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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of July 31 - August 6, 2002

Opinion Column

Another unwanted Idaho political footnote

Commentary by Pat Murphy

Idaho’s two Republican congressmen, C.L. (Butch) Otter and Mike Simpson, have a uniquely lame explanation for why they ducked voting "yea" or "nay" on the expulsion of the unbalanced and corrupt Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio.

Simpson was quoted by States News Service in Washington as saying he and Otter needed more time to read the six-volume, 9,200 page House ethics report on Traficant’s April federal court conviction in Ohio on a string of racketeering, fraud, kickback and bribery charges that then led to his investigation by the House and thereafter his expulsion.

"This needs to be done in a more deliberate manner," Simpson said, seeming to assume the lofty airs of an appeals court judge pondering constitutional implications of a presidential decision.

So, along with seven other congressmen, Otter and Simpson voted "present"—the artful dodge of members who want to be noncommittal.

Simpson leaves the inference that the 420 Democrats and Republicans who did vote to eject Traficant were members of a lynch mob voting blindly, precipitously, impetuously and without adequate information.

On examination, however, the Simpson-Otter explanation doesn’t pass muster unless they’d been in the Idaho backwoods for months and out of touch.

Traficant was on trial for two months—two months!—in Ohio. The unfolding daily recitation of his criminal activities—as well as his abusive language, threats and crazed arm waving and yelling in court—was reported widely and thoroughly in newspapers and on television accessible to Simpson and Otter, and was water cooler talk in the halls of Congress, where Traficant mocked the serious business of government with his bizarre and obscene behavior for nine terms years.

His conviction also was widely reported, and was the topic of intense interest on Capitol Hill where Simpson and Otter presumably spend their days and where it was no secret Traficant would face proposed expulsion.

Moreover, the House ethics committee investigation was well known and also intensely watched by members concerned with protecting the character of the House, and thus presumably of interest to Simpson and Otter.

Traficant’s wacky performance at subcommittee hearings and finally before the full House, along with charges against him and his denials, were the talk of Washington as well as many parts of the nation.

As for Simpson and Otter needing to read the 9,200-page transcript of the House investigation into Traficant, rubbish: political railbirds know that heavy reading in congressional offices is done by staffers who digest and summarize wordy documents and make recommendations to their bosses.

So, while the 420 members who voted for Traficant’s expulsion were adequately informed about the Ohio congressman’s criminal conviction by a federal jury on racketeering, bribery and fraud charges, Simpson and Otter pleaded insufficient knowledge after all that time.

Reasonable people will conclude the real reasons for Simpson and Otter running away from a "yea" or "nay" vote lie elsewhere.

Friendship and/or loyalty to Traficant, maybe, although integrity of the House presumably rises above friendship.

They couldn’t vote "nay" in the face of all that evidence of Traficant’s criminal wrongdoing without appearing stupid. Only California’s disgraced congressman, Gary Condit, voted "nay" as sort of a final parliamentary obscene gesture to colleagues after having been defeated in a primary election. Four members were absent from the vote.

A more plausible reason for the Simpson and Otter vote is that they worried that a "yea" vote would enrage those grim Idaho militia-mentality anti-government cultists who detest the feds and may have bought into Traficant’s spiel that he was railroaded by the FBI and IRS—the same voters who idolized now-retired Idaho congresswoman Helen Chenoweth, celebrated for her dark paranoia about black helicopters and the United Nations.

Not dealing with a corrupt and criminal congressman in an historic vote is another of those shameful distinctions that Idaho politicians periodically bring home as inelegant footnotes to history.



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