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U.S. House can strike blow for honest politics by voting to expel Traficant -- now



Published: Sun, June 30, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Add nonfeasance to Congressman James A. Traficant Jr.'s conviction on 10 federal criminal charges, and what you have is a public official who isn't serving the public and for all intents and purposes has no official capacity. It's time the Mahoning Valley rid itself of this leech.

For at least five months, Traficant has been receiving his pay check and all the other financial benefits that come with being a member of Congress -- while failing to adequately represent the people of the 17th Congressional District. His weekly salary is $2,884.61; plus, he is covered by a golden-Cadillac health care plan -- paid for by the taxpayers -- and will receive a lucrative pension even if he winds up in the federal penitentiary. And don't forget the huge budget he receives as a congressman that allows him to maintain an office in the federal building in downtown Youngstown and another office in a building in Canfield. He also has his office in Washington. The equipment, including telephones and fax and copying machines, are also paid for with public dollars and are available for his use.

Does anyone believe that Traficant set up a home-office at his own expense for the purpose of working on his defense in his criminal case?

Distraction

Prior to the Feb. 5 start of the 10-week trial in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, the congressman spent months reviewing the indictment and meeting with advisers. His decision to serve as his own lawyer meant that his constituents were deprived of his undivided attention.

He was convicted on April 11 and since that day has not stepped into his office on Capitol Hill, has not participated in any debates on the floor and has not cast any votes.

His presence in the congressional district hasn't served any useful purpose, either. Most of his time is spent trying to find a way to get the jury verdict overturned. Thus, the people are paying him to pursue his private agenda. Meanwhile, the needs of the Mahoning Valley are being ignored.

This region has been without an effective, dedicated representative in Congress for more than a year -- the indictment was handed down May 4, 2001. We deserve better.

Expulsion

Traficant is to be sentenced July 30 by U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells, and even if he is imprisoned immediately he will continue to receive a pay check. The only way this on-going abuse of office can be stopped is for the House of Representatives to expel him.

Last week, a panel of the ethics committee issued a report accusing Traficant of 10 violations of the House's code of ethical conduct. The report was submitted to the full committee, which has scheduled a July 15 public hearing at which Traficant will have a chance to respond to the findings. The committee will then make a recommendation to the entire House as to what should be done with the Democratic congressman from Poland.

We have made our decision: He should be expelled posthaste.

Why?

Because this poor excuse for a high-ranking public official has added insult to the injury he has visited upon the Mahoning Valley by filing petitions to run for re-election to Congress. He is one of two independent candidates on the November general election ballot. The Democratic nominee in the new 17th District race is Tim Ryan, currently a state senator from Niles; the Republican is Ann Womer Benjamin, a state representative from Aurora.

Indeed, given the fact that this region continues to suffer from not having an active congressman, we believe the Democratic and Republican leadership in the House should take the ethics subcommittee report and use it as the basis for a joint "privileged" resolution seeking Traficant's immediate expulsion. That act would put the issue on a fast track and bypass the committee process, which could drag on for another month.

Immediate debate

The introduction of the resolution would trigger an immediate debate during which Traficant would have the opportunity to answer the charges. Then, the leadership could call for a vote on his ouster.

The Mahoning Valley needs to get on with the business of rebuilding its political reputation, but as long as Traficant is the representative, we have little chance of proving to the rest of the nation that corrupt politicians aren't the rule.

The former sheriff of Mahoning County has shown a blatant disregard for the people of this region, and his ridiculous contention that he is the target of a grand conspiracy by the FBI, federal prosecutors and Judge Wells is embarrassing to the many honest, hard-working Valley residents who have grown weary of politicians like Traficant.

Seeking his immediate ouster from Congress isn't about partisan politics nor about kicking someone when he's down. Traficant alone is responsible for whatever hardships he and his family are now facing. He alone decided to surround himself with unsavory characters, and he alone developed a scheme in which his employees kicked back a portion of their salaries to him.

Traficant could have remained in Congress for a long time had he just walked the straight and narrow. Instead, he turned his congressional office into a Third World bazaar.

He deserves to be drummed out of Congress.




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