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The House Jester Departs

July 26, 2002

The House of Representatives is losing one of its most colorful figures, and not a moment too soon. James A. Traficant Jr. (D-Ohio) was expelled from Congress this week after a U.S. District Court jury in April convicted him of racketeering, bribery and corruption.

Traficant certainly added life to dry congressional proceedings. His interjections, like "beam me up," coupled with pontifications on everything from Spanish soccer stars to insidious Chinese communism, compelled people to read the Congressional Record. But few outside Ohio's Mahoning Valley took him seriously.

Traficant's expulsion was recommended by the House Ethics Committee. Any substance that the Ohioan might have had was overshadowed by his antics before that panel--like discussing his bowel disorders and accusing a Colorado colleague of (gasp) being a Coors drinker (presumably meaning he's a lightweight at elbow-bending).

The House rarely sentences its merely unethical members to what Rep. Steven C. LaTourette (R-Ohio) described as the political death penalty. Only one member has been expelled from the lower chamber since the Civil War, though others have taken the hint and resigned.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday July 27, 2002 Home Edition California Part B Page 22 Editorial Pages Desk 0 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Traficant expulsion--An editorial Friday on the expulsion of Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. from Congress misstated Rep. Gary A. Condit's party affiliation. He is a Democrat.

Former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich got just a fine for some carelessness about how his politics classes at two Georgia colleges were funded and for lying to the Ethics Committee. In 1856, Rep. Preston Brooks, a Southerner, suffered no censure after he beat a Northern colleague, Charles Sumner, with a wooden cane until it broke. Some fellow House members sent Brooks new canes.

Traficant's behavior during his hearings and the seriousness of his multiple convictions left the Ethics Committee no choice. The House vote to expel was 420 to 1, with the only "no" vote coming from another beleaguered member, Rep. Gary A. Condit (R-Ceres).

Traficant's famous one-minute speeches may have livened the Congressional Record, but they also made him a joke, with little power to serve his mainly blue-collar constituents. Among his convictions was one for skimming the salaries of his staff members and making them work on his farm and fix his boat.

His latest sideshow distracted Congress from issues like structuring the proposed Homeland Security Department. He'll be missed, but not for the right reasons.

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