Louisiana Campaign Tales #1 – Meet Charlie

I recently had the chance to listen in on a fundraiser for congressman Charlie Melancon, a democratic challenger to David Vitter’s senate seat in Louisiana.  Charlie Melancon represents Louisiana’s 3rd district, a stretch of coast near New Orleans that is currently suffering from BP’s oil spill.  Representative Melancon is a member of the blue dog caucus, a group of like minded centrist democrats who are long time proponents of fiscal responsibility within the house.  As a moderate, he often does not vote along party lines, but instead upon his personal convictions and the desires of his district.  It was clear from the stories that he told that as the representative of his district, he is not in DC to vote on behalf of the democrats, but to represent the will of the people Lousiana’s 3rd.

My personal impressions of him from his open Q&A (sadly I left my recorder off during this segment) is that Melencon is a man who passionately cares for his state.  Earlier in the month during a hearing on the oil spill, the congressman broke down in tears.  After meeting him, I find it hard to believe that this was anything but the genuine feelings of heartbreak by a man who has seen his district ravaged by two disasters of previously unheard scales on American soil in the past five years.

The congressman was gracious enough to give me some time to ask him some questions at the end of the event.  One area of worry that many have had has been about the clean up in the gulf, specifically about the dispersants being used to break up the oil.  Many have criticized their use due to their toxic nature and their long term effects on the fisheries.

Melancon compared the dispersants to chemotherapy in cancer treatments, saying that while the cure is almost as bad as the disease, but it at least gives you a chance to live.  He added that this attention to toxins in the gulf is good, but long overdue.  For years there have been aquatic deadzones in the gulf of areas of thousands of square miles due to agricultural chemicals and byproducts contaminating the rivers that feed into the Gulf of Mexico.  He has been desperate for national media attention on the issue, and despite the attention on the region due to the the spill in the gulf, the non spill related deadzones are a story that has not been getting the coverage it deserves.  These environmental issues are causing deep economic harm to the fisheries and fishery related industries in the region, and need to be addressed by Washington.

It came out earlier in the week that Rep. Melancom’s most likely opponent, incumbent Senator David Vitter’s aide, Brent Furer, who was working on women’s issues, had confessed to being involved in a domestic dispute where he stabbed his girlfriend.  Vitter disputed this fact, saying that Furer was only a policy advisor on abortion.  Considering that abortion involves issues of women’s health, counseling, adoption, sex education, and a host of other issues involving women’s physical and emotional well being, it is hard to take his denials as anything but a desperate attempt to deflect the story. I asked the congressman how these events reflected on Vitter’s platform regarding women.

Melancon said that he was amazed that Furer was not fired immediately after he told Vitter of his conviction.  He questioned Vitter’s reasoning for not having a woman cover these issues in the first place, but could not fathom how out of touch Vitter must be to have a man who confessed to such a violent domestic abuse work on such a sensitive portfolio.  He carried on noting how Vitter’s decision was consistant with hist history on respect for women.  In 2007 Vitter was identified as a john by the D.C. Madam to which he admitted.  Vitter sinned, lied, broke the law, and has been a hypocrite on the subject of family values.

Overall I was very impressed with the congressman.  While I do not agree with some of his policy positions, I am sure that his votes come from careful thought and listening to the people of his district.  He is not a democrat from the west coast or northeast, but a democrat from the south, and as such will have different views.  The next three and a half months will be an uphill battle for his campaign.  However, as the people of Louisiana get to know him, I am sure that the race will tighten.

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