The William Jefferson Chronicles

Anh "Joseph" Cao's commitment to Louisiana's 2nd congressional district
Posted by The Times-Picayune editorial staff December 09, 2008 3:45AM

In electing Anh "Joseph" Cao to replace indicted U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, Louisiana voters have delivered an undeniable message: that our state's tolerance for the cynical and corrupt politics of the past is waning.

It's impossible to overstate how important that is for a region whose recovery depends in great part on the goodwill of the nation and our federal government.

Mr. Cao, a Republican who will make history as Congress' first Vietnamese-American member, had an important message of his own following his victory.

He promised to represent all residents in a district where more than 60 percent of voters are African-American and two-thirds are registered Democrats. That's a meaningful and necessary commitment, and one Mr. Cao must honor, if he is to address the district's needs.

Those needs remain gargantuan -- even 3 1/2 years after Hurricane Katrina. No other congressional district in Louisiana had as many storm-damaged neighborhoods and displaced residents as the 2nd District. In many neighborhoods, basic infrastructure has yet to be rebuilt, homes remain destroyed and ongoing hurricane protection work won't be completed for at least two more storm seasons.

Much of the federal aid for the area is still tangled in red tape, and other crucial items on the region's agenda for Congress remain unfinished. Mr. Cao highlighted one of those pending issues, saying his first priority after he's sworn in will be to clear up delays by the Army Corps of Engineers in delivering to Congress a plan to protect us from Category 5 hurricanes.

In addressing the district's needs, Mr. Cao will need the help of other members of Louisiana's congressional delegation. He also will need the support of politicians and other leaders in the district, including those who backed Rep. Jefferson's candidacy. Mr. Cao said the district's issues transcend party lines -- and they also should transcend political machines.

Yet there are already observers who seem reluctant to give Mr. Cao a chance. That does not serve the district well -- and they also may be underestimating Mr. Cao. They say he will be handicapped by the district's demographics and by his membership in the minority party with Democrats in control of Congress and the White House.

Mr. Cao responded by promising to work hard and to reach across party lines -- and his life story and mild-mannered personality seem to have prepared him for the task he now faces. An immigrant who became a Jesuit seminarian, an attorney and a community leader, Mr. Cao does not strike us as an ideologue and has expressed little interest in partisan wars.

Instead, he's talked eloquently about debating issues and forging compromise. That matches the pragmatism and bipartisanship promised by President-elect Barack Obama, who has vowed to speed up New Orleans' recovery.

New Orleanians and Jefferson Parish residents in the 2nd District have been saddled with Rep. Jefferson's ineffective and embarrassing representation. They have chosen a fresh start in electing Mr. Cao -- and that alone is significant progress.

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