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Fighter for the little guy is down ... and probably out

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted April 22, 2002

For the better part of nine terms, Rep. Jim Traficant (D-OH), pleaded with the Speaker of the House to be beamed up, as he gave speech after speech after speech decrying the conditions in this great land. Perhaps the tactic will work better with the warden of whichever federal prison he is headed to, now that he has been convicted of all ten counts of bribery and conspiracy with which he was charged.

Jim TraficantTraficant says he won't resign (although he could be ousted by a vote of two thirds of his colleagues). He will appeal his conviction, and will run for re-election this November as an Independent. Still, none of those moves is likely to keep Traficant around Washington much longer. And that's a pity.

Understand that I was not able to follow the trial very closely. Television is not allowed in federal courtrooms and the rest of the media coverage seemed to center more around Traficant's arguments with the female judge who presided at the trial than it did with the substance of the charges against the Congressman. Traficant, despite the fact that he is not a lawyer, defended himself. In doing so, the judge said he constantly broke the rules.

Indeed that was Traficant's problem for much of his political life. He broke the rules, which cannot be tolerated in politically correct Washington. Traficant may be guilty as sin and yes I believe in the rule of law. It just seems to me that the charges against him seem rather petty compared with the real crimes that go ever unpunished in Washington.

That is because the real crimes are done in the name of the poor and the disadvantaged. Traficant was charged with things such as having a contractor make improvements on his property in exchange for his lobbying to get federal contracts for that business. Compared with the legal sort of stealing which is so commonplace in this town, these sorts of more petty crimes seem almost what you would expect from local politicians.

Traficant maintains that the root of the case against him lies in the fact that in 1980, when he was sheriff of Youngstown, Ohio, a similar case was brought against him. Again he served as his own lawyer and that time a local jury believed their sheriff. He was acquitted of all charges. He claims, and on this at least, I believe him that the same crowd whom he humiliated 22 years ago, including the IRS, has been out to get him ever since. Not taking any chances that the hometown boy still remains popular enough to beat the rap a second time, the government moved the trial to Cleveland. There the jury, who didn't know him from Adam, convicted him unanimously.

Assuming he will be no longer with us, he will be missed. His outdated clothing was a symbol of his rejection of style of all kinds. Right after he was elected to Congress, following his acquittal, he gave his first speech on the House floor calling his colleagues a bunch of prostitutes. A member of the leadership took him aside and told him: "You can't say things like that. It is against the rules. You must apologize." So he said the next day he issued an apology to all the prostitutes in the country.

His one legislative accomplishment, which affects the whole nation, came when he collaborated with the House GOP leadership to reign in the IRS. Now they have retaliated. Jim Traficant was far from perfect, but he brought a sense of reality to that pompous body known as the Congress. For that and for fighting for the little guy he surely will be missed.

Paul M. Weyrich is president of the Free Congress Foundation.

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