King George III was “a Tyrant … unfit to be the ruler of a free people,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence exactly 238 years ago this week.
Jefferson had it right.
Ever since then, Americans have been calling out their leaders. “Tyrant” was just the start. We’ve moved on to crook (Nixon), liar (Clinton) and moron (Dubya).
Whether or not you agree with the peanut gallery, there’s no denying that such written assaults on public honchos are as American as baseball, apple pie and the iPhone.
So on this Independence Day, those closest to American politics — 50 writers and editors of the alternative press from across the land — have combined their collective genius. They’ve named 53 of the nation’s worst elected leaders from 23 of the largest states and the District of Columbia, then separated them into five categories: hatemongers, sleazeballs, blowhards, users and boozers, and horn dogs. (The full version is available here.)
And there’s more than just the usual stodgy Washington losers. Try Colorado sheriff Terry Maketa, who allegedly had sex with not one, not two, but three underlings and then lied about it. Or check out Idaho Senate GOP leader John McGee, who stole and crashed an SUV, admitted to drinking too much, and went to jail. Upon returning to the statehouse, he was accused of groping a female staffer.
Want a little old-school corruption? Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, who will be up for re-election soon, founded a health care empire that was whacked with the largest Medicare fraud fine in U.S. history: $1.7 billion for stealing from the feds. There’s also Washington, D.C., council member Michael Brown, who once accepted $200,000 to stay out of an election and was later indicted after grabbing at a cash-stuffed duffel bag offered by an undercover FBI agent.
Of course, there are big names here, too. South Carolina’s “Luv Guv” Mark Sanford made the list. So did Texas’ Green Eggs and Ham filibusterer Ted Cruz and Minnesota loon Michele Bachmann. Even pol wannabe Donald Trump snuck in a side door.
So before you head out for the fireworks or swig some American brew, consider this hall of shame. — Chuck Strouse
Florida Gov. Rick Scott
He looks like Voldemort, speaks in the high-pitched timbre of a Wes Anderson movie villain, and wants to drug-test as many human beings as possible. More disastrous for Florida residents, he’s recklessly rejected federal stimulus packages and dismantled regulatory agencies. He’s Rick Scott, and he’s America’s least popular governor for damn good reason.
Backed by a wave of Tea Party support — and bankrolled by $70 million of his own cash — he won a shocking gubernatorial victory in 2010. The win was all the more remarkable considering Scott’s background. His fortune came from founding a health care empire, later called Columbia/HCA, which paid the single largest Medicare fraud fine in U.S. history: $1.7 billion for stealing from the feds.
Scott showed that his wanton disregard for regulation didn’t end with his golden parachute from his felonious firm. In the governor’s office, he quickly stripped millions of dollars from the state health care agency and laid off environmental regulators. He also signed new laws requiring all welfare recipients and every state employee to undergo random drug testing. How did he get around the slightly sticky wicket that a firm he owned makes millions by administering such tests? He signed the company over to his wife. (The courts have since thrown out the drug-testing laws for violating the Fourth Amendment.)
He’s made other shady moves. Scott rejected $2.4 billion in federal aid to build a high-speed train in Central Florida and lied about the state having to eat cost overruns for the project. During the 2012 presidential election, he tried to suppress black votes with blatantly race-based bans on Sunday early voting (which black congregations dominate). He also tried to kill a prescription-drug database that has decimated oxycodone abuse, while his underfunded health care agency has allowed steroid clinics — like the Biogenesis clinic at the heart of last year’s Major League Baseball scandal — to proliferate.
And through it all, Scott has largely flouted Florida’s “Sunshine laws” by hiding his correspondence from the public and has resisted reporters’ attempts to hold him accountable — all while grinning like a demented right-wing Skeletor for TV cameras at scripted events. Is it any wonder his opinion polls have struggled to top 30 percent since he was elected? — Tim Elfrink, Miami New Times
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, Tennessee
No one should be robbed of the joy of discovering an artist’s early, lesser-known work. So if you don’t know the pre-2012 past of Republican Scott DesJarlais — whom Esquire’s indubitable political blogger Charles P. Pierce dubbed a “baldheaded bag of douche from Tennessee” — allow us to loop you in.
