All politics is local. But how local is local?

While I have absolutely zero sympathy for corrupt public officials (see my extensive posts about the scandals surrounding Philadelphia's Mayor Street), I find myself wondering why it is that the entire Michigan electorate should be forced to step in and wipe the asses of the voters of Detroit. At least, that's my take on this fall's ballot initiative:

LANSING -- Michigan voters will decide in November whether former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and former Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers -- or any other local officials convicted of violating the public trust -- should be banned from public office for 20 years.

The House voted 91-13 Thursday to put the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot, far more than the two-thirds majority needed. The Senate approved the bill unanimously last week; it does not require the governor's signature.

The ballot issue would extend to local offices a current 20-year ban that applies to state legislators who are convicted of a felony involving deceit and fraud related to holding office, such as bribery or fraud. It would not apply to convictions for violent or property crimes.

Kilpatrick pleaded guilty to perjury in 2008 and resigned from office after the text message scandal. He vowed publicly for a political comeback. Conyers pleaded guilty for her role in a bribery scheme involving a $1.2-billion sludge-hauling contract with the city.

There is little question that Detroit's corruption is immense, and legendary. But considering that people like Kilpatrick and Conyers get elected and reelected, even though the voters supposedly have free choice, doesn't this suggest that the problem lies deeper than corruption only on the part of its leaders?

Take Conyers' husband, for example. (Or as Henny Youngman would say, "PLEASE!") An annoying article in Sunday's Free Press (headlined "House icon Conyers steers clear of his wife's troubles") took such a softball approach to Conyers as to be obviously (IMO) bending over backwards. But even the Free Press had to admit that Conyers has at least the hint of an appearance of an aroma of what might politely be called a conflict of interest:

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. John Conyers was cloistered in his office.

In a courtroom in the same building, his wife -- former Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers -- was being sentenced to more than three years in prison.

Counseled that it would be a mistake -- as chairman of the committee that oversees the prosecutors who extracted a guilty plea from his wife on corruption charges -- to be in the courtroom, John Conyers stayed away.

To this day, as his wife awaits a September incarceration date, he has said nothing about it.

The 81-year-old congressman was cleared of any involvement in his wife's crime and no one -- Republican or Democrat -- has suggested he give up his chairmanship of the powerful Judiciary Committee.

[...]

as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee -- which oversees the Justice Department that prosecuted his wife -- any comments he might make could be seen as improper influence.

Could be? Let's not be too harsh or judgmental!

I mean, being the "chairman of the committee that oversees the prosecutors who extracted a guilty plea from his wife on corruption charges" is, like, perfectly OK. No way that anyone could possibly be influenced by his position, is there?

And the voters don't mind, do they?

After all, most of the objections to Conyers come from outside of his district (and all those mean pundits and bloggers):

Sometimes, Conyers' off-the-cuff remarks have stirred the pot in Washington's political hotbed. For example, while speaking at the National Press Club last year, Conyers addressed the complexity of national health care reform legislation being debated.

He said: "What good is it to read the bill?" unless you had the time and expertise to make sense of it. His comment set off a firestorm of blogging and news releases, feeding opponents of the bill.

But perhaps the harshest criticism of Conyers in recent years came from investigative reports published by the Free Press about complaints from his staff. In 2003, the Free Press cited six unnamed Conyers aides who complained of having to do work on various campaigns, including a failed legislative campaign for Monica, on government time and in Conyers' office. A subsequent report focused on allegations that Conyers used staff to babysit his sons, help his wife with her law studies and chauffeur him to private events outside the scope of their duties -- accusations the congressman's office denied.

The House Ethics Committee eventually investigated the matters and reached a deal with Conyers, saying he would ensure staff knew it was not to take care of his personal affairs or work on campaigns on government time. It barely amounted to a slap on the wrist.

I'm relieved that he will ensure that staff knows it is "not to take care of his personal affairs or work on campaigns on government time." How dare they have done such a thing, when they knew they shouldn't have! It was all the staff's fault!

And despite her rather generous salary, his wife seems to be just as poor as many of her Detroit constitutents:

His wife got a court-appointed lawyer despite his salary of $174,000 a year.
(Not to mention her own city council salary....) I might be wrong, but I have a feeling that if I made that much money a year (which I don't), I wouldn't get a court-appointed lawyer -- especially if I was accused of taking bribes!
Last year it came to light that Conyers, in 2007, wrote a letter in support of a controversial waste well that his office had previously raised concerns about. Federal prosecutors alleged that Monica Conyers, then on City Council, pressured the well's prospective owner, Jim Papas, to hire her aide, Sam Riddle, as a consultant at about the same time Conyers sent the letter.
Sam the Bagman Riddle is of course another local legend in Detroit's corruption game, and only after a second trial (thanks to an earlier racialized mistrial) was he finally convicted.

But I am glad the Free Press saw fit to mention Riddle. I also liked this quote from Michael Barone:

"It's sort of bizarre for the chairman of the Judiciary Committee to be the spouse of someone convicted of a felony."
It's also sort of bizarre for the voters of Michigan to be having to tell the voters of Detroit that they can't vote for her for twenty years. Otherwise, she'd probably be as politically untouchable as her husband, who is about to be reelected to his 24th term:
Conyers is running this summer for his 24th two-year term in Congress, and he has no Democratic challenger in an overwhelmingly Democratic district.
I guess that means that a Republican might try to unseat Conyers against 10 to 1 odds. Who would ballsy enough (or fool enough) attempt such a thing?

Really, it's almost as ballsy as it was for Mickey Kaus to run against Barbara Boxer! As a Democrat! (Recognizing the near-impossibility of achieving success in such a venture, Glenn Reynolds stressed "the importance of having fun.")

I had to look elsewhere to find out who Conyers' obviously fun-loving Republican opponent might be. According to the Examiner, it's either Pauline Montie
(who says, "I'll never have the money he has. But if your vote isn't for sale, then he can't win") or Don Ukrainec.

Hmmm....

Even though I'm skeptical about getting all of the voters of a state embroiled in local politics, still.

If the state voters can ban local officials convicted of violating the public trust -- from public office for 20 years, then why shouldn't they also subject their office-holding spouses to a special state-wide referendum?

Why not?

It would be more democratic because more people would be voting, and it would be certain to increase voter turnout, and above all, it might make the election more fun.

Certainly, anything would be more fun than seeing Conyers overwhelmingly reelected to a 24th term.

posted by Eric on 06.29.10 at 11:33 AM










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