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.

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