to be the worst year of his life, Vitter has rebounded by emerging as a leading critic of unpopular federal bailouts of the banking system and the auto industry. John Kennedy’s defeat for US Senate makes Vitter less expendable in the eyes of the national GOP, likely translating into substantial early support to fend off any prospective intra-party challengers. In a Machiavellian way, McCain’s defeat was also helpful, especially since Vitter, an early supporter of Rudy Giuliani, can get more political mileage from running against the Obama Administration than with a McCain presidency he would’ve had major philosophical problems accommodating, particularly on immigration. Proof that the political crapshooter’s luck might hold out: the Democrat talking the most about running against Vitter is former Governor Kathleen Blanco. Ironically, the only downside from 2008 for Vitter is ironically the election of Cao in the Second District. Cao’s re-election effort will further divvy-up Republican resources while driving up Democratic turnout on a day that Vitter doesn’t need a lot of votes coming out of Orleans Parish.

George W. Bush: He’s less popular than new Coke and academics have judged his administration as worse than Nixon’s, but the Texan will amble out of office on January 20th becoming the first president to survive the “Tecumseh Curse” physically unscathed. Bush is doubtlessly aware of how Harry Truman left office strongly disliked though the passage of time led to his presidency to be reconsidered in a more favorable light. Though his critics have consistently labeled the president a mental midget, the Yale-Harvard grad proved he was smart enough to win two terms.

John N. Kennedy: Now 0-4 in elections for offices not titled “Treasurer”, Kennedy must make a decision in late 2010: does he remain chained to a radiator on the Third Floor of the State Capitol or does he gun for something else. Even if he doesn’t succeed in his next campaign, the Vandy-UVA-Oxford grad could make a killing in the private sector.

John McCain: Much like the Arizonan that preceded him as GOP nominee forty-four years before, actually winning the presidency never seemed to be a priority for McCain. His nomination and, most importantly, defeat at the hands of Obama assures McCain of nothing less than footnote status in the history books. McCain’s connection with the Keating 5 is now largely forgotten beneath an impressive bio of military service and a legacy of decrying earmarks, admonishing his fellow Republicans for saying anything that offends the other party, passing campaign finance reform and for being the leading advocate for finishing the job in Iraq.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Saints 2008: Close But No Cigar...Postseason...or Record

The ticket to the game served as the omen of things to come.
Though I am a season ticket holder, I had to pick up one off the streets for the Carolina game as I had traded my Carolina game ticket for an extra Oakland ticket figuring then that the last game would not matter in the grand scheme of things. Never mind for the moment how prescient that thought was back in October.
While walking to the Superdome, I glanced at the ticket and saw the scowling face of one Sean Payton printed on the scalped admittance to a mid-row set in the Terrace level.
Right then and there I had a feeling that the Saints were not going to finish 9-7, and thus giving the competitive NFC South a division in which every team had a winning record, nor would Drew Brees surpass Dan Marino’s record for passing yards.
The team missed out by 2 points from sweeping their division rivals at home. Number 9 would just miss out on making history, and perhaps his best argument for MVP, by a measly 16 yards.
Had the Saints managed to win an additional two games, they’d be in the playoffs as a wild card. And there’s no shortage of coulda, woulda, shoulda losses to pick from as the team lost six of their eight games by five points or less.
Despite a running-back controversy…scratch that…a head coach that has arbitrarily caused a running back controversy by not playing the Crescent City’s most popular “cripple” (please note the thick sarcasm in my reference the proven “handicapable” Deuce McAllister), the Saints’ offense have racked up the most points and yards in the NFL. But even possessing the league’s most prolific offense is a gilded distinction: submerged deep beneath the Saints’ glittering top passing/receiving stats is the team’s 26th ranked rush.
Bad clock management from lack of a reliable running game and the brick walls the team literally ran into on those infamous 3rds and one plagued them throughout the season. And unfortunately the Saints are like the GOP: they just don’t know how to win the close ones.
The Saints would have probably won the Chicago game in over-time had the coin flip went in the black and gold’s favor; but there’s the difference in winning a game and being a winning team.
Even had they did win two more games, the Saints should not have expected to go far in the post-season if their defense is so porous that every game turns into sudden death matches. That was so disturbing in the London win against San Diego: sure the Saints came out at top but it was almost entirely due to their offense’s ability to keep up by scoring repeatedly. Whatever hopes I had of the Saints making the playoffs ended at Wembley Stadium.
As the Denver-San Diego season finale is being played as I write this, the Saints have the 23rd ranked defense in yards allowed and 22nd in sacks. I’ve witnessed the spectacle of the likes of Jeff Garcia resemble Michael Vick against the Saints defense. Opposing quarterbacks have had plenty of time to throw the ball, which has strained and added to the embarrassment of the Saints’ secondary.
Our well-paid defensive ends, when not hurt or under suspension (see 2009 season), are not earning the high salaries they whined about deserving. Will Smith and Charles Grant have combined for a grand total of six sacks, which is free-agent Bobby McCray’s individual total. The team defense is 29th in forced fumbles.
The Saints enter yet another post-season trying to plug up a leaky defense while also having to make a critical decision about the running game: will Deuce McAllister return? Judging by Payton’s sparing use of him, even in situations where McAllister was unquestionably the best player for a particular down, it seems that number Twenty-Six is being eased out.
I had mixed emotions about Brees’s chase of the Marino milestone. Part of me wanted to see a member of the black and gold enter the record books while making the season finale count for something. Yet another part of me was resentful of Brees’s statistical feat, coming at the expense of a neglected running game.
By having an imbalanced offense that could not compensate for a broken defense, the Saints finished the 2008 season with a “balanced” record of 8-8.
That Brees’ had just barely missed making his mark in NFL history was a fitting way to end a disappointing season thanks to Saints letting six games slip through their fingers.
Unless Payton commits to running the ball more and the front office aggressively retools the defense with our lone first day draft pick (thanks to stockpiling in an area that didn’t need it) and free agency, the Who Dat faithful will have to endure yet another year of break-even “Haslett Ball”.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Final Holiday at Al's Place

