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.
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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.