Wednesday, September 1, 2010 Written by Jeremy Alford
As the only Democrat running the 3rd Congressional District, Ravi Sangisetty got a pass from the weekend primary elections, but GOP operatives didn’t hold back.
The only candidate in the 3rd Congressional District who already had a comfortable spot last week in the November general election was Democrat Ravi Sangisetty. Unlike his Republican counterparts — Houma’s Hunt Downer and New Iberia’s Jeff Landry and Kristian Magar — Sangisetty didn’t have to slug it out during Saturdays’ party primary elections. Sangisetty is the only Democrat in the race and therefore advanced without a challenge.
But as the animosity between Downer and Landry grew during the final days before the weekend election, and will surely continue as the two face an October runoff, Republican operatives were pushing different voting data, specifically the number of times Sangisetty has personally cast a ballot.
Roughly two weeks ago, Sangisetty was asked during an interview if he had supported President Barack Obama or U.S. Sen. John McCain in 2008’s landmark presidential election. “I didn’t vote,” Sangisetty says. “I was pretty much apolitical then. I didn’t have that much of an interest in politics.”
Records show he didn’t begin voting until he announced for Congress in the fall of last year. He voted in October and November but missed at least the seven previous elections. Downer, Landry and Magar all voted in the last presidential election and all say they supported McCain.
Joanna Burgos, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, offered up a statement last week, showing the GOP isn’t pulling punches. “Ravi Sangisetty’s unreliable record is a frightening foreshadowing of what constituents can expect from him if he were their lackluster representative — silence,” she said. “If he hasn’t even been able to show up and make a conscious effort to speak his own mind by voting in local elections, how could we expect him to show up to Washington to be their voice in Congress?”
At 28, Sangisetty is the youngest candidate in the field. He has also been the most mobile. However, he is a native of Houma and now lives and practices business law there with the firm of Duval, Funderburk, Sundbery, Lovell and Watkins. He graduated from Princeton University in New Jersey in 2003, then the LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center in Baton Rouge in 2006, and he worked for Hilliary Clinton’s presidential campaign all around the state in 2008.
Most recently, he was living in New Orleans, where he clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr., and was an associate with McGlinchey Stafford in the commercial litigation section. Sangisetty says he first became interested in politics while clerking for Duval. “When we had to deal with the city post-Katrina, I got a firsthand look at how Washington truly is broken,” he says. “That’s when I wanted to raise the level of debate and talk about the things that really matter to the people of south Louisiana.”
Sangisetty also had a front row seat to politics through Downer, former speaker of the state House. He calls Downer a “family friend” — in fact, Sangisetty’s parents contributed $9,500 to Downer’s gubernatorial campaign in 2002.
But that’s not the story Sangisetty, an Indian-American, likes to tell about his parents. Instead, he talks about how they immigrated to America to improve their lives and eventually establish their own respective medical practices.
“Everything I am today is built on their shoulders,” he says. “My dad came here looking for the American dream.” While Sangisetty isn’t running a one-issue campaign, he has locked onto an issue the others candidates aren’t stumping about yet — Social Security, which is doling out more in benefits than it’s collecting from payrolls, and there’s a push under way to increase the minimum age.
Currently, certain individuals can get early benefits at 62, but the tap doesn’t flow freely until age 67. Based on the findings of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, nearly 23 percent of Social Security’s financial gap would be closed if the minimum age of eligibility were increased to 68 and a third would be buried if the age were 70. Right now there’s even a presidential study commission working up a number of its own recommendations — on this, the 75th anniversary of Social Security.
Above all else, Sangisetty says Social Security must be defended against those who want to turn it over to Wall Street or reduce its benefits. “Social Security has been a crucial part of the American promise for the last 75 years,” he notes. “Our seniors worked hard and played by the rules; they deserve to spend retirement with security and respect.”
Still, over the past quarter century, Social Security built a surplus of $2.5 trillion, but that surplus shrank as the federal government borrowed from it to fund other programs. “Washington stole from our future when they borrowed from Social Security,” Sangisetty says. “We need to recommit to our obligation to seniors and our children, we need to make sure Social Security sees its 150th anniversary.”
As for a top priority, Sangisetty says “our coast comes first” and he wants to seek out “smarter” approaches to coastal restoration and hurricane protection. He’s particularly interested in changing the structure that is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “We need reform that takes our future out of the exclusive hands of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” he says. “Under the current approach, characterized by the endless studies and conflicting federal policies, the only certain result is delay. Research shows that the Corps’ projects take an average of 40 years from inception to completion.”
Job creation and fiscal accountability are likewise central planks in Sangisetty’s platform.
Jeremy Alford can be reached at
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