With his guilty plea to a misdemeanor cocaine possession charge in the District of Columbia, Fort Myers Rep. Trey Radel, R-Toronto Mayor Rob Ford Starter Kit, has been under growing pressure to resign from office a mere 10 months into his first term.
It is hardly a political career builder for a lawmaker to get popped for scoring some blow in the shadow of the nation’s Capitol dome by undercover cops. It’s also problematic when you have positioned yourself as a faithful tea party factotum, insisting people who receive food stamps should be drug tested when it turns out you wouldn’t qualify for a taxpayer-funded package of Velveeta cheese.
If there is any good news for the Tony Montana-lite of the Beltway it is that Radel would have faced a felony charge if he had been busted in Florida for exactly the same behavior. The congressman apologized, pleaded guilty, accepted a yearlong probation sentence and took an obligatory leave of absence to enter a substance-abuse program. That means he won’t be at work. But since Congress doesn’t do any work, Radel will be hardly missed.
Still, calls for Radel to step aside continue, largely on the basis that: a) his conduct has embarrassed his constituents, b) his conduct has embarrassed the dignity of the revered House of Representatives, and/or c) his support of drug testing to receive benefits while he was snorting up a storm is the zenith of hypocrisy.
But the good people of Radel’s 19th Congressional District are accustomed to having their interests looked after in Washington by less-than-stellar figures of sober-minded probity. Radel succeeded Connie Mack, who had his own history of drunken brawls, marital upheavals, financial problems and a very public affair with his fellow chamber-mate and future ex-wife, Mary Bono.
And yet Mack — at least in the eyes of Florida Republicans — was just the first-rate chap to take on Sen. Bill Nelson last year. When it comes to deciding whom to send to Washington, the not-too-discerning citizens of the 19th Congressional District aren’t all that picky.
Britain has a long tradition of members of Parliament quickly resigning after they have been caught up in a scandal. But we’re not Britain.
In this country, members of Congress make every effort to cling to their government trough jobs no matter how loathsome or criminal their behavior. These folks are trying to cast votes and collect campaign checks even while they are being frog-walked off to be fingerprinted.
Radel joins a long list of rogues, charlatans, buffoons, party animals and hacks who have populated the House since the nation was founded. So since the dignity train left the House around 1789, Radel’s conduct is hardly admirable but hardly beyond the pale of what one can get away and still glom onto office.
But if every member of the Senate and House was required to resign for exposing themselves as duplicitous phony hypocrites, there would be fewer members of Congress than the remaining membership of the celibate Shaker community.
Considering the productivity level of Congress is somewhere between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Peanuts’ Lucy Van Pelt’s sidewalk psychiatric practice, why force Radel to resign and force an expensive special election?
There’s plenty of time and no shortage of challengers to Radel in the 2014 Republican congressional primary. As fate would have it Connie Mack, who treated his previous stint in Congress as his own personal eHarmony account, appears willing to make the tremendous civic sacrifice to return to his old seat.
Radel’s legal and probable political woes aren’t the real scandal. As mortifying as his predicament is, Radel still received special treatment from the D.C. authorities. He wasn’t booked into jail. No mug shot was taken. Now there’s a congressional perk for you.
Radel still gets to serve in Congress, at least for a while longer. And he could get re-elected. It is the woebegone 19th Congressional District, after all, where the all the politicians are below average.