The above picture was taken by Eric Miller in front of the Metairie home of the late founder of Popeyes Chicken, Al Copeland, who lived a life that was even flashier than his annual Christmas display. For many years, Mr. Copeland lavishly decorated his house during Christmas, to the chagrin of some area residents who complained about the increased vehicular and foot traffic the display brought to the neighborhood. Mr. Copeland went to court to defend his Christmas decorations, which included both secular Christmas characters and a large Nativity scene.

A trip to Mr. Copeland's house to see Santa Claus and gaze at the elaborate light display and animatronics was a Christmas season staple for many area children over the past three decades. The only figure that could compete with Mr. Copeland when it came to being identified with Christmas in New Orleans was Mr. Bingle.

With Mr. Copeland's passing in March, this will be the final Christmas the southshore mansion will be illuminated, as the Copeland family donated the equipment to the local government, which will display the restaurateur's electric Christmas legacy at Lafreniere Park.

Monday, December 22, 2008

New Orleans Saints' 2009 Opponents Set

With the Seattle victory over Green Bay and the St. Louis loss....to somebody...not worth me logging on to NFL.com for that bit of info...the New Orleans Saints' 2009 opponents are set. The actual dates will not be revealed by the league until May in order to maximize high-interest match-ups throughout the season and to milk such an announcement for every cent of advertising revenue they can get their grubby little hands on.


The Usual NFC South Divisional Suspects: Atlanta, Carolina and Tampa Bay
NFC East (based upon the divisonal rotation): New York Giants and Dallas
AFC East (see the above): New England and New York Jets
NFC North (based upon intra-conference divisional rotation and comparative ranking of the team, which will be the last place team as the Saints finished last in their division weeks ago):
Detroit Lions


The Usual NFC South Divisional Suspects: Atlanta, Carolina and Tampa Bay
NFC East (based upon the divisional rotation): Washington and Philadelphia (bring the kevlar)
AFC East (ditteaux): Miami and Buffalo (please let this be a September game at Ralph Wilson)
NFC North (the only game that had not been known going into last weekend): St. Louis Rams

Mercifully, we will not be going to Soldier Field for a regular season game for at least two years, though exhibitions, playoff appearances and/or divisional ranking with the intra-conference rotation could land the Saints there as early as 2010, assuming the league keeps its current logical schedule system and division set up in place.

