My Congressman, Anh Joseph Cao (pronounced Gow) is in the headlines because of his vote in favor of the House health care reform bill. He’s been called a hero by some and denounced as a sell-out by others. He’s neither: he’s an accidental Congressman who was only elected because of an indicted (and later convicted) opponent, 11 term CongressmanDollar Bill Jefferson, and timing. In New Orleans, the party run-off primary was delayed until the day Barack Obama carried it 75-23 because we evacuated for Hurricane Gustav in September. Jefferson won the Democratic nomination because his opponent was a twitty white former teevee anchorwoman. The Congressional general election was held one month later when Obama was not on the ballot to bring out African-American voters who would have held their noses and voted for Jefferson. Cao narrowly defeated Dollar Bill by a mere 3 points, 50-47. Cao was also the beneficiary of the elimination of the open primary in federal elections in favor of party primaries. As the old adage goes, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
Do I sound churlish and partisan? Maybe so, but the Accidental Congressman has earned my skepticism. I *am* glad Cao voted for the bill instead of following hisprevious pattern on major bills proposed or supported by the Obama administration: he’d hint that he was considering breaking with House Goopers, get praised by hisbackers in the NOLA media and then vote no. The main reason Mr. Cao did not dance what I like to call the Cao two-step this time was because of the anti-choice Stupak Amendment. Mr. Cao was a Jesuit seminarian before dropping out and holds, shall we say, Jesuitical views when it comes to women, families and gays. His vote for the health care bill was based more on political expediency than on courage. Make no mistake about it: Cao is a *real* conservative Republican on 95% of the issues, which is whyNewt Gingrichhas taken him under his wing. I know that the teabaggers think Newt is now a moderate but that says more about them than the former Speaker.
Mr. Cao should enjoy his time in the national spotlight as it’s likely to be fleeting: he was more or less a lame duck from the start.At the recent Rising Tide conference I moderated the politics panel and asked whether Cao was “a hardy survivor or an endangered species?” The unanimous answer: endangered species. The health care vote should help him some BUT the district is overwhelmingly Democratic and African-American. And I’m not the only white progressive who’s ready to vote Mr. Cao out. Then there are the racial politics of the district. New Orleans was one of the last majority black districts to be represented by a white representative, the legendary Lindy Boggs who served until retiring in 1990, which means that many in the African-American community are determined to re-take the seat. An acquaintance of mine told me: “We waited patiently for Lindy to retire but this dude’s one and gone.”
Mr. Cao’s re-election campaign should be entertaining for political junkies like me but downright nasty and racially divisive for the community much like the2006 Mayoral election campaign.