Tuesday, 22 June 2010 14:58

Independent Candidates Define New Orleans Louisiana Congress Race

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The common refrain in local political circles has been for over two years that the only way that Second District GOP Congressman Anh "Joseph" Cao could win re-election in his very Democratic-leaning district was for multiple credible candidates to divide the African-American vote in the general election. In a breaking story, this newspaper has learned that this possibility could soon become truth. 

In an exclusive, long-time Orleans Sewerage and Water Board member Tommie Vassel, a political rising star in Crescent City and former Council candidate, has revealed that he will likely be a candidate in November's election for the U.S. House of Representative. And, he will run as an Independent.
Moreover, the immediate past President of the national Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Rev. Byron Clay of Kenner--a minister who extensive political connections amongst the Black Clergy--is being urged by many of the liturgical colleagues to run for Congress against Cao as well--as an Independent. Should he stand, Clay would join Vassel and the likely Democratic candidate, State Representative Cedric Richmond, in pitting three prominent African-American challengers against the sitting 2nd District Republican Representative.
Even in a highly Democratic, Black Majority Congressional seat like the New Orleans, South Kenner, and West Bank Jefferson district, two Independents dividing the vote with the Democratic contender might be enough to allow a Republican, elected in a political fluke, to win a second term.
And, even if Cao should lose, either Independent, Clay or Vassel, already enjoys enough political support that either has the potential of besting Richmond. In the "First Past the Post" system adopted in Louisiana Congressional elections almost six years ago, the victor could easily win with just 35% of the vote--or less.
Of course, viable Independent candidates are hardly just a local phenomena, but increasingly stand as an emerging reality in Congressional races across the United States.

The Rise of Independents

When the voters of Missouri's Sixth Congressional District encounter Independent candidate Kyle Yarber their first question, he admitted in an interview, "is usually whether I'm a Republican or a Democrat."
"When I tell them I'm neither," he explained to The Louisiana Weekly, "I'm an Independent [running for Congress], they are sometimes surprised, but after a few minutes, they are usually enthusiastic about my candidacy."
Two years ago, Yarber's quest might have seemed impossible.  Republican incumbent Sam Graves seemed a four term institution in the North Kansas City and rural Missouri seat after defeating former Democratic Mayor of Kansas City Kay Barnes with 59% of the vote in 2008. Yet the GOP member's unbeatable reputation took a beating in recent months after what the Kansas City Star described as "pay to play" fundraising--and in the wake of a 2009 House Ethics Committee investigation looked into whether he abused his position on the Small Business Committee to help a lobbyist friend of his wife during ethanol and biodiesel hearings..
While cleared of formal charges, the appearance of sweetheart dealing has not only brought Graves his most significant Democratic challenge since claiming the seat by in 2000 with just 51% of the vote over the son of the former Democratic incumbent. In a volatile election year like 2010, swing voters, though, seem just as likely to reward Yarber, a political newcomer and registered Independent, as the presumptive Democratic nominee.
"People are tired of the two party system," Yarber told the NNPA and The Louisiana Weekly. "They want other options…Real solutions, and neither party is providing them."  The public is angry at Washington and for the first time is willing to look outside of the duopoly of the regular party nominees, he explained.
As Yarber argues on his website, "The Republican Party has always been the party of big business. But it's hard to win the votes of working people by running as such. So they seek out strong figure heads with middle-America charm to attract voters.. The greatest of these was Ronald Reagan."
"But while Reagan stood out front giving speeches that painted an idealized picture of America straight out of Hollywood movies of the 1940s and '50s, small towns with tree-lined streets and white picket fences and friendly family-run businesses like the soda shop on Main Street, being ushered in behind the scenes were policies that enabled the Wal-Marts of the world to destroy that Main Street and anti-labor deregulation that undermined the earning power of blue-collar working families on whose side Republicans claimed to be on."
Democrats are no better, he continued. "For a long time, I could believe that the Democratic Party was the party for working people. But little subtle things that bothered me continued to add up over time. Union influence was perhaps the first. Unions started off with great purpose, to protect the interests of the working people that no one else seemed to care about. They saw to it that wages, benefits, and working conditions improved. But over time, big unions too often became like the political machines of old, more for the benefit of the leaders and the power they could consolidate than for the working people they claimed to represent."
The jettisoning of the public option in the heath care debate, Yarber maintained, proved "Democrats nowadays accept just as much money in campaign contributions from big insurance and big pharmaceutical companies as Republicans have long done," and were no more worthy of trust.
Instead of pledging to caucus with one party or another, Yarber told the Weekly that "I will see who best serves my constituents, and make my decision."
It is a non-aligned positioned that has also been taken by two other Independent Congressional candidates in Missouri alone, and dozens across the country. It has also made it into the campaign of the most high profile Independent running nationally this year, Florida Governor Charlie Crist.
Having only left the GOP primary for the US Senate less than two months ago, one might believe that the Sunshine State's Chief Executive still planned to take the GOP whip in the upper house if elected as an Independent in November. But, as of now, the Governor has said in repeated interviews that he is keeping his options open.
Breaking with his former party in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, for example, Crist has metamorphosized from an advocate of offshore drilling into the proponent of a special session of the Florida legislature to ban rigs from ever gracing the shores of his state.
Moreover, this Independent redefinition has hardly hurt the chances of the US Senate aspirant. Recent polls reveal that he narrowly leads a three way, general election match up as an Independent with 40% support over Republican Mark Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek.
However when it comes to the potential of Independents, no Congressional race in the US has drawn more attention than the looming re-election campaign of Vietnamese Republican Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao.   And certainly, to an even greater degree than elsewhere, the Oil Spill and Health Care define the forming field in New Orleans' Second Congressional District.
The front-runner for the Democratic nomination, Louisiana State Rep. Cedric Richmond formally announced his candidacy at the National World War II Museum's Stage Door Cantina on Monday, June 14, 2010, with a call condemning inaction on the Oil Spill--and his master of ceremonies Virginia Boulet pledging "that we need a Congressman that will vote for Health Care reform".
The room was packed with several hundred supporters, and Richmond commenced his bid for the Dem. nomination with high profile political backers.   Not only were a slew of African-American state legislators present, but white Democratic House members like Helena Moreno, Neil Abramson, and Walt Leger III were there to show their support.   Most importantly, the proverbial political boss of the West Bank Jefferson Politics, Gretna Police Chief Arthur Larson, a Caucasian, introduced Richmond with a hearty endorsement.

by Christopher Tidmore

Bayoubuzz Staff

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