In 2010, when the then-unknown Dr. DesJarlais was challenging incumbent Democratic Congressman Lincoln Davis in Tennessee’s Fourth District, things got ugly. That was because some papers from DesJarlais’ divorce nearly 10 years earlier made their way into the public eye. The good doctor’s ex-wife claimed his behavior had become “violent and threatening.” She accused him of dry-firing a gun outside her bedroom and putting a gun in his mouth for three hours. DesJarlais cast the revelations as the desperate “gutter campaign” of a losing candidate.
But that gutter proved to be a veritable Mariana Trench. Two years later, DesJarlais, who by then had become an incumbent, found himself in trouble again when more information surfaced from the same bitter divorce. This time it was revealed that the “pro-life, pro-family values” Republican had pressured a mistress — who was also a patient of his — to get an abortion. He would later explain that, actually, he had pushed for her to get an abortion as part of a ruse to expose the fact that her pregnancy was a lie.
Brilliant! There was more: dalliances with six women — two patients, three co-workers, and a drug rep — and a confession that he had supported his ex-wife’s decision to get two abortions before they were married. By the grace of Tennessee voters, he was re-elected. By the grace of God, that will be corrected this fall. — Steven Hale, Nashville Scene
Arkansas State Sen. Jason Rapert
Jason Rapert is the Elmer Gantry of the Arkansas Legislature — a Brush Arbor Baptist preacher, bluegrass fiddler and proprietor of a putative African missionary effort that specializes in countries where homosexuality is a crime.
The Republican from Bigelow’s outrage at the “radical homosexual lobby” and “elitist judges” over the march of marriage equality knows no bounds. On his passion meter, that subject is up there with his views on President Obama (he wants him impeached), fracking (it’s seriously good) and abortion (uh-uh). On that last issue, Rapert tried to pass a six-week abortion limit but settled for 12; it was immediately invalidated by a Republican federal judge who, unlike Rapert, still believes Roe v. Wade guides federal law.
The judge did keep in place a mandatory ultrasound for women, which will mean an invasive vaginal probe in some cases. Rapert believes the United States, its laws and its people should be governed by God’s commandments. And it’s Rapert’s interpretation of the commandments, not those of different religious persuasions, that count. — Max Brantley, Arkansas Times
U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, Georgia
Why legislate when you can embarrass? Since arriving in Washington in 2007, the right-as-you-can-go Republican doctor has perfected a special kind of crazy — and President Barack Obama, who Broun claims upholds the “Soviet Constitution,” has been a frequent target.
Over the course of five terms, Broun has compared Obama to Adolf Hitler, expressed doubts over the commander-in-chief’s citizenship, and pondered his impeachment. While discussing the potential pitfalls of the Affordable Care Act, he referred to the Civil War as the “War of Yankee Aggression.” Broun, who is a medical doctor, also proclaimed that global warming was “one of the greatest hoaxes perpetrated by the scientific community” and that evolution was a lie “from the pit of Hell” — comments that no doubt spurred more than 4,000 Athens voters to write in “Charles Darwin” as an alternative to Broun.
A clean energy bill in 2010 would bring death to not only jobs, he said, but also probably people. Keep in mind that citizens might be hard-pressed to remember Broun’s proposing any important legislation — except for maybe an amendment to the Military Honor and Decency Act, which banned the sale or rental of sexually explicit materials at military facilities.
But it’s not just verbal gaffes and a dearth of ideas. Twice Broun has landed on the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington’s list of most corrupt members, most recently for failing to disclose the source of loans to his campaign. (Broun disputed the allegation and sent a local newspaper a copy of a letter claiming the Office of Congressional Ethics found no wrongdoing.)
Come next year, however, we say goodbye to Broun. He lost a U.S. Senate bid in a crowded GOP primary May 20. — Thomas Wheatley, Creative Loafing
U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, South Carolina
Until June 2009, Mark Sanford was little more than a buffoon in C Street slacks and a sensible libertarian sports jacket from the clearance rack at Kohl’s. During his first term as governor of South Carolina and most of his second, there were laughs aplenty. He took two piglets into the statehouse to protest earmarks. One was named Pork, the other Barrel — natch — and one, if not both, promptly shat on the floor during Sanford’s important presser.