Festivus 2008: Airing Grievances and Celebrating "Miracles'

Happy Festivus!
It was on December 18th in the one-thousandth nine hundred ninety-seventh Year of Our Lord that a writer for Seinfeld introduced through the curmudgeon prophet Frank Costanza this fascinating celebration that is observed on the eve of Christmas Eve.
And seeing how the post office, internet search engines and the media pay such great lip service to a holiday invented by a convicted felon (Google Paul Mulshine for Ron Karenga’s background), why not do something to celebrate a creation by someone who never went to prison for assault and kidnapping.
So in the true spirit of Festivus, here is an omnibus of catcalls against people who have angered me over the past year in the realms of sports, politics and entertainment with a smattering of kind words at the bottom
Try to imagine Jerry Stiller’s voice while reading the ritual Airing of Grievances

“John McCain, you are the lousiest candidate the Republican Party has nominated since Dewey didn’t beat Truman” Where do I begin? And how long do I choose to go before I end? Taking the matching funds. Throwing a conniption fit over the financial crisis instead of coming off presidential. Tossing his running mate to the wolves, with some of those beasts being of the Republican variety. While the GOP is a trainwreck, we at least deserved a nominee who was going to try to win. Please quit talking. Go to the back of the Senate and quietly, if that’s possible, try to outlast Dick Lugar for President Pro-Tempore. It’ll be the closest you’ll ever get to the Oval Office.

“Barry Obama, just who the hell do you think you are?” Not even a full term in the US Senate and you think you are prepared to be president because you can make legions of bleeding heart liberals weep with joy? Talk about audacity! When Lloyd Bentsen tried to do the same thing in 1976, Washington reporter Jules Whitcover called his campaign “an exercise in supreme egoism.” From January 21st forward, it’s all on you. I hope your powers of bringing people to instant euphoria works on the likes of Kim Jong-Il and Vlad Putin. No wonder Fidel Castro is starting to feel more spry these days.

“Jennifer Aniston, Shut Up and Strip!” And I thought Phoebe was supposed to be the dumb one. The former Friends star has lamented the lack of privacy she has in her life due to the “Enquiring minds” of bored housewives, legal secretaries that spend too much time on TMZ.com and Perez Hilton. Aniston then proceeds to pose for the cover of GQ magazine wearing nothing but a tie and a smile. Somehow, the woman with the GPS coordinates of the Southwest Airlines hubs on her right shoulder seems normal and sane.

“I Got a Lot of Problems with You Sean Payton!” I think George Costanza could run the Saints better than Napoleon Dynamo. Payton’s sideline tantrums are the stuff of “Iron” Mike Sharpe. His double-reversal plays, the stuff that comes from the mind of a chicken that doesn’t play tic-tac-toe well. His refusal to run the ball, the stuff of that same chicken after it visited Popeyes. Instead of checking into Deuce McAllister’s vitamins, the NFL needs to scour the Quebec gambling establishments to see if Payton has money on Drew Brees breaking Dan Marino’s passing record. Otherwise, the Saints coach’s unbalanced play-calling makes no sense.

“A Sophomoric Vote by Freshmen Legislators” I can’t believe you people fell for it. A bunch of termed out legislators conned you all into voting for a pay raise that goes into effect immediately. They get a fattened retirement; you get the boot. Be on guard for John Alario working the aisles during capital outlay time while holding a burlap sack with the words “Magic Seeds” printed on it.

“31,317 Racists, Idiots, Crooks and Relatives of Bill Jefferson” I don’t care what the demographics are; I don’t care how many registered Democrats live there, that Jefferson was ousted by a margin that was less than 3% is in itself an indictment against the community. Diogenes would have a tough time in the Louisiana’s Second District.

Now gather round yon aluminum Festivus pole and toast the following Festivus miracles:

33,132 voters in the Louisiana’s Second District acted to “end the embarrassment” and “stopped $ Bill”.

Minnesota Federal Judge Paul Magnuson issued an injunction blocking temporarily the NFL suspensions of players that tested positive for StarCaps. McAllister was able to surpass the 6,000 career yards rushing milestone in Detroit and added another touchdown to his franchise record.

In the same game, the Saints ended their pitiful losing streak against 0-7 teams. The New Orleans franchise is now a terrible 1-6 against the league’s bottom-feeders.

Free drinks at a Bobby Jindal function. I’ve attended numerous Jindal rallies and victory parties, yet no matter how prolific his fundraising was during a campaign, all of them had cash bars. A Christmas party I recently attended a Christmas Party the governor hosted that finally ended the “dry streak”.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Fate Too Cruel for Blago?

