Anh “Joseph” Cao, a Vietnamese-born former ethics teacher and Catholic seminarian, last winter surprised and delighted Republicans by defeating a longtime incumbent in a heavily Democratic congressional district in Louisiana.
He provided another surprise -- but probably no delight -- to his party on Saturday when he became the lone Republican to vote for the healthcare bill pushed by President Obama.
“I have always said that I would put aside partisan wrangling to do the business of the people,” Cao said in a statement posted on his website. “My vote tonight was based on my priority of doing what is best for my constituents.”
In a special election in December, Cao of New Orleans defeated Rep. William J. Jefferson, who had represented the 2nd District since 1991. Although Jefferson was battling corruption charges -- federal agents famously found $90,000 in cash in his freezer -- Cao still faced an uphill battle.
He was a political neophyte who was running in a district that is 60% black and 60% Democratic.
And in the rough-and-tumble world of Louisiana politics, Cao was reserved, limiting himself to mild criticism of Jefferson. (In August, Jefferson was found guilty of 11 of 16 criminal counts including bribery, racketeering and money laundering.)
So few political observers in Louisiana gave Cao (whose last name is pronounced “Gow,” with a hard “G”) a chance. But then he won.
“It was a shock to all of us,” said C.B. Forgotston Jr., an attorney and longtime Louisiana political hand, at the time.
Cao, 42, was 8 when he fled Saigon for the United States with other family members. His father, a South Vietnamese Army officer, was arrested by the North Vietnamese army in the 1970s.
The young Cao spent much of his boyhood in Texas.