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The Dream Lives in Lousiana

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In a startling act of good sense, Louisiana voters have rejected 9-term incumbent US Representative William Jefferson (D) in a run-off election. Jefferson made national headlines when he was found to be storing $90,000 in cash in his freezer, that being bribe money he accepted in an FBI sting. It seems that the new post-Katrina New Orleans might not be so tolerant of the culture of corruption.

Adding to my optimism, “Dollar Bill” Jefferson was beaten by a Republican with a compelling story:

Anh "Joseph" Cao, a eastern New Orleans attorney who fled war-ravaged Saigon as a child, becomes the first Vietnamese-American in Congress. He will represent a district that was specifically drawn to give African-Americans an electoral advantage and one in which two of every three voters are registered Democrats.

Cao made direct reference to his improbable political ascent, seeming as astonished as anyone else.

"Never in my life did I think I could be a future congressman," he said. "The American dream is well and alive."

At Cao's side was his wheelchair-bound father, who spent seven years in a North Vietnamese prison camp during that country's civil war. In his closing, Cao offered thanks to the local immigrant community, and he made a special plea for peace in the country of his birth.

"I'd like to thank my Vietnamese community," he said, "and I'd like to encourage young Vietnamese in this country to work peacefully for a free and democratic Vietnam."

Cao, who came to the United States when he was 8, holds a bachelor's degree in physics from Baylor University and a master's degree in philosophy from Fordham University. After a stint as a Catholic seminarian, he earned a law degree from Loyola University in 2000.

Married with two daughters, he now runs a law practice in Venetian Isles specializing in immigration.

Cao took an interest in local politics after his home and office were swamped during Hurricane Katrina.

If we’re guessing who has a better grasp on the meaning of the American Dream, I’ll take a refugee from Saigon over a slacker from Hawai’i every time. Practicing immigration law in an immigrant neighborhood seems more noble than taking grants to agitate organize a poor community miles from one’s safe, comfortable home. Catholic seminarian vs. black liberation theology? That’s three for Cao. Tell me again, what was Barry running on?

Lousiana’s Governor, Bobby Jindal, is the first Indian-American elected to any Statewide office in the country. Cao is the first Vietnamese Representative in the US House. For all the stereotypes of prejudice in the Old South, it seems Lousiana is the place where voters are beginning to look past color of skin, instead judging candidates on character and ideas.