Sure Illinois has the nation's leading scumbag as governor but on a recent visit to Ed Debevic's, a popular diner in Chicago, my eye caught an image of Blagojevich on the eatery's wall of fame positioned next to a magazine cover featuring none other than David Schwimmer.
It's one thing if US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerlad wants to hurl Blago into the Phantom Zone but for the greasey spoon to group the arrested executive with television's uberwuss is just cruel.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Rise of "Spiro" Palin

It seems the only presidential candidates that treated their running mates with any class were Gerry Ford, Ronald Reagan, Mike Dukakis and George W. Bush.
Recent political history is rife of examples of running mates who willingly tethered their names and political fortunes to presidential candidates, both of the successful and unsuccessful variety, only to have their loyalty and trust repaid with treachery and obstruction in their own presidential campaigns later.
Richard Nixon spent more time and effort plotting against Spiro Agnew than anyone whose name that ever appeared on his now celebrated enemies list. Hubert Humphrey ran against his 1968 running mate in the 1972 primaries. George McGovern stood behind Tom Eagleton 1000% up until he threw him under the bus. Visitors at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Center would have a tough time finding Walter Mondale’s name anywhere in the museum aside from a campaign poster. George W.H. Bush didn’t interfere as his closest advisors waged a scorched earth leak-campaign against Dan Quayle. Al Gore, after having to pay politically for the sins of Bill Clinton, came out against his own running in the next election. Ditto Kerry.
And you can now add John McCain’s name to the list of people who reaffirm Harry S. Truman’s cynical adage about friends in politics.
As if it wasn’t bad enough that the 2008 Republican presidential candidate quietly stood by as his own people savaged Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s credibility in the days going into the general election and was reluctant to intervene after the fact, McCain, on ABC’s This Week answered a question about whether he would support Palin in 2012 by touting the credentials of potential rivals for the GOP nomination.
While an early endorsement should not have been expected, the dismissive manner in which McCain replied to the inquiry was nothing short of yelling “wham, bam thank you m’am” to a woman who was subjected to most intense political teardowns in American political history in the course of trying to help McCain achieve his presidential dreams.
Fortunately for Governor Palin, McCain has about as much credibility within the party as the Zimbabwean Dollar does in the world of finance.
Palin’s selection as running mate was the unarguable high-water point of the McCain effort. Enthusiasm for the GOP ticket shot through the rough and led to the Republican National Convention gaining more viewers than the Democrats’ despite the fact the latter was carried on more media outlets while the former had to compete against the kickoff of the NFL’s regular season.
US Senator Saxby Chambliss, an early supporter of McCain’s and by no means a grassroots conservative, credited his big re-election margin in no small part to the energy Palin brought to his runoff effort.
Casting an eye towards 2012, Palin in many ways is in the same situation Agnew was after the Republican ticket’s landslide victory in 1972.
Agnew, who was also detested by the media and loathed by the political establishment, was beloved by the party base and was the favorite to win the GOP presidential nomination in 1976. Even Ronald Reagan could not have stopped him. But Agnew’s past (and it turned out his present as well) torpedoed his future.
The reason why Palin is so popular with the Republican hoi polloi is because she is more like us than any candidate that has been nominated for national office in decades. She’s not polished, not Washingtonian, not of Mayflower lineage, not Ivy League, not eastern seaboard. That’s why the Georgetown crowd treats Palin’s ascension to a spot on the national ticket as if she had won a raffle, having not earned it by being born to the right family or intellectually prepared by the right university. Having contempt for Palin was almost trendy in Democratic and Republican circles despite the fact she had more governmental executive experience than McCain, Obama and Biden together.
Palin’s most egregious sin is that she’s common. Though that is not a bad thing for a party that paid a high price for being perceived as out of touch.
The Republican nomination in 2012 will be Palin’s to lose if she seeks it, with the Alaskan benefiting from 100% name recognition, Obama-like fundraising potential from a horde of small dollar donors and a sizable backlash vote from the Huckabucks, social conservatives upset about the poor treatment she received from both the liberal mainstream and the pro-Romney conservative media.
Republican Palin-haters would be wise to either warm up to her folksy speaking style or continue to allow their haughtiness trump their adherence to capitalistic principles.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Giving Thanks Louisiana Ain't Illinois