Then there was the time when the state legislature overrode, or nearly overrode, all of his vetoes. We’re not sure if that was in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 or 2009 because it seemed to happen every year. And then there was Sanford’s general weirdness. When he was a child, his well-to-do family slept in the same room during the summer to conserve electricity, and when his father died, guess who made the coffin — Mark. During his gubernatorial years, Sanford liked to dig holes with a hydraulic excavator back at his country farm in order to relax — unfortunately, a child fell into one of those holes and died.
But then came some real creepiness. It began when Sanford apparently told his staff he was taking off to hike the Appalachian Trail, but instead he flew to Argentina on the taxpayer’s dime to be with his mistress.
Upon his return home, the Luv Guv gave a strangely honest but extremely uncomfortable confession on live television. Much to everyone’s surprise, the Bible-beating members of the South Carolina Statehouse didn’t demand his immediate resignation — and this was even after they had read his erotic poetry. Shortly after Sanford’s affair became public, his wife, Jenny, divorced him and wrote a tell-all book (the governor once gave her a piece of paper for her birthday featuring a drawing of half of a bicycle, and the next year he gave her a drawing with the other half, along with a $25 used bike). Jenny also filed a complaint with the court after Mark repeatedly trespassed on her property; he even hung out at her home during the Super Bowl when she wasn’t there.
And get this, he flew airplanes at their two sons. Yes, you read that correctly — he flew airplanes at his children, whatever that means, according to the divorce settlement. But despite all of that — the cheating, the lying, the stalking and the childhood terrorizing — Sanford ran for his old U.S. House seat and won. Now he can take his mistress out to eat in D.C. without meeting the disapproving eyes of his constituents back home in Charleston. — Chris Haire, Charleston City Paper
Kentucky State Rep. Jim Gooch
While serving in the Kentucky General Assembly for the past two decades, Jim Gooch has made a name for himself as the state’s No. 1 climate-change denier. Gooch — as chair of the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee — once held a hearing to get to the bottom of this so-called global warming kerfuffle; the hearing featured only two witnesses who were climate-change deniers but not scientists. He explained he didn’t want any scientists to testify because “you can only hear that the sky is falling so many times.”
Gooch has accused the scientific community of engaging in a massive cover-up and fraud to perpetuate the “hoax” of global warming and has even suggested that Kentucky secede from the union to avoid EPA rules. He also sponsored a bill this year to openly discriminate against utility companies that seek to switch from coal to natural gas. Gooch happens to own a company that primarily sells mining equipment to coal companies.
This year, he also made a name for himself as being quite the ladies’ man. He interrupted and blocked a vote to recognize the courage of two legislative staffers who stepped forward to accuse a legislator of rampant sexual harassment. Following that spectacle, the same staffers accused Gooch of inappropriate behavior, including throwing a pair of pink panties onto their table at a conference and saying, “I’m looking for the lady who lost these.” Gooch excused himself by saying that a woman had slipped the panties into his pocket moments earlier and that “actually they weren’t pink; I think they may have been beige.” — Joe Sonka, LEO Weekly
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer
In 2010, Arizona’s governor, Jan Brewer, affixed her signature to the infamous, immigrant-bashing legislation called Senate Bill 1070 and rode a wave of xenophobia to electoral triumph, a book deal, conservative accolades and liberal opprobrium. She did this despite massive goofs such as claiming that headless bodies were routinely found in the Arizona desert, blanking for several seconds during a TV debate with her gubernatorial rivals, and claiming her dad died fighting the Nazis when he actually worked in a munitions depot during World War II and died 10 years after the war ended.
But who cares about that when there are “Messcans” to whoop on? Wahoo! Brewer spent millions in donations on appeals to a U.S. district court’s injunction against most of 1070. Then, in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court overthrew a large part of the statute as unconstitutional. Still, it had its intended effect. More than 200,000 Hispanics fled the state because of 1070 and other anti-immigrant laws, according to one estimate. They took their purchasing power with them to other states, making Arizona’s recession even worse.
Brewer still plays the race card, even as a lame duck with zero political prospects. For instance, she stubbornly refuses to relent on her executive order denying driver’s licenses to so-called DREAMers who qualify for deferred action under a federal plan.
Recently, the governor has tried softening her image by pushing through a Medicaid expansion and overhauling Arizona’s inept Child Protective Services. Nevertheless, her political gravestone is destined to read, “Signed SB 1070.” — Stephen Lemons, Phoenix New Times
California State Sen. Ron Calderon
In 2011, L.A. Weekly dubbed brothers Ron and Charles Calderon, then a California state senator and the assembly majority leader, respectively, the “worst legislators in California” for authoring “sponsored” laws they didn’t write — then taking serious money from the special interest groups that actually wrote them.
