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 He can be reached at

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