CHICAGO- I know this is going to shock some people but back in my incorrigible younger years I spent more time outside the principal’s office than her secretary.
Sitting there I would sometimes wonder what it was like to be the kid who was on the opposite end, passing through the administration office and taking note of the student slouching in an office chair as the principal was filling out the detention slip.
That day finally came when I had to leave early due to illness. As I waited for my grandfather to arrive to take me to the doctor, two upper classmen were hauled in to the principal’s office for fighting. Despite not feeling well due to a virus, the flu or Pac-Man Fever, I couldn’t help but harbor some joy in that someone other than me was in that familiar yet unenviable spot.
Having finally grown sick of its well-earned bad political reputation, voters across Louisiana chose to make a break from its past after Katrina exposed the results of decades of government corruption and ineptitude. Now Louisianans are snickering a little as Illinois fills the government scandal vacuum left when voters in the Bayou State decided to move forward.
Electing Bobby Jindal was the start, though there was more work to be done, particularly in New Orleans. Yet the Crescent City, the most ethically challenged part of the state, has made some great strides as of late.
New Orleans currently has its most reform-oriented council since Chep
Morrison’s heyday; a competent, a workaholic District Attorney committed to aggressively fighting crime was recently elected; and a new School Board is about to take office that isn’t beholden to political machines and special interests that often trumped in importance the interests of the school children.
In what should be considered the greatest leap forward to date, a plurality of chronic voters succeeded in turning out indicted Congressman William Jefferson and replacing him with a former seminarian.
Anh Cao’s victory proved to be the mulligan that erases much of the shame from the 2006 elections when the Second Congressional District electorate returned Jefferson to Congress despite the FBI raid that netted $90,000 in marked bribe money from his freezer.
Within days of Republican Cao’s historic victory, the FBI arrested Illinois’ Democratic governor Rod Blagojevich for attempting to sell the US Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.
In addition to making Louisiana’s current political leadership look good by comparison, Illinois’ Blagojevich (soon to be renamed Inmate No. 56784-09) is somewhat relevant to how the Cao-Jefferson story begins and how it will likely conclude.
First it should be noted that like those locals who participated in the 2006 2nd District runoff, Illinois voters didn’t seem to be prioritizing political integrity when they re-elected Blagojevich despite being plagued by allegations of bribe-taking and hiring fraud and the indictment of his fundraiser Tony Rezko for trying to secure kickbacks from companies looking to do business with the state.
Blagojevich, whose approval rating was well below 50% for much of his first
term, won a second by over 10 points. Jefferson’s margin over fellow Democrat Karen Carter was evening bigger.
Both the voters of Louisiana’s Second District and the state of Illinois knew what they had in their incumbents yet gave them another term just the same in 2006. The difference between the poor judgment exercised by Illinois voters and New Orleans voters was just enough of the latter righted in 2008 the mistake from two years prior.
Secondly, you might recall the name Michael Patrick Flanagan, which I dropped a few times in the past when making the case that Republican Cao could defy the steep odds of winning a staunchly Democratic district. Flanagan had pulled off a similar upset for a congressional seat in Chicago against powerful House Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski.
Unfortunately the Flanagan story does not have a happy ending for neither the first-term GOP congressman nor the state of Illinois as the voters in his district reverted to their solid Democratic tendencies only two years later, throwing out Flanagan a 28-points. The victor in that race was none other than Blagojevich.
And so a Democratic stronghold replaced a crooked Democrat with a Republican reform candidate and then immediately ditched him just because of his party affiliation trading “up” for a Democrat that proved to be far worse than the one they bounced in the first place.
Will Louisiana’s Second District follow Illinois’ Fifth District by swapping Cao out with the New Orleans Democratic politician that had enough machine support to earn the right to face the Republican in the 2010 general election?
Almost certainly.
But until history runs its winding yet inevitable course, Louisianans can temporarily gloat that at least we’re not Illinois.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Skin da Bears

