Chilling With Mr. Jefferson

Movin' on up -- to the Big House

Talk about a saga ending with a whimper rather than a bang.

So it goes for disgraced former Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA). The one-time congressional king of New Orleans was rather quietly convicted of 11 of 16 counts of bribery, racketeering and other assorted corruption charges. 

The conviction seemed like such an after-thought because of bizarre details attached to his original indictment.  He was filmed accepting a $100,000 bribe. Ninety-thousand dollars in cash was found in a freezer during a raid of his Louisiana home.  A mini-constitutional crisis was created when the FBI also raided his congressional office -- creating bipartisan outrage over the executive department seeming to intrude on the legislative. 

All of this took place back in 2005 and 2006, when Democrats were trying to attack Republicans as the party that created a congressional "culture of corruption," because of the Jack Abramoff cases.  William Jefferson became a gift to the GOP to counter that charge.  The Abramoff case(s) was (were) rather complicated, whereas a congressman being caught live on tape accepting a bribe -- and $90,000 in "cold" cash being discovered -- was much more explainable. 

In a temporary ironic victory for Jefferson -- and a mildly embarrassing one for the triumphant Democrats -- he won re-election in 2006, a walking symbol that even though the GOP had lost the majority, the "culture of corruption" was still around. 

Still, his luck ran out when -- because several Louisiana districts were still recovering from Hurricane Gustav -- his re-election was delayed for three weeks after the 2008 general election.  And on a weekend at that.  That undoubtedly produced a smaller-than-usual turnout, which enabled a remarkable upset to occur. 

The heavily-Democratic district not only sent a Republican to Congress, but the first Vietnamese-American of either party, Anh "Joseph" Cao. Democrats initially wrote the loss of as a fluke and are looking to take the seat back next year.  However, the recent sagging fortunes of President Obama nationwide may spark an anti-Democrat wave that could allow Cao to keep the seat.  How ironic: The same election season producing America's first black president, ended the career of Louisiana's first black Congressman -- but produced Congress' first member of Vietnamese descent.    

And thus, Jefferson seems like both a footnote and so much like yesterday's news -- despite a significant 18-year career in Congress. Indeed, in an era when New Jersey grabs headlines with 44 people --including mayors and rabbis -- being arrested for bribery and assorted corruption, Louisiana's "laissez les bon temps rouler" reputation seems almost antiquated. 

New York writer Robert A. George blogs at Ragged Thots. Follow him on Twitter.

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