The Calderons insisted they weren’t selling laws. After all, of the avalanche of about 1,000 new bills introduced annually in the state, the San Jose Mercury-News found that 39 percent are ghostwritten by groups seeking to benefit — environmentalists, manufacturers, municipalities. They’re successful, too: From 2007 to 2008, sponsored bills composed 60 percent of those the governor signed into law. The Sacramento press corps largely treats “sponsored” bills as non-news. After all, almost all legislators do it.
But few legislators, we hope, do it like Ron Calderon. In February, he and a third brother, former assemblyman Tom Calderon, were indicted for corruption. Ron allegedly took $28,000 in bribes to preserve a flawed state law that was being milked for millions of dollars by a corrupt hospital executive. He was also charged with selling laws after taking $88,000 in bribes from a “film executive” who — whoops — was an undercover FBI agent. (Ron has been suspended from the legislature.)
And what of the other Calderon brother, Charles? In mid-May, the Los Angeles Times editorial board endorsed him for a judgeship. It didn’t mention his history of taking gobs of cash from those whose custom laws he’d enabled or the fact that he’d paid his son $40,000 in campaign funds for doing basically nothing. Voters weren’t about to side with the Times and cheer on Charles. Recently they elected his opponent with 66 percent of the vote. — Jill Stewart, L.A. Weekly
U.S. Rep. Ted Cruz, Texas
Stupid is as stupid does, but the problem with Republican Ted Cruz is that the freshman senator from Texas isn’t stupid. Since taking Kay Bailey Hutchison’s seat in 2012, he has spent his time railing against pretty much every other politician from either side of the aisle. This approach has earned him the loathing of members of his own party, but it has gotten him tons of attention and made him a household name.
These are not the moves of a stupid man. It’s a clever strategy. Cruz has made himself a Tea Party poster child and become a national political star with clear presidential intentions thanks to his remarkable talent for spouting off against most of the legislation anyone proposes (of the almost 500 votes he has cast since being elected to the Senate, more than half have been nays.)
The height of the Cruz show came when he staged a nonfilibuster filibuster to take another stand against the Affordable Care Act, even though the stunt was basically political grandstanding. Cruz stood there reading “Green Eggs and Ham” while the rest of Congress tried to make a deal to get the government running again.
It would be comforting to write Cruz and his antics off as the doings of a not-so-bright politician, but if he were as one-dimensional and guileless as he pretends to be, he’d be on his way out, a one-term senator. As it is, he looks to be setting himself up for a 2016 run at the White House. — Dianna Wray, Houston Press
USER AND BOOZER
Former Idaho Sen. and GOP Majority Caucus Chairman John McGee
John McGee began winning elections before he was 20 years old and didn’t stop until he became chairman of the Idaho Republican Majority Caucus — he had become the 21st century face of what many people considered the future of the Idaho GOP. But today, at 41, McGee has had his face plastered on more mug shots than campaign posters and is considered a political pariah.
Following his June 2011 drunk driving arrest, McGee admitted to imbibing a bit too much at a Father’s Day golf tournament. He was also charged with stealing an SUV that night (complete with a utility trailer) and crashing it in a neighbor’s front yard, prompting a bathrobe-clad woman to rush to her bedroom window. Police said McGee emerged from the wreckage, mumbled something about the woman being an angel, made some passing remarks about driving the stolen vehicle to Jackpot, Nev., and promptly passed out.
McGee, who by then was an Idaho state senator, saw that his political career was hanging in the balance. So he underwent a series of mea culpa TV interviews in which he spoke in hushed tones about how eager he was to “move forward.”
