Editor's note: In about 24 hours, the chairman of a House ethics subcommittee will gavel an extraordinary meeting to order. There will be only one item on the agenda: James A. Traficant Jr. of Poland, D-17th, convicted felon.
Committee members have the unenviable and rare task of determining whether one of their colleagues has given up the right to be called congressman. At issue is the guilty verdict returned against Traficant three months ago by a federal jury. The nine-term member of the House will be sentenced on July 30.
Since his conviction on the 10 criminal charges, Traficant has stayed away from Washington, has not participated in any debates on the floor of the House and has not cast any votes. But in his absence, a special investigatory panel of the ethics committee analyzed the federal charges within the context of House rules and concluded that he had violated the code of official conduct.
Thus, the subcommittee will hear from two lawyers of the panel who will detail the case against Traficant, and the congressman will then have a chance to defend himself.
Given the significance of what will take place Monday morning, today's column is dedicated to those Mahoning Valley residents who want to see Traficant drummed out of office. Last week, this space reflected the views of Traficant disciples, the people who continue to support him despite the fact that he is a crook.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee:
The time has come to bury James A. Traficant Jr. -- figuratively, at least. He is undeserving of praise, and there is nothing honorable about him. Not only has this man violated his sacred oath of office, he has contributed to the public's distrust of government.
Mr. Traficant must be expelled from this august body before he is sentenced on July 30 by U.S. District Court Judge Lesley Wells Brooks. The honest, law-abiding citizens of the 17th Congressional District are looking to this committee to do what a disturbingly large number of voters in Mahoning, Trumbull and Colum-biana counties have refused to do: give this pariah the boot.
Voices of reason
But there are voices, even in the Mahoning Valley's political wilderness, that have been raised against the congressman. One such voice belongs to retired U.S. Army Col. Louis A. Daigneau, who had this to say in a letter to Judge Brooks:
"[I] respectfully request that you assist the good people of the Mahoning Valley in restoring their moral authority by sending James A. Traficant Jr. to prison immediately upon sentencing.
"His continued freedom is truly a miscarriage of justice and a most repugnant insult to the honest, law-abiding residents of our community.
"The disgrace he has brought to this area can no longer be condoned and glorified. Accordingly, as a retired veteran with 33 years of service in the U.S. Army, I urge you to help restore our faith in our judicial system by immediately sending James A. Traficant to prison upon sentencing."
Mr. Chairman, you should also consider the opinion of Patricia Kennedy, a former resident of Youngstown and a one-time staff member of congressional committees.
In her letter to Judge Wells, Ms. Ken nedy, who lives in Falls Church, Va., offered the following observation: "I have been fortunate to serve as a staff member on committees of both the House and Senate. I have seen the hard work and dedication of the members who serve their constituents faithfully. This commitment to public service should not be abused, either for personal gain, or political notoriety.
"I believe the absence of Mr. Traficant from the political scene serves the people of Northeastern Ohio best."
Merits of the case
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, there is no doubt that if Mr. Traficant does appear before this committee, he will live up to his reputation as a buffoon, a court jester, a conspiracy theorist and, yes, the village idiot. But that should not have any bearing on the issue before you.
There are two questions the committee must answer as it decides what recommendation to make to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct and subsequently the entire House of Representatives:
UDid James A. Traficant Jr. violate the standards of official conduct?
UShould he be expelled?
The answer to both is a resounding "yes."