Topic: Government & Politics

Report: The "Dirty Dozen" Results
(11/5/2004)

American voters only saw fit to send home two of the Ethics Scoreboard's "Dirty Dozen," the politicians up for election on Tuesday whose ethical misconduct deserved an electoral rebuke.

New Hampshire's beleaguered Governor Craig Benson, number ten on our list, became one of the rare governors in that state to last only one term. It seems that ethics did play a part in Benson's ouster, as his Democrat challenger, now Governor-elect, John Benson hit the issue pretty hard during the campaign. There was a lot of ammunition. Also failing at the polls was George Nethercutt, #7, whose loss was less the product of voter disgust than the fact that he was challenging a popular incumbent, Senator Patty Murray. Referring to the stunt that got Nethercutt on our list (running for Congress on a pledge to limit his terms and then reneging), Fox anchor Brit Hume said archly. "Congressman Nethercutt's terms appear to finally be at an end."

Good.

But the rest of our ethical miscreants were welcomed back with open arms. McDermott (#8), Oxley (#3), Blount (#4), Moran (#2), Alexander (#6) and DeLay (Numero Uno), the Congressional contingent, all had the advantage of little or no opposition, the result of the insidious re-districting trend that uses computer models to ensure that super-majorities of Democrats or Republicans all but guarantee that incumbents can keep getting re-elected until they enter the Old Congressman's Home. McKinney (#9) regained her old seat for the same reason: no Republican could ever be elected in her district. Even the gun-toting Hostettler (#5) won in a walk.

On the Senate side, Lisa Murchowsky, who got her job as a gift from her Dad, the Governor of Alaska, managed to win re-election by arguing that it would be a shame to break up the cozy and effective team of Senator Ted Stevens (from the last "Dirty Dozen": he's as corrupt as they come), her nepotism practicing father, and Lisa. It's an argument from an ethicist's nightmare: "Sure! We cheat! But the trains run on time, so don't mess with a good thing!" The horror. The horror. And the argument worked. Senator Bunning 's innuendos about his opponent's private life didn't get him defeated either. Kentuckians seemed more disturbed that he spoke about the "events of November 11" than the fact that he played the Senseless Prejudice Card.

So the record is depressingly clear. Despite all their supposed contempt for "dishonest politicians," American voters still don't consider ethical misconduct serious enough to warrant voting out their senators or representative if the voters' interests are being served. The message this sends to all politicians is also clear: unethical conduct is what political opponents do. When your representatives do it, it's just breaking some eggs to make an omelet. Until voters take a hard line against influence peddling, lying, dirty tactics, abuse of power, nepotism, conflicts of interest, and all the other behavior that marked this election year's "Dirty Dozen," Capitol Hill and the statehouses will remain ethics cesspools. It isn't just a cliché to say that when our elected representatives abuse the pubic trust, they reflect badly on us. We let them do it, and thus encourage them to continue doing it. Their conduct reflects badly on us because it proves that we are unwilling to make ethics a priority in our democratic government; we don't care enough to insist on it. We won't have ethical government until we do.

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