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November 24, 2013

"'Cocaine congressman' received the right sentence"

The title of this post is the headline of this new commentary by Clarence Page appearing in the Chicago Tribune. Here are excerpts:

"Cocaine Congressman" Trey Radel, as headline writers have rebranded him, voted to allow states to drug test all food stamp recipients. Congress, it turns out, should have drug-tested Radel....

Radel became the first sitting congressman in 31 years, according to The Associated Press, to plead guilty to a misdemeanor drug-possession charge.

FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration agents swooped in to arrest him after he bought 3.5 grams of cocaine for $250 in a late October sting operation in Washington's fashionable DuPont Circle neighborhood. Charging documents described Radel as having a frequent-buyer reputation in the neighborhood. After Radel pleaded guilty in District of Columbia Superior Court, he was sentenced to a year of probation and will undergo substance abuse treatment in Florida.

House Republicans did not rush to escort Radel out the door, even though he reportedly waited three weeks before telling them about his bust. Speaker John Boehner said before Radel's sentencing that the matter should be left up to the courts, Radel, his family and his constituents.

Indeed, it would hardly be the first time that a politician continued to serve and potentially be re-elected after a misdemeanor conviction. Voters can be very forgiving of lawbreaking politicians.

"Today, I checked myself into a facility to seek treatment and counseling," Radel said in a statement last week. "It is my hope, through this process, I will come out a better man." I wish him luck. Unlike his more outraged critics, I don't think Radel should have been sent to jail. Quite the opposite, I think his case offers a good example of why a lot of nonviolent, first-arrest drug offenders shouldn't be in jail.

Contrast his case, for example, with another high-profile District of Columbia case, the arrest of then-Mayor Marion Barry for taking a hit of crack cocaine during an FBI hotel room sting in 1990. He was sentenced to six months in a federal prison. His sentence could have been worse if the video had not provided so much evidence to back the mayor's argument that he was a victim of FBI entrapment.

The fact that Barry is black and Radel is white doesn't mean that racism played a role in either case. But the differences in their sentences illustrate a persistent problem: Despite recent reforms, a racial disparity persists between the minimum sentences for crimes involving crack and powder cocaine. The Fair Sentencing Act that Congress passed in August of 2010 reduced the 100-to-1 disparity between crack and powder cocaine that was created during the anti-crack uproar of the 1980s. But it still remains way too huge at about 18-to-1. Fairness should never end at the color line.

Radel is fortunate to have been sentenced in D.C., where enlightened attitudes led to a special "drug court" in 1993 that is designed to funnel low-level addicts into rehab instead of long-term jail time. With prison costs skyrocketing — even after overall crime rates declined in the mid-1990s — even states with reputations for tough justice are turning to alternatives to prison for nonviolent drug offenders. Drug addiction should be handled as a disease, not a crime. Trey Radel knows.

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November 24, 2013 at 05:30 PM | Permalink


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I would hope the Republicans would ask him to resign and, if he cares to, seek re-election from his constituents now that they have a more complete and truthful picture of him.

I don't think they will, and neither would the Democrats in a similar situation. Indeed, the Democrats right now have among their most senior leadership in the House Rep. Alcee Hastings, who was impeached and convicted as a federal judge for rampant corruption.

But that's old news. Rep. Radel should man up and resign. But there is almost no shame left in this town, so he's not going to. Instead he checks himself into "rehab." Maybe he can party with Lindsay Lohan.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 24, 2013 5:56:01 PM

Bill is 100% right on one thing, there is no shame in Washington for anything. However, drugs are the least of their problems. The corruption of the mind, body and spirit is the rule and not the exception.

Posted by: albeed | Nov 24, 2013 6:53:04 PM

Serious question, BIll: do you think all members of Congress should resign after pleading guilty to any misdemeanor or is this different because it involved drugs?

Posted by: Thinkaboutit | Nov 24, 2013 8:12:08 PM

I disagree with Bill a good deal of the time, but I certainly would agree that the virtual end of resignation by politicians, unless they're physically incarcerated, is disgraceful. The electorate shouldn't have to subsidize a "public servant's" rehab while he continues to draw a salary, whether he's a Kennedy or a Radel.

Posted by: Jay | Nov 24, 2013 10:45:23 PM

Thinkaboutit --

I am reluctant to say that a Congressman should resign after "any" misdemeanor conviction (whether via guilty plea or trial), but I certainly lean in that direction.

Rep. Radel did not present a picture of himself to the voters that was fully forthcoming. If they had known that he was a cocaine user, that would have been relevant to some, perhaps many, of them. Yes, I think they should have the chance to re-evaluate him knowing what they now do, and that he should give them that chance as soon as possible by resigning.

Now let me ask you a question: Why is it that you seem so often inclined to the view that a little fudging, a little cheating, a little pushing the ethical envelope just isn't that bad? A morally dumbed-down culture is not a display piece for tolerance. It's the road to galloping dishonesty, in little bits at first, then in whole chunks, like Obama's knowing deception about "If you like your insurance, you can keep it, period."