But after he retained his Republican leadership and returned to the Idaho statehouse politically unscathed, it turned out that some of McGee’s moves were more than forward; they were inappropriate. A female staffer said he had sexually harassed her on several occasions at the state capitol. According to the staffer, McGee exposed himself, asked for sex and groped the subordinate. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail, but after 44 days behind bars, he was released “for good behavior.” He hasn’t been heard from, at least publicly, since. — George Prentice, Boise Weekly
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, Colorado
Terry Maketa chases bad guys — when this bad boy isn’t chasing skirts, that is. After the married politician was accused of having sexual relationships with several women on his staff — including one he elevated to oversee the sheriff’s office budget and another who was promoted despite the fact that her major credential was being a nude model — the county commissioners unanimously passed a vote of no confidence. But the term-limited Maketa decided the sheriff’s office ethics policies didn’t apply to him. He wanted to override the nominations of worthy deputies in order to award the office’s One Hundred Club prize — essentially an employee-of-the-year honor, complete with gold watch — to himself. And he doesn’t plan to write any resignation letter, maybe because he’s too busy writing messages like this one, sent to one of his female colleagues: “I think often about touching kissing and licking every inch of your amazing body.”
When three of his commanders filed a complaint against Maketa in May that included reports of sexual harassment and accused him of running a hostile workplace, they were put on administrative leave. And Maketa initially denied the allegations: “I have never had an inappropriate sexual relationship with the three individuals you named,” he told the Colorado Springs Gazette, which broke the story. “If you publish anything to the contrary, I am fully prepared to take legal action.” But a week later, Maketa took another kind of action entirely, releasing a video apologizing to employees and admitting he’d “engaged in inappropriate behavior in the past.” — Patricia Calhoun, Westword
Montana State Rep. Jerry O’Neil
In fall 2012, Montana Rep. Jerry O’Neil, a Republican from Columbia Falls, drew national media attention when he requested that the state pay his legislative wage in gold and silver. But his letter to Montana Legislative Services was largely laughed off.
The response was in keeping with public reaction to much of O’Neil’s 12-year legislative record. During the 2013 legislative session alone, he introduced bills to eliminate the minimum wage for high school dropouts, limit the federal government’s ability to regulate firearm restrictions, and allow criminals to opt out of jail time by submitting themselves to corporal punishment. Of the last proposal, O’Neil famously told the Associated Press in January 2013: “Ten years in prison or you could take 20 lashes, perhaps two lashes a year?”
Professionally, O’Neil calls himself an “independent paralegal.” He has been at odds with the Montana State Bar and the state supreme court’s Commission on Unauthorized Practice since 2001, when a district judge wrote a letter stating O’Neil was engaged in the “unauthorized practice of law.”
All of this adds up to a long and predominantly unsuccessful career of comical yet troubling policy attempts. But O’Neil is determined to keep trying. He’s campaigning for his seventh term in the Montana Legislature. — Alex Sakariassen, Missoula Independent
Clackamas County Chairman John Ludlow, Oregon
Portland, Ore., may be known in the national consciousness as a frivolous paradise of banjos, naked bike rides and fair-trade coffee. But its suburban commuter communities have nourished a resentful Republican movement that’s dead serious about stopping what they call “Portland creep.”
The face of this anti-Portland movement is John Ludlow, a brawny real estate broker with a shaved head that suggests Lex Luthor as a high school sports coach. His bid for Clackamas County chair was funded by a timber magnate and propelled by a populist revolt against light rail. Once elected, he set about trying to break contracts the county had signed years earlier to extend rail lines south from Portland.
But it’s his demeanor in Clackamas — a largely rural county of 380,000 that’s becoming more Stepford all the time — that’s been the most embarrassing. In a planning meeting last summer, he yelled, “Do you want a piece of me?” at a fellow commissioner.
You can’t say voters weren’t warned. When he ran for county chair in 2012, lawn signs went up that declared, “John Ludlow is a bully.” Ludlow had previously been removed from the planning commissioner in Wilsonville, where he served as mayor, for what one city councilor called “rude, combative, argumentative, and disrespectful” behavior toward the public. Ludlow sued, and in 2003 a judge restored him to his position, ruling his objectionable ways were actually protected speech.
A personnel complaint filed by the county’s lobbyist in April claims that, when news broke about the Boston Marathon bombing, Ludlow declared it was likely the work of “a damn A-rab.” Speculating about suspects in a local shooting, he allegedly said, “I bet they were Mexicans.”
And when a former county board member, Ann Lininger, won appointment to an open state legislative seat this year, Ludlow said she succeeded because “she does a good job of sticking out her perky titties in people’s faces.”