There are Saints billboards around town that asks “How deep does your fan go?”
Well how does one answer that question?
By being a season ticket holder and staying till the end of games no matter how painful Sean Payton makes them with his Wyle E. Coyote-like play calls?
By having a “Saints Go Marching In” ringtone on your cell?
By having a closet full of clothes from the Black and Gold store?
I’m going to answer how deep my fan goes with the numbers 3 and 15.
Three is the number of trips to Soldier Field I will have made to see the Saints play and fifteen is what the temperature is going to feel like up in the nose-freeze section.
In today’s Times Picayune Sports section, Chicago is called a cruel place for the New Orleans franchise as the team lost two playoff games in the unfriendly confines of Soldier Field.
Chicago is even a worse place for Saints fans.
I remember hearing stories locals that went up for the 1991 NFC Wild Card game being pelted with snowballs loaded with batteries and having urine thrown on them. When I ventured up there for the NFC Championship in 2007, I was greeted by a Chicagoon sporting an elaborate sandwich board sign that read “Bears Finishing What Katrina Started”. Why anyone would callously mock a disaster that wrecked tens of thousands of people’s lives and led to hundreds of drowning and dehydration deaths is beyond comprehension.
I’m as passionate as one gets about the Saints and I engage in my fair share of smack talk (though half the time it’s directed toward my home team’s coach) but I wouldn’t wish on anyone what I personally experienced let alone others who lost far more than irreplaceable family memorabilia and consumer goods.
The NFC Championship game also marked the only time I have ever left a Saints game early, and it wasn’t just because of the one-sided 4th quarter score.
People in my section were getting rowdy beyond hurling catcalls; one young drunk in front of me, in between screaming within mere inches of my face that it was too bad I didn’t drown in Katrina, was trying to summon up the will to graduate from delivering verbal blows to physical ones.
At that point I knew how the Saints’ season was going to end and had a good idea how my trip to the Windy City was going to conclude. The game wasn’t worth the beat down. And it certainly wouldn’t have been worth the arrest after two-dozen spectators in blue and orange attire claim I threw the first punch because I couldn’t handle what was nothing more than good-natured ribbing. Right?
As I began my trudge from Soldier Field I was interviewed by a New Orleans television reporter about how I was treated in the stadium. My story wasn’t unique as other Saints fans that had gathered around had the same thing to say. As if taking our word for it wasn’t enough, an inebriated Bears fan stumbled towards the reporter, hurled a beer and a certain word that set the black reporter chasing after the drunk.
At that point I told myself I would never set foot in Chicago. I later reconsidered that decision. I wasn’t letting Chicagoons keep me supporting my team. And Chicago is one of America’s great cities and one of my favorite places to eat.
So I went back for the 2007 finale, a game that had no real meaning except for the loser receiving a better draft pick, which the Bears handed the Saints despite the outstanding game undrafted running back Pierre Thomas had, becoming the team’s first player to rack up over 100 yards running and receiving.
The Chicagoons were still hell, though not as bad as they were earlier that year, though drowning cracks were still en vogue. Maybe things were mellower because neither team was in the playoff hunt at that point. Or perhaps the locals had two less hours of pre-game drinking (the NFC Championship game was played at 2 PM, the regular season rematch was at noon).
The Thursday night game will feature two teams fighting to stay alive in the playoff hunt. The loser will be eliminated from post-season play.
A Saints win would even out the overall regular season record with the Bears, which currently stands at 11-12, one of club’s better records against a franchise. To put it in perspective, the Saints would have to sweep Atlanta in the next four seasons to even the team’s overall record with the Dirty Birds.
For me, the game is personal. It’s not just about avenging the game that would have sent the Black and Gold to the Super Bowl, but the way legions of Saints fans were assaulted verbally and otherwise at the NFC Championship. In the minds of not just a few members of the Who Dat nation, the Bears game is the most important of the season.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Closed Primary and the Cashing Out of Dollar Bill

