20101006-news-0101Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Democrat Ravi Sangisetty faces Tea Party Favorite Jeff Landry on Nov. 2. 
Written by Jeremy Alford


Ravi Sangisetty, the Democratic nominee for the 3rd Congressional District, has been patiently waiting in the wings to see who would ultimately emerge as his general election challenger.

The wait is officially over. Sangisetty will face off against New Iberia attorney Jeff Landry on the Nov. 2 ballot; Landry defeated fellow Republican Hunt Downer in Saturday’s runoff. But even before the Republican primary was decided, Landry made opportunities to lash out at Sangisetty, possibly as a way of framing the general election early on, by calling him a “liberal” with a Democratic “alliances” with President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.

But Sangisetty has countered that he fits perfectly into a pro-life, pro-gun mold, potentially a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats — it’s practically the same political persona that has been crafted by outgoing U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, in his bid for the U.S. Senate. Sangisetty also made national news recently by declaring himself among the non-incumbent Democrats who would oppose giving Pelosi another term as speaker.
“This election is about the people,” Sangisetty said in a press release on election night. “I’ve listened to their concerns about holding BP accountable, ending corporate bailouts and caring for our veterans. I look forward to another month of addressing what matters to the people of this district.”

The political stars were aligned for Sangisetty, 28, early on. He drew no Democratic opposition during qualifying in July and coasted through the rest of the summer unchallenged as three Republicans traded barbs and spent cash.

Sangisetty acknowledges that much of the press’ attention has been on Republican foes Hunt Downer and Jeff Landry because that’s where the race was happening, but it has also provided him with opportunities to weigh in on a wide variety of policy issues in speeches and on his Web site.

Instead of getting into the issues, the Republicans got further away from them in their battle against each other, Sangisetty says. “I feel like I’m doing my part by offering voters a choice. With things like the BP oil recovery going on, it is so critical that we talk about what’s happening in every possible way.”

He has so far issued policy papers calling for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to be stripped of its power, opposing the privatization of Social Security and supporting equal pay for women. When presenting his policy ideas, Sangisetty becomes a number dispenser: 6,554 and 4,473 ­— that’s the number of veterans currently living in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, respectively. For those in the count, Sangisetty, an attorney who lives in Houma, wants Congress to draft a new G.I. Bill.

“It’s outrageous that Veterans’ Affairs is just now reworking guidelines to treat Vietnam veterans who encountered Agent Orange,” Sangisetty says. “We can’t tolerate that kind of delay. One out of five veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We can’t wait decades to start addressing the needs of our soldiers.”

He has also made an issue out of local infant mortality rates — Terrebonne Parish suffers 7.9 deaths per 1,000 live births, while Lafourche’s rate is practically the same, he says.

“We need to fund prenatal care in this country and make sure that expecting mothers have the resources to safely carry their children to term,” Sangisetty says. “I’ll fight for south Louisiana to have the resources necessary to make sure our infants see their first birthday. It is our responsibility to protect both the born and unborn children.”

But Sangisetty says he knows that he won’t be able to continue cherry-picking his issues after the Republican primary is concluded. “Yeah, I think we all know that I’ll be getting attacked. That’s the tone of this race so far,” he adds. “I very much blame Jeff Landry for the way this process has evolved. If his lips are moving, he’s lying about something.”
Sangisetty hasn’t exactly been floating above the fray this entire time. The National Republican Congressional Committee has made hay of his voting record — he only recently took an interest in the democratic process, and his public trips to the polls didn’t intensify until he announced his candidacy last year. Landry has also taken Sangisetty to task over campaign finance figures and a pledge they both made to refuse congressional perks, like retirement and health care.

“His choice of party affiliation and alliance with his Speaker Nancy Pelosi proves he supports the Washington Democrats’ liberal agenda of increased taxes, the government takeovers of private industry and dramatically liberal values,” Landry, an attorney and small businessman, said in July.

Sangisetty maintains there’s no truth to the statement. In fact, Sangisetty was included in a recent ABC News report on non-incumbent Democrats who would oppose the re-election of Pelosi as speaker.

As for Hunt Downer, an attorney, retired major general with the Louisiana National Guard and former speaker of the state House, Sangisetty considers him a close family friend. Sangisetty’s refusal to openly back Pelosi could potentially have consequences, and there couldn’t be worse timing for it. National Democrats have already shown a willingness to help out candidates in competitive races.

For example, in the 2nd Congressional District, President Barack Obama endorsed state Rep. Cedric Richmond of New Orleans, and a slew of other top party leaders have visited the district to support his efforts.

Sangisetty, however, isn’t expecting the same fanfare — at least for now. “I’m not banking on anyone coming from the outside to help me,” he says. Sangisetty says his campaign is about representing a “new generation of leadership,” and he would be pleased to continue with grassroots efforts only.

His youth, in particular, shows on his resume — he graduated from Princeton University in New Jersey in 2003, then the LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center in Baton Rouge in 2006, and worked for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign 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.

Then there’s his personal story. Sangisetty is an Indian-American, his parents immigrating 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.”

Sangisetty says that’s the kind of stuff that was being pushed under the current by a nasty battle on Republican side of the race. Now, however, a new race has begun. “It’s going to be a 30-day sprint to the finish line,” Sangisetty says.

“I’m going to be working day and night trying to bring some new blood into the process.”

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