The U.S. House of Representatives' voted on Wednesday night to expel Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio), who has been convicted in federal court of bribery and taking kickbacks. The 420-1 tally (several members were not present) was both expected and overwhelming. In the end, Traficant's sole supporter was--surprise!--disgraced lame duck Rep. Gary Condit (D-Calif.). Congress will surely be a less telegenic place absent Traficant's rhetorical bombast ("Beam me up, Mr. Speaker!"), surrealistic toupee, and wild fashion sense.
A few hysterical conservatives have opined that Traficant was removed for the crime of being very un-P.C. He was certainly that, but he was also a total nut job, albeit a highly amusing one. In his testimony before the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, Traficant explained to the chairman why he was late to his own hanging: "I was on media broadcasts trying to demean you and the others." He asked former employer and friendly witness Sandra Ferrante point blank, "Were you and I sex partners?"
Traficant: Why not?
Charges of collusion with the mob notwithstanding, it's easy to have sympathy for Traficant. The people from his district certainly did. Back in 1983, a jury of his peers acquitted then-Sheriff Traficant of bribery charges; voters went on to send him to Congress for nine successive terms. (He'll be on the ballot in the fall, though it's unlikely that he'll win.) Part of his popularity stemmed from his days as sheriff, when he sometimes refused to foreclose on properties in the depressed Youngstown, Ohio market.
Sure, the House made the right choice by voting to remove Traficant, even if they were driven to it by the new unseemly scramble to appear more ethical than thou. Bribery even the mostly petty charges that the government managed to hang on the former congressman is corrosive of public institutions and puts the lie to fair governance. It should not be tolerated by public officials.
But let the record show that, just as some 420 members of the House prepared to expel their poorly dressed, semi-coherent colleague for bribery and kickbacks, they were putting the final touches on plans to legally bilk the public purse by voting themselves a large pay raise.
"I look forward to coming back and getting another $1.3 billion," Traficant told his soon-to-be ex-colleagues in his final statement on the House floor, flaunting his reputation for bringing home the bacon for his district. Sadly there's nothing illegal about raiding public funds when it's done as part of the appropriations process. If it were, Jim Traficant would have plenty of distinguished company in the slammer.