Anh Cao’s unlikely election to Congress from the black-majority Second District was made possible due to the perfect alignment of an obscure legislative act, a hurricane (not the one you’re thinking of) and a slew of indictments against incumbent US Representative Bill Jefferson.
Louisiana’s return to the closed primary for federal races would be relevant for Cao in four ways: 1) it allowed for three elections (party primary, party primary runoff if needed and the general election) instead of the maximum of two under the open primary (primary and runoff only if a candidate failed to attain a majority); 2) the timing established for the primary and runoff was set for the peak of hurricane season in Louisiana; 3) registered Republicans would be barred from voting until the general election; 4) federal candidates in a general election only need to win a plurality in the general election not a majority.
The main reason why Louisiana adopted the open primary back in the seventies had to do with Governor Edwin Edwards’s self-serving attempt to deny Republican candidates a strategic advantage over their Democratic opponents in general elections.
Since Republican registration in Louisiana was miniscule back the in seventies (and is currently less than 33% of the total today), Republican primaries, on those rare occasions when they did occur, were one-sided affairs as the favorite would coast straight to the general election. Democrats on the other hand, had to engage in an expensive and schismatic intraparty fight through a primary and runoff before facing a fresh and well-financed Republican candidate.
Edwards figured that by making the Republican candidate compete with the Democrats on the same ballot, the open primary could potentially eliminate a GOP candidate from making a runoff while at a minimum making the Republican have to spend his money at the same time so in the case of a Republican-Democrat runoff, both candidates would theoretically start from scratch financially.
Edwards would later come to regret the open primary, which led to a jump in Republican voter registrations and the election of registered Republicans to offices across the state. For his role in the abolition of the closed primary, Edwards would be facetiously known as the Father of the Louisiana GOP.
Edwards’s fears from his turbulent experience in 1971 would finally play out in 2008 as Jefferson entered the general election cash-strapped from two competitive primary races, legal expenses stemming from his corruption trial and suffering from a national Democratic financial blockade on his campaign.
Cao, who was unopposed as the GOP candidate, was able to sit on his limited resources until after the presidential election, which was the same day as the Democratic runoff for the party nod.
Secondly, for whatever reason, the framers of the legislation returning the state to the closed primary in federal races decided to cram the party primaries immediately behind the November general election.
Obviously incumbents reap an advantage from the date positioning since they rarely face significant opposition within their own party while the challenging party might have a divisive scrum between two or more competitive candidates, burdening them with having to unite their side and refill their campaign coffers virtually over night.
Jefferson’s vulnerability due to his trial and the information that has trickled from the investigation made the Democratic primary for all practical purposes an open seat.
The original date of the general election favored Jefferson, since it would be held the same time Obama would be on the ballot, allowing him to ride his party’s presidential candidate’s considerable coattails in the black majority second district.
Jefferson’s problem was that it didn’t seem too certain he would be the person occupying the Democratic Party’s slot on the general election ballot. Jefferson faced six challengers, five of whom possessed either a strong geographic voter base, money and/or name recognition. A low voter turnout primary could be fatal for a scandal-tainted incumbent clinging on to little else than name recognition.
And then Hurricane Gustav saved Jefferson’s political career for the time being. At least for the moment it seemed that way.
The delay in the primaries allowed Jefferson to get what he needed in the primary and would face a white opponent the same day black vote was going to peak while precluding anti-Jefferson Republican voters. Jefferson’s 14-point win against former television newscaster Helena Moreno in November meant there was only one more hurdle to clear before being freed up to concentrate his energies on his trial (rebuilding New Orleans de damned!).
When the machines closed on December 6th, Cao received more votes than Jefferson, though the Republican did not receive a majority but a plurality of 49.5%. Under the open primary rule (and that of Georgia’s closed primary/general election), there would be yet another election. Thanks to the closed primary, New Orleans now as a Republican congressman.
It should also be noted that Green Party candidate Malik Rahim 2.8%, which was in excess of the margin between Cao and Jefferson, so it would seem that the Nader Raiders had struck again though I don’t think mainstream Democrats will complain much this time.
Had the election schedule not been altered, there is a good chance would have won Moreno her party’s nomination and would have scored no worse than 75% against Cao on the same day John McCain garnered an anemic 19% in Orleans Parish. How ironic that Hurricane Gustav, the same storm that pushed back the congressional primaries and pushed storm water into Cao’s home in New Orleans East in September would also sweep him into Congress in December.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Cao, Fleming to Win?!

Cao, Fleming to Win

Based upon turnout in tracked precincts in northwest Louisiana and New Orleans –west Jefferson, Republican congressional candidates Dr. John Fleming and Anh Cao are going to win their elections.

Fleming’s win would retain the Shreveport seat for the GOP while Cao’s victory would mark the first Republican victory in the Second District since the late 19th century. Future Republican governor Dave Treen had come close in 1968 to winning the seat then-held by Democratic Majority Leader Hale Boggs.

