November 14th, 2013 | Mr. Cao Goes to Washington | Newport News, VA
I am very proud of myself for finding what is possibly the best (only?) Vietnamese restaurant in Newport News less than an hour after my arrival. Gleefully, I inhale the fortifying bowl of combination beef noodle soup, or pho, for dinner. Along with the check, the cheerful waitress brings along fantastic goodies–“Virginia is pho lovers” fridge magnets. This visit is off to a good start.
In the morning, the affable Prof. John Nichols greets me in his office at the Christopher Newport University. First stop, Dr. John Camobreco’s political science classes on the US Presidency. Now, I am a night owl who usually does not do so well in the morning, and I have not tried very hard to adjust from Pacific to Eastern time zone on this trip. Needless to say, I do not do my best for the 9:30am class visit. By the second session at 11am, I am pretty warmed up. I focus the chat with the students on the relationship Congressman Joseph Cao had with President Obama, since the Congressman was the only Republican member of the House to ever vote for any version of the Affordable Care Act. I talk about the similarity between the two men–both pioneers from their respective communities. Several students want to know how the relationship between the President and a member of Congress work, and how they can balance a personal friendship with their professional working relationship, which can be at odds with each other. I must say that college students are my favorite audience. I find it extremely satisfying to see the students being clearly engaged with my work. One of the students asks if I can introduce him to the Congressman. I think I will connect them via email. I hope Congressman Cao does not mind.
I did not realize how close Newport News is to the Colonial Williamsburg, and I am not about to miss the chance to check it out. Williamsburg is about a half-hour drive from the Christopher Newport campus. I arrive at the Visitors Center late in the day at around 3pm. The slightly pouty lady at the information table tries to convince me I should still buy the $42 ticket (yikes!), but I opt for a leisure stroll through the grounds instead (no ticket necessary) since I only have a couple more hours free.
I am far from an American history buff, but I quite enjoy walking the grounds and being greeted “good-day!” by men and women in colonial garb. The day is sunny and the air is crisp. The late afternoon sun baths the old buildings in a lovely golden hue. I take my time and breathe in the history. I browse through the shops–mostly touristy chachkies unfortunately. There was a reenactment of some sort that involved firing of muskets and cannons and marching teenage fifers. Definitely a good time.
Dr. Nichols has put together an illustrious post screening panel, and I have the honor of chatting on stage with Virginia State Senator John Miller and Dr. Quentin Kidd, the chair of CNU’s political science department. Senator Miller, a Democrat, spoke passionately about the need to reach across the proverbial isle and pass a law to establish a bipartisan redistricting commission. Gerrymandering, or the ability for the political party in power (both federally and at the state level) to draw electoral districts that favor their own candidates, is a process widely cited as the reason for the political polarization we see today. Senator Miller has tried to pass the law in Virginia for several years now, and he is hoping that voters will support it in the next election as a referendum. Let’s hope that the referendum will succeed.
Tomorrow I will drive north through Virginia, past the DC area, into Maryland. BlackRock Center for the Arts is next.
Post by OSIP Touring Filmmaker, S. Leo Chiang