Aren't we better off insisting that people be honest and accountable? Isn't that the way you would want your children to go up?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 24, 2013 10:52:20 PM

I agree with Bill Otis above. I also believe that each Congressional District gets what someone paid for. Maybe some political money helped cloud the truth about this schmuck. Maybe his district deserves him. He will probably reform. He may not be a bad Congressman after the dust settles.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Nov 25, 2013 1:56:14 AM

Bill, I am not sure you can extrapolate from my question about state misdemeanors forcing you to resign from public office that I favor a culture that gallops toward dishonesty. But, beside that point, I don't know when Radel started using drugs. Perhaps he painted a false impression during his campaign. What was your take on President Bush refusing to answer questions about whether he used cocaine as an adult? In both cases, I think a person who uses drugs, develops a problem, and treats that problem, can still be fit to serve. You want him to resign now and run again in a couple of months. I don't see a big problem with the election being next November, sooner if he faces a primary. Not a big difference, it seems to me, and not a step on the road to Gomorrah.

Posted by: Thinkaboutit | Nov 25, 2013 11:36:57 AM

Thinkaboutit --

And still, your view seems to be about how to figure out a way for indulgence rather than accountability. No wonder distrust in government is at a 50-year high.

"I don't know when Radel started using drugs. Perhaps he painted a false impression during his campaign."

What do you think the realistic chances are that he used it for the first time just in the last 12 months, after his campaign?

"What was your take on President Bush refusing to answer questions about whether he used cocaine as an adult?"

That there is a difference between using cocaine 30 years ago as an Ivy League student and using it last week from an undercover buy when you are a member of Congress.

"In both cases, I think a person who uses drugs, develops a problem, and treats that problem, can still be fit to serve."

I didn't say otherwise. What I said was that the decision whether he is fit to serve should be made by his constituents now that they have some quite recent and relevant information they lacked before.

"You want him to resign now and run again in a couple of months. I don't see a big problem with the election being next November, sooner if he faces a primary. Not a big difference, it seems to me, and not a step on the road to Gomorrah."

With that, you illustrate exactly what I was talking about -- hey, he was deceitful, he's a druggie (and not some soft drug, either), but boys will be boys, let it slide for a while, some country club/"rehab" center will do while we let it blow over.

Drugs and deceit today, consequences, if any, tomorrow. Again, is this the way you would think healthy for your kids to grow up? If you caught them with cocaine, would you tell them that we'll deal with it a year from now?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 25, 2013 12:32:35 PM

I don't think Bush used cocaine only in college, do you? That's not what I've read and heard. If you think I am being extremely permissive by saying Radel should stand election in 9 months rather than 2, so be it. Is John Boehner going to tell him to resign because of his substance abuse problem? The whole Republican caucus would break out laughing if Boehner said that, given his issues. I have never used cocaine, heroin, or any other hard drugs so I don't have any special experience but I have seen people who have seemed to live very productive lives even after using drugs at one point. That's all I am saying. No need to ask me about my kids, but since you have, I would tell you that if my kids took drugs, I would punish them and they know that. On the other hand, I would act like a "liberal", "Socialist", "druggie." and whatever else epithet you can think of to keep them from having to serve a few years in a cage for their stupid judgment.

Posted by: Thinkaboutit | Nov 25, 2013 1:13:18 PM

I agree with drug testing for bus drivers, and locomotive conductors. So the necessity of drug testing of the members of Congress and of the judiciary is 100 times more necessary given the number of people their decisions affect. Those over 70 should be tested for dementia, as well.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 27, 2013 6:58:35 AM

Bill. Transparency, self criticism will always be used against the person by the oppressive lawyer. The tradition is long. Confession before the stake by the Inquisition. Stalin asks for self criticism and shoots those who fall for that request.

There is an absolute duty to resist the oppressive, and nearly worthless government regulation, most of it without external validation. Total cover up is a duty to the nation and the economy. If the government can prove a benefit to lowering lead levels, then accurate lead level reporting has value, and is not just oppression.

While in custody of the worthless police, going after the productive male, and failing to protect anyone, shut the ef up. Do not tell them anything. The police is the agent of the prosecutor, and out to make money for government. They are only slightly better than Mafia extortionists seeking protection money. The Mafia may raise trash collection fees 20%, but it gets collected. One can call up the Mob Boss, complain, and results happen in minutes. The police, worthless thugs. Slower than postal workers. Lazier than criminals. Stupider than a rock. Looking out only for themselves. They allow massive criminality, and crush all self help as competition for their government make work jobs. Their political correctness was a factor in 9/11. These policies are, of course, set by lawyers. The police and their bosses, the lawyers, are a disgrace, and there is a patriotic duty to resist to the utmost. If targeted by these thugs, one is fully justified to try to destroy their lives, just as they are trying to do to you. Make it unbearable to be them, and drive them out of the business. Drug cartels controlling a neighborhood do a far better job at suppressing crime than any police department. That is ridiculous.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 27, 2013 7:12:56 AM

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