I propose that the U.S. Congress and all state legislatures pass new laws that establish minimum standards for holding elective office that mirror the same standards required of the most sensitive and trusted government workers under their control. Certainly, a general must pass the same codes of military acceptance that a private must follow. Then why not a senator or congressman, or even a president, to undergo the same scrutiny as — for example — a police officer?
It’s a matter of eliminating double standards.
We hold cops to the test because they are hired into one of the nation’s most powerful jobs, where they can affect the lives of American citizens simply by good or bad decisions. But we don’t hold elected officials to the same test. And as a result, we are often left with garbage and corruption in positions that affect the lives of Americans in every state in the nation.
And…we accept that.
Police personnel throughout the nation undergo rigorous screening procedures before being hired. They must produce accurate documentation of their history, including original birth certificates, certified school records, medical records and employment records, plus submit to background checks for signs of illegal or immoral past behavior, to and including the taking of a polygraph.
They are the law enforcers — almost one million nationwide — who are required to pass batteries of tests. Then, after being hired, they are placed on strict probation for a year, and for the rest of their tenure they must tow the proverbial line, lest they be denied the badge.
But what of the law makers, i.e., politicians? That’s a different story.
Representatives in the United States Congress, past and present, have been convicted for drunk driving, spouse abuse and other offenses, yet they can still held office. That could not happen with cops.
The integrity exemption for politicians goes even deeper. No better example than William Jefferson, former congressman from Louisiana, who was caught by the feds in 2006 with $90,000 in cash hidden in his freezer. Later, while under indictment on sixteen federal corruption charges, he was allowed to run for re-election in 2007, and nearly won. His voters didn’t care, neither did lawmakers.
In the early 1990s, flamboyant D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, was caught on tape possessing and using crack cocaine, convicted and sent to prison. When he got out, he ran for mayor again — and was re-elected. Before and after, Mr. Barry was the boss over the very cops who had to pass rigorous obstacles to prove their integrity was beyond question. The same standard didn’t hold true for the mayor.
Neither did it hold for Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings. As a federal judge in 1988, Hastings was tried for corruption and later impeached by congress for bribery and perjury by a vote of 413 to 3. Convicted and removed from the bench by a Senate conviction, it fazed him not. Instead, Hastings ran for a seat in the very U.S. Congress that impeached him for dishonesty, and got elected. His record of dishonesty didn’t matter, to the lawmakers or to the voters. He’s been serving for eighteen years on many sensitive and crucial committees, including Vice-Chair of the the House Committee on Intelligence.
Felonious Congressman James Traficant served seven years in prison for a litany of federal corruption charges until 2009. In 2010, after his release, he was certified to again run for the congressional seat he held before going to jail. In most places, convicted felons have a problem being hired to wash dishes, yet it’s ignored in the halls of congress.
Ted Stevens, Senator from Alaska, ran for re-election while convicted of bribery and tax evasion in 2008.
Rep. Charlie Rangel of New York, now faces ethics charges of tax evasion. He’s not a cop, so he’ll keep his job no matter what.
None of these people would get through Phase One for applicant to a police department. Yet, we — the voters — don’t care. We are the guilty ones. We assume corruption and politics to be synonymous and shrug it off. But, let one cop take a five dollar bill from a community businessman for a favor (i.e. unofficial lobbyist) and he’ll be fired and sent to jail, never to wear the badge again. If any one cop is nailed by the IRS for failing to pay taxes or to disclose income, he/she will lose his job, permanently.
It’s time for all representatives to re-evaluate election laws and institute new standards. No one should be able to run for office who cannot pass the same background and integrity standards that we require of cops. (Yes, that would go for the office of president.)
Then again, such changes would be up to — you guessed it — the politicians.
No, I’m not holding my breath.