What the voters of the Mahoning Valley refused to do two years ago, members of the U.S. House of Representatives did Wednesday night: ended James A. Traficant Jr.'s tenure as congressman -- for the time being, at least.
We offer that cautionary note because even though Traficant was expelled from the House on a vote of 420 to 1, the Democrat from Poland is still on the November general election ballot for the new 17th District Congressional seat. In 2000, he sought re-election to a ninth term and won -- all the while admitting that his indictment on federal criminal charges was imminent.
Thus, last night, when he told his colleagues in the House that he may be victorious in November, thereby having the distinction of serving in Congress while behind prison bars, the statement certainly deserved an attentive ear. After all, the former congressman has proved over the years to be a resilient politician.
Traficant will be sentenced on Tuesday by U.S. District Court Judge Lesley Brooks Wells in Cleveland for his 10-count conviction in April by a jury after a 10-week trial. He defended himself but did not enjoy the same success that he did in 1983 when, as sheriff of Mahoning County, he beat federal charges of racketeering, bribery and tax evasion.
This time, Judge Wells and federal prosecutors made sure Traficant did not turn the trial into a circus, which is what occurred in 1983. After his conviction in April, the House ethics committee began its investigation into the prosecution's contention that he had used his public office for personal gain.
Last week, the committee unanimously voted to recommend to the full House that Traficant be expelled for violating the House's rules of official conduct. Last night's overwhelming vote to expel him made it clear that no one bought his tissue-thin arguments that he was the victim of a grand federal government conspiracy, that his criminal trial was replete with judicial and prosecutorial misconduct, and that he has been a target of the FBI and the Justice Department for the past 19 years.
It was a shameless display of arrogance on the part of an individual who still refuses to take responsibility for his actions and who continues to ignore one basic truth: that he and he alone chose to stray from the straight and narrow -- and got caught. If Traficant hadn't done anything wrong, the government would not have been able to build the case against him.
His rambling, sometimes incoherent, speech on the floor of the House brought shame to a region he professes to love so much. The nationally televised expulsion hearing -- it is only the second time since the Civil War that a member of Congress has been thrown out -- gave people around the country a lens through which to view the Mahoning Valley.
We did not fare well.
Thus, the question that must be answered between now and the Nov. 5 general election is this: Does James A. Traficant Jr. deserve any support from the people of the Mahoning Valley? We think not.
His expulsion and his sentencing next week provide us with a sense of hope -- that those who have long supported him will realize they've been played for fools.