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The appearance of impropriety

September 12, 2008

I remember a time when politicians resigned rather than bring discredit upon their office. In most cases, even the appearance of impropriety brought about a heart-felt resignation. Those days are over.

I’m not going to go into the long litany of elected “representatives” who put their own political ambition ahead of even a shred of integrity. Instead, I’ll just deal with two that are in the news of late.

First up, Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho). Sen. Craig plead guilty to disorderly conduct after allegedly soliciting gay sex in a public restroom at the Minneapolis MN airport. After news of the arrest and guilty plea hit the news, he announced his intention to resign from office. My first impression of that decision was favorable; it was the right thing to do. That’s not saying that I object to what two people do in the privacy of their bedroom. Public officials should avoid the appearance of impropriety. Pleading guilty to a criminal act falls within that spectrum of activities that bring discredit upon not only himself, but also the office he holds.

Sen. Craig then thought better of the honorable thing to do and recanted his intended resignation. He also decided to go back to court intent on overturning his guilty plea. I’m sure that Sen. Craig and other members of his Party were outraged when the ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Sen. Craig. The ACLU lawyers argue that sex behind the doors of a bathroom stall does not count as sex in public. To make matters more embarrassing for all parties, the ACLU filed their brief in the same court Sen. Craig has asked to overturn his guilty plea.

Next up, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY). In July of this year, we learned that in a time when real estate developers engage in the aggressive evictions of tenants living in rent-stabilized apartments, Rep. Rangel is the beneficiary of four of those rent-stabilized units in the same building. Three adjacent units, two 2-bedroom apartments and one 1-bedroom apartment make up his residence and the fourth unit, 6 floors below, is designated as a campaign office. He pays significantly less than market value for each of these units. Appearance of impropriety? Apparently, Rep. Rangel doesn’t think so.

To make matters worse,  Rep. Rangel, head of the House Ways and Means Committee (the group that figures out how much wealth they can coerce out of us in the form of taxes), made a “mistake” on his taxes. It seems that Rep. Rangel owns a vacation home in the Dominican Republic. In a statement, he described his failure to pay taxes on income from that property as irresponsible and went on to say that he failed to live up to the standards of his high office. Not living up to the standards of his office apparently means business as usual for Rep. Rangel.

Like Sen. Craig, Rep. Rangel doesn’t have the integrity to recognize that the appearance of impropriety damages the credibility of all elected officials and warrants the disdain of those they swore to represent.

Until next time,
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