Ohio's governor has decided not to call a special election to fill Traficant's vacancy for the remainder of the year.
By DAVID ENRICH
STATES NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON -- The man who spent nearly 18 years in Congress representing the Mahoning Valley was to begin the task of cleaning out his congressional offices today after being overwhelmingly turned out of office by his colleagues.
James A. Traficant Jr., now just a citizen and soon to be a federal prisoner, made his last stand before colleagues in the House of Representatives on Wednesday night in a historic event -- and few lawmakers were impressed.
The House voted 420 to 1 to expel Traficant for violating the chamber's code of conduct.
U.S. Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif., cast the only "no" vote. Nine lawmakers voted "present." Condit lost a primary bid for re-election this year after being cast as a possible suspect in a murder case involving a former intern.
In reaction to the expulsion, Ohio Gov. Bob Taft decided today not to call for a special election to select a replacement for Traficant for the rest of this year in the old 17th District, which includes Mahoning County and most of Trumbull and Columbiana counties.
In explaining Taft's decision, Mary Anne Sharkey, a Taft spokeswoman, cited the potential $800,000 cost for both a special primary and special general election as well as the need for extra ballots and other material.
"In these difficult economic times, it's simply unfair to ask taxpayers to expend such an enormous amount of money to elect a representative who could serve them for only a few weeks," Sharkey said, speaking for Taft.
Taft had considered calling for a special election Nov. 5, the same date as the general election.
The newly redrawn 17th Congressional District will take in most of Trumbull and portions of Mahoning, Portage and Summit counties.
Other parts of the old 17th District are broken up among other redrawn congressional districts.
"Holding a special election would be complicated this year due to the redrawn district," Sharkey said.
Wednesday's vote to expel Traficant came after the congressman made his final appearance -- and first this year -- on the House floor.
Speaking for 45 minutes, Traficant echoed many of the points he made during his ethics committee hearings last week and his criminal trial in Cleveland this spring.
He insisted that he was not corrupt, that his convictions on 10 felony counts were a product of the federal government's vendetta against him.
At the same time, he was realistic about his fate. "I'm prepared to lose everything. I'm prepared to go to jail. You go ahead and expel me," he told his colleagues.
Traficant's self-defense didn't persuade many lawmakers.
"I don't think he did a good job of making his case," Rep. Joel Hefley, chairman of the House ethics committee, said shortly after the clerk announced the results of the vote.
"He's one of the best in Congress with 30-second sound bites," said Rep. Peter T. King, a New York Republican, "but the longer he talks, the less persuasive he is."
Rep. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who was censured by the House years ago, said Traficant seemed to be in a "semirational state of semiconsciousness."
"The more he talked, the more it became clear to people that he had no defense," Frank said. "He did himself damage with that rambling nondefense defense."
Traficant became only the second person to be expelled from the House since the Civil War, and only the fifth member in the history of the House.
The historic proceedings attracted an unprecedented crowd. Hundreds of lawmakers packed the House chamber.
Several representatives remarked that they had never seen so many members sit still for hours on end, not even during former President Clinton's impeachment hearings.
Congressional aides and tourists who wanted to watch the proceedings from the House gallery waited in a line that stretched down more than three flights of stairs.
Before the vote to expel Traficant, lawmakers had a more vigorous -- and less lopsided -- debate over whether to hold off on punishing him until after Congress returns from its summer recess in early September.
Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, the Madison, Ohio, Republican who sits on the House ethics committee and is one of Traficant's best friends in Congress, argued that the House should not impose the "political death penalty" on Traficant until a judge rules on at least some of his myriad legal appeals.
LaTourette seized upon public statements from a juror in Traficant's criminal trial who said he was having doubts about Traficant's conviction in light of Richard A. Detore's testimony to the ethics committee.
LaTourette's resolution met furious opposition from other members of the ethics committee, especially Democratic Reps. Howard L. Berman of California and Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Cleveland. They said that Detore's testimony affected at most one of the nine counts of misconduct of which the panel found Traficant guilty.
"What my concern is what this looks like to the public," said Rep. Gene Green, a Texas Democrat on the ethics committee, urging his colleagues to reject LaTourette's resolution.
Argued for more time
But some members said they needed more time to decide Traficant's fate, complaining that they had not had a chance to look through the 9,200-page report produced by the ethics committee.
Rep. Mike Simpson, an Idaho Republican who was one of the nine lawmakers to vote "present" on the expulsion resolution, said he did not receive the ethics committee's report until about an hour and a half before the proceedings began.
"There's no way to really evaluate it" without more time, Simpson said.
"Considering the fact that we've only done this one time in 140 years, it would seem to me that we should make sure that we're doing this right," said Rep. John A. Boehner, Republican of West Chester, Ohio.
Hefley, a Colorado Republican, responded that the committee had spent plenty of time considering its recommendation that Traficant be expelled. "This is no rush to judgment," he said.
Most lawmakers agreed, and the House rejected LaTourette's resolution on a 285-146 vote.
Fighting to the end
Up until moments before the House deliberations, Traficant was lobbying his colleagues, many of whom he had not seen in months.
At one point, he ventured into a representatives-only restroom to have his shoes shined, and he could be heard urging lawmakers to support LaTourette's resolution to delay the expulsion vote.
"Give me a fair shot," Traficant pleaded to Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, outside the restroom. Lewis politely shook Traficant's hand and walked away.
"It would take a little more than that to persuade me," Lewis said later.
Ultimately, even LaTourette accepted Traficant's parting words -- "vote your conscience, nothing personal" -- and voted to expel his longtime friend.
Other than Traficant, who chose not to vote, Ohio's entire 18-member congressional delegation voted to expel him.
Contributor: Jeff Ortega, Vindicator correspondent.