The Cao win would also be historic as he would be the first Vietnamese-American elected to Congress. Even more remarkable is that the district is majority black, though displacement from Hurricane Katrina and depressed turnout due to the incumbent’s legal troubles has hampered Bill Jefferson’s chances. Jefferson won renomination in a competitive runoff in November.
Cao, whose home flooded in Hurricanes Katrina and Gustav, had run for the Louisiana legislature in 2007, running fifth in a field of five candidates for the District 103 House of Representatives seat.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Ending the Embarrassment of Bill Jefferson on Saturday

Pardon me as I promulgate some political absolutes that will doubtlessly rankle a few folks.
If you vote for Bill Jefferson on Saturday you are one of the following:
1) Racist.
2) Stupid.
3) Crooked.
4) A relative of the embattled congressman
5) All of the above.
If you are a resident in the Second Congressional District and decide to not
participate in the general election you are at least one of the following:
1) Lazy.
2) Apathetic to Louisiana’s recovery from the 2005 storm season.
3) Stupid.
4) One of the candidates that thought Jefferson was terrible enough to challenge in an election but are too self-serving to speak out in the general election and are thus not an individual to be trusted as a sincere agent of reform.
If you plan on casting your vote for the Green Party candidate, you’re
delusional and are in effect punting on the task of eradicating the ethical stench that hinders the Louisiana delegation’s ability to secure the maximum level of support from Washington for building better flood protection and helping change Louisiana’s image for the better.
If people in the New Orleans area are truly sick of our bad reputation in politics, then they should do something about it on December 6th by voting for Joseph Cao for Congress.
Yes, I know the district is predominantly black and thus heavily Democrat and probably heavily pro-Jefferson, if his 2006 landslide win over State Representative Karen Carter is to be considered a barometer of the indicted congressman’s popularity.
But it doesn’t matter what Cao’s chances are; to accept what is perceived to be the inevitable and do nothing would make you complicit in maintaining politics as usual in south Louisiana.
Whatever value Jefferson had in Congress through his seniority was washed away after the indictments. He is persona non grata within his own party’s leadership circle. He is in effect an empty chair during a time when New Orleans desperately needs an advocate on Capitol Hill.
If you are a hard core Democrat that takes pride in boasting that you’ve never voted for a Republican, look at Cao’s candidacy this way: if the Republican wins the seat, he would eliminate a Democratic embarrassment while almost assuredly taking the seat back in 2010 (see former Illinois Republican Congressman Michael Patrick Flanagan). Furthermore, because the Democrats expanded their majority in the House in 2008, Cao’s election in no way would jeopardize Democratic control.
If Cao does get sent to Washington, he’d be wise to rent, not buy. And I’m pretty sure he understands that. But thanks to the closed primary and the political realities that made Jefferson’s renomination as the Democratic candidate a virtual lock, the only chance of stopping Jefferson became the general election when thousands of Republican voters would be allowed to cast a ballot.
And while I am aware that I also painted a rosy picture for John McCain before he got stomped by Barack Obama, I do believe Cao has a shot at pulling out a historic upset.
In 2006, Jefferson defeated his runoff opponent 57% to 43%. Keep in mind that Sheriff Harry Lee, who was immensely popular on the west bank of Jefferson Parish, urged voters to sit the election out because of Carter’s criticism of police for blocking stranded Orleans Parish evacuees from entering Jefferson Parish after Hurricane Katrina. Congressman Jefferson was also aided by then-State Senator Derrick Shepherd’s endorsement, which was significant as Shepherd had polled first in Jefferson Parish balloting.
Two years later, more details about the Jefferson investigation have emerged, and Harry Lee has received his heavenly reward while Shepherd got his earthly one.
Jefferson did no better last month than he did in the open election in 2006 despite that in 2008 he competed within the friendly confines of a Democratic primary on the same day as a presidential race that caused a spike in black turnout that was further indirectly assisted by a well-funded Democratic US Senator’s re-election GOTV operation.
Furthermore, the results from the recent landslide Republican victory in Georgia’s US Senate December runoff indicate that the same people that were giddy for Obama are now sated while Republican voters are hungry.
Jefferson cannot expect to inherit the same voters that pushed him over Moreno in November nor should he expect to receive much support from Democrats who backed Moreno in the runoff, which includes quite a few black voters for whom concern over the Jefferson family’s political shenanigans trump race.
Admittedly the election of a non-traditional Republican candidate in one of the most Democratic congressional districts in the nation would be a major propaganda coup for the GOP. But the real winners would be the people of Louisiana by removing the tainted incumbent from office before the Justice Department possibly saves the Second District electorate from themselves.
Mike Bayham is a political consultant in south Louisiana and he posts his weekly column on mikebayham.blogspot.com. He can be reached at MikeBayham@yahoo.com.