August 18, 2005

Bob Taft Should Resign

Filed under: Taxes & Government — Tom @ 5:55 am

With only the legal formalities pending, Ohio’s governor has committed and will be convicted for four misdemeanors for ethics violations:

Gov. Bob Taft has been charged in Franklin County Municipal Court with four criminal misdemeanors for failing to disclose golf outings and possibly other favors.

The charges were outlined at a press conference this afternoon with Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien and Columbus City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr.

If convicted on the first-degree misdemeanor charges, Taft faces a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to six months in jail on each count.

Taft, 63, the great-grandson of William Howard Taft, the only American to serve as president and chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, made history on his own: He is the first Ohio governor to face criminal charges while in office.

The charges were the outgrowth of a two-month investigation by a task force consisting of the Inspector General Thomas P. Charles, the Ohio Ethics Commission and the State Highway Patrol.

The commission last week referred the matter to prosecutors who discussed it this morning.

Taft and Meeks have said the errors and omissions were inadvertent.

While it is not expected, the criminal charges could lead to Taft’s impeachment under the Ohio Constitution.

The Constitution says the governor, judges and any state officer can be impeached if they are charged with a misdemeanor, even if they are not convicted.

…… From the start, Taft has stressed that he initiated the investigation by voluntarily reporting the errors and omissions. He has cooperated fully, officials said, a contrast with Brian K. Hicks, Taft’s former chief of staff, who did not cooperate with the ethics investigation against him.

“I’m fully responsible for this,” Taft told reporters this week. “This is my report. I signed it.”

Hicks was found guilty of a misdemeanor for accepting lodging at Noe’s Florida homes in 2002 and 2003 without paying fair market value. His former executive assistant, Cherie Carroll, was found guilty on the same charge for accepting free meals as part of what’s been dubbed the “Noe supper club.”

Taft has reported at least one golf outing involving Noe at Inverness Club in Toledo in 2001, and it was after authorities began investigating Noe in April and May that Taft announced the “errors and omissions” in June.

A few more details from this morning’s Cincinnati Enquirer:

Gov. Bob Taft, under investigation for not reporting as many as 60 golf outings as required by state law, was charged Wednesday with four criminal misdemeanors, a city prosecutor said.

…. O’Brien said Wednesday the outings that Taft failed to disclose included a Columbus Blue Jackets hockey game.

Even considering the total number of events, the total amounts involved appear to be ridiculously low, especially considering Taft’s wealth. Whether or not the errors are truly “inadvertent,” the governor will probably get the benefit of the doubt on his contention that they are, and that will probably be enough to head off the possibility of jail time.

But, Bob Taft should resign. Someone convicted of crimes while in office should not be serving as Ohio’s governor. If I were the prosecutor, I would demand Governor Taft’s resignation, regardless of “inadvertence,” as a precondition for avoiding jail time.

But he won’t.

I also expect that Bob Taft won’t resign.

They hardly ever do any more. Kentucky Governor Paul Patton didn’t, and Maryland Governor Parris Glendenning didn’t; heck, in both instances resignation was barely discussed or even considered, despite ethical and other violations that dwarf Bob Taft’s. To get someone to resign from office, you almost need the posse to be at the door, as was the case with Connecticut governor John Rowland. Ten years ago, all of these men would have resigned quickly, and if there were any signs of hesitation, their party leaders and the voters who elected them would have demanded that they leave office.

But it’s not 1995, it’s 2005. And we now have the example of Bill Clinton (lying under oath, contempt of court) and the Senate that would not convict after the House impeached him. No Senator that I’m aware of has ever suffered any consequence for voting against conviction. And though Congress changed hands and his party’s fortunes have steadily declined since he was first elected president in 1992, Clinton is still something of a folk hero to a substantial portion of the left.

So now they hang on, in Mr. Clinton’s case for nearly two years, their ability to govern effectively eviscerated. In Mr. Clinton’s case, domestic initiatives, including Social Security reform that may very well have resulted in individually controlled accounts (they were actively discussed in the post-1996 election planning, though no one wants to remember that), never even got off the ground. More important, despite posturing, the response to the growing terror threat was inconsistent at best and negligent at worst. I’ll let the commissions and historians sort out the details, but am I really supposed to believe there is no relationship between a crippled chief executive totally lacking in moral authority and the failure to recognize, communicate, or act on the terrorist clues that were there?

But no one seems to care if nothing gets done, or even if life-and-death matters of national security get second billing. That’s not what’s important. All that matters is hanging on to the office and whatever greatly diminished power, pomp, and ceremonial satisfaction remain from going through the motions. Mr. Clinton set the tone; lesser politicians are simply following a program that, from all appearances, worked. Now that’s leaving a legacy.

So barring nobility I don’t expect from our sitting governor, Ohio will drift for another 17 months or so. Ohio’s House, which apparently can impeach with a simple majority, will conclude that Taft’s offenses don’t rise to the level of impeachment (remember that unctuous phrase?). The 50% or so of eligible adults who don’t take part in the political process will feel vindicated in their apathy, and their numbers will increase.

And please, not a word about the party or political calculations of Taft’s staying or leaving. I don’t care. Bob Taft should just resign, regardless of who it “helps” or “hurts.”

UPDATE: Taft pleads no contest fined $4,000:

Gov. Bob Taft pleaded “no contest’’ and was fined $4,000 today – the maximum fine — for accepting 52 illegal gifts, mostly golf outings, without paying.

Franklin County Municipal Court before Judge Mark S. Froehlich, a Democrat and former mayor of Obetz, ordered Taft to send an email to all Ohio media and all state employees within a week apologizing for his actions.