What Will it Take?

Yesterday, three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals rejected Democratic Congressman William Jefferson’s argument to dismiss a 16-count indictment stemming from bribery and conspiracy charges.

(JimsNotes:  Jefferson is the Louisiana congressman who was videotaped by the FBI receiving $100,000 in cash as part of an investigation in which, according to an FBI statement, “Jefferson sought things of value in return for his official acts” with high-level officials in Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon.

A few days later, in a raid on Jefferson’s home, agents “found $90,000 of the cash in the freezer…”)

The Washington Post reported that, “Jefferson argued that the grand jury improperly heard evidence about his work from three staff aides.”

But the three judges weren’t buying “…Jefferson’s interpretation, saying the staff members only glancingly touched on legislative business and instead focused their testimony on the lawmaker’s connections to Africa and the favors he allegedly provided to companies seeking business there.”

I believe in presuming innocence before guilt.  I believe in the right of appeal.  However, some people focus so much on rights that they forget about their responsibilities.

As an elected official representing citizens from his state, Mr. Jefferson has a responsibility to act in the best interest of those citizens.

It is not in the best interests of Mr. Jefferson’s constituents to continue to serve when a cloud of illegality hangs over him.

Likewise, Republican Senator Ted Stevens, the senior senator from Alaska who was found guilty on 7-counts of corruption, should step down from his post until he clears himself of all charges.

However, in spite of pleas from fellow members from both the Senate and the House, neither man will step aside.

What will it take for both men to do the right thing?

What will it take for the ethics committees in both branches of the legislature to adopt a policy outlawing activities of this kind?

Legislators might argue that expelling a member from the Senate or House may leave one party short-handed when it comes to voting on important legislation.

In a hockey game, when a player commits a foul, he’s sent to the penalty box for a length of time.  He’s out of the game and no one can take his place on the ice.  The circumstance forces two things:  the offending player rethinks his actions when he’s back in the game; and his teammates must work that much harder to make up the difference of his loss.  In both cases, it causes all involved to consider future behavior for the sake of the entire team.

Some would argue that the business of Congress is not a hockey game.  And I would say, “You’re right.  It’s much more important!”

It is simply wrong for any elected official convicted of corruption, or similar crimes, to continue in office.

It is wrong for any elected official to continue in office with a 16-count indictment over their head.

For the sake of their constituents, for the sake of their fellow members of Congress, I would urge Senator Stevens and Representative Jefferson to step down until they are cleared of all charges.

1 comment… add one
  • Frank, CA November 15, 2008, 8:47 pm

    I think your suggestion of a “penalty box” is better than you think.

    Perhaps these indicted members of legislative bodies, upon indictment, should be kept from voting until it is resolved. They could caucus, lobby, stump and politic all they want, but they could not vote – and no one could vote in his or her absence.

    This would affect the political arena just the way the hockey game works. The affected electorate would go without representation. making for a speedy resolution. It would also put an enormous pressure on the elected officials to lead an ethical life.

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