If Bill Jefferson is re-elected to Congress, his victory will mark the third time since Katrina that someone has won what might be called a "backhanded" victory. Such a victory I define as one in which a person is sent back to office not as much based on merits but because he it is perceived that he will not be in office much longer. To politicos, an incumbent who may be moving on is often of more value than an entrenched statesman.
First there was the re-election of Mayor Ray Nagin. In the general election against Mitch Landrieu, the mayor received the expected black vote because of racial identity. He also no doubt gained some votes from folks who genuinely liked him. But then there was the swath of Uptown voters and political types who reasoned that the term-limited mayor would only be around for four more years. By contrast, if Landrieu had won he would be eligible for two more terms and he has so many siblings and cousins that the Landrieus could be running midway through the new century. Better to have the same old Ray, some people reasoned, rather than to – heaven forbid – turn politics in a different direction.
Then there was Jefferson’s re-election bid two years ago. He had not been indicted yet but the well-publicized investigation was on the way. The Congressman seemed like he was in trouble. But when Jefferson got into a runoff against Karen Carter, West Bank politicians felt it was better to stick with the incumbent, who might be going to jail soon, rather than to start a new dynasty. Harry Lee’s opposition to Carter for comments she made about the parish’s police during Katrina hurt her too, but for all the political types, re-electing Jefferson meant the possibly of soon having another chance at electing a new Congressman.
Now there is the current Jefferson campaign. We do not mean to write off his opponent Helena Moreno. Her task is difficult but not impossible, but if Jefferson wins it is because some political organizers, ministers, power brokers and strategists want another chance. They can smell the blood. That chance might even come before Jefferson’s next two-year term is offer.
So here, kids, is a lesson in politics: Sometimes in a democracy a person is elected to high office not so much or who they are, but for how soon they might be leaving.
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