Ann Heisenfelt/AP
U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, D-La.

Louisiana Voters Dump Incumbent Rep. Jefferson

December 07, 2008 11:43 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., lost his re-election bid Saturday. His campaign had been overshadowed by corruption charges.

First Vietnamese-American Headed to Congress

Voters in and around New Orleans on Saturday chose Republican Anh “Joseph” Cao, a lawyer who immigrated to the United States from Vietnam when he was a child, the Associated Press reported, citing unofficial results. Cao defeated a Democratic incumbent in a district in which just 11 percent of registered voters are republicans.

That incumbent, Rep. William Jefferson, had been dogged by corruption allegations since his 2006 re-election campaign. He won a ninth term in 2006 despite the allegations but was unable to shake them this time around.

Turnout for Saturday’s election, which had been postponed because of Hurricane Gustav, “appeared light,” the AP said. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that pundits had predicted that a low turnout could be a problem for Jefferson.

“Ironically, had Gustav not postponed the voting schedule one month, the general election would have been held the same ballot as last month’s presidential election, when high turnout among African-American voters likely would have carried Jefferson to a 10th term,” the Times-Picayune said.

It has been a good week for Republicans in late elections. On Dec. 2 in Georgia, incumbent Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss beat Democratic challenger Jim Martin in a runoff, preventing Senate Democrats from holding a filibuster-proof 60 seats.

Background: Jefferson’s legal troubles

Last month the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied Jefferson's request to dismiss a 16-count federal indictment against him for corrupt business dealings. He was charged on June 4, 2007, with crimes including bribery, racketeering, money laundering and obstruction of justice.

He had argued to the court that the grand jury that indicted him had been notified about his congressional activities, a violation of the Constitution’s “speech or debate” clause. The three-judge panel ruled that there was little evidence to prove this and, even if there was, the violation was not meaningful enough for the charges to be dropped.

The court, according to The Associated Press, said Jefferson was “trying to apply the legislative immunity clause so broadly that it would be virtually impossible to charge a congressman with a crime.”

The decision clears the way for Jefferson’s criminal trial to begin in 2009, though Jefferson still has the option to appeal his case to the Supreme Court.

When the appeals court ruling was issued, it was thought that despite his legal troubles, Jefferson would be a shoe-in to win re-election; he won the Democratic primary run-off on Nov. 4. Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District, which comprises much of New Orleans and its suburbs, hasn’t elected a Republican in more than a century.

The indictment came as the result of an FBI investigation that began in 2005. According to the investigation, Jefferson received bribes from 11 different companies, including Kentucky technology company iGate. Jefferson allegedly secured federal contracts for the company and traveled to West Africa to promote its business.

In August 2005, federal authorities raided his home and found $90,000 hidden in his freezer. They launched a second raid on his congressional office in May 2006, but evidence seized has not been released due to questions about the constitutionality of the raid.

Jefferson retained his seat in the 2006 election, winning 56 percent of the vote in the general run-off. On June 4, 2007, he was issued an indictment for receiving an alleged $400,000 in bribes. He pleaded not guilty four days later.

Related Topic: Ted Stevens

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, who has served since 1968, lost his race after he was found guilty on corruption charges several days before last month's election. He was convicted for failing to report $250,000 in gifts he had received from an oil-services company.

Reference: Court case and indictment


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