Ludlow apologized for his statements while denying making the comments about the state legislator’s breasts. An investigator cleared Ludlow of violating any county rules — but added that, when it came to the “perky titties” comment, Ludlow’s denial was probably a lie. — Aaron Mesh, Willamette Week
Former Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon, Washington
Aaron Reardon was the golden boy, the rising star of the Democratic Party in Washington state. Brash and cocky as a rooster, sure, but someday, most political observers agreed, he would sit in the governor’s mansion.
When he was sworn into office in 2004, Reardon was the youngest county executive in the nation. His fall from grace began a couple of years ago when a very tan bodybuilder named Tamara — also a county social worker — came forward to reveal her long affair with Reardon, a married man with two young children. There were junkets, most of them put on the county’s credit card, and even an intimacy kit containing condoms and lubricants purchased during one of their trysts at a boutique hotel in Washington, D.C.
In Chicago, he skipped out on the Democratic Leadership Council conference by faking a headache and then hailed a taxi to have dinner and drinks with Tamara. Reardon weathered scandal after scandal — the out-of-control drunkard of a planning director he hired who groped a building-industry lobbyist on a golf course, allegations of using county resources for his campaign, a Washington State Patrol investigation into his travel.
Then came the final straw, which smacked of Nixonian politics: One of his staffers concocted a phony name and made public-records requests of county employees who had spoken to police about Reardon’s involvement with Tamara. His staff was also tied to web pages that attacked Reardon’s political opponents. Reardon resigned last year and called for an independent investigation into “false and scurrilous accusations.” He is said to be living in exile somewhere in Arizona. — Ellis E. Conklin, Seattle Weekly
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Illinois
Even toward the end of his 22-year mayoral reign, when he started selling off pieces of the city to hide its escalating financial woes, Richard M. Daley had broad support in Chicago. Sure, he was a tyrannical, thin-skinned jerk who doled out jobs and contracts to his friends, but he was the people’s tyrannical, thin-skinned jerk who doled out jobs and contracts to his friends. His successor, Rahm Emanuel, is simply a jerk.
At least that’s how he’s seen by lots of Chicagoans after his first three years in office. In a recent poll commissioned by the Chicago Sun-Times, Emanuel had the support of a meager 29 percent of city voters.
The mayor and his allies stress he’s made “tough choices” to get the city back on track, starting with restoring fiscal discipline. It’s certainly true he’s shuttered mental health clinics, raised water fees, privatized city jobs, laid off teachers and closed schools — four dozen of them at once. At the same time, he’s poured millions of additional dollars into nonunionized, privately run charter schools.
But it’s not only what he’s done; it’s also how he’s done it. Emanuel is widely seen as an outsider who uses Chicago as a backdrop for his broader political ambitions. Though he appears regularly in city neighborhoods for news conferences, his daily meeting schedule is filled with millionaire corporate leaders and investors, earning him the nickname “Mayor 1%” (and inspiring a book of that name by journalist Kari Lydersen). He jets regularly to Washington to maintain his national image — yet he also has a knack for avoiding the spotlight at home when it’s especially hot, such as the time he was on a ski vacation when the school-closings list was released.
Still, Emanuel remains a formidable politician. He already has more than $7 million in his campaign coffers and is prepared to raise millions more before he’s up for election next February. Rahm may not be loved, but he’s unlikely to go down unless some high-profile candidate runs against him, and so far, that special someone hasn’t jumped into the race. — Mick Dumke, Chicago Reader
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minnesota
Minnesota natives include Prince and Michele Bachmann, explanation enough why the state’s official bird is the loon.
Both His Royal Badness and the Tea Party’s homecoming queen have shown themselves to be geniuses at bizarre self-promotion. Alas, only Prince is a genius at his job. The congresswoman, on the other hand, is retiring in 2014 one step ahead of looming congressional censure, if not outright criminal charges.
Negro Leaguer Satchel Paige once pronounced that “it ain’t bragging if you can do it.” Bachmann, however, still preens in self-congratulation despite her utter political failure. A defrocked demagogue, she still pretends her Tea Party is a reactionary revolution, not a moribund refuge for the Republicans’ traditional bloc of bat-shit crazy far-right-wingers.
Bachmann’s gift for gaffes became horridly apparent in 2012, when she lasted one presidential primary. Visiting Waterloo, Iowa, the candidate grandiosely lauded the town because it birthed that embodiment of red-blooded patriotism, John Wayne. Unfortunately, Waterloo’s most famous native son is actually mass murderer John Wayne Gacy.
The stench still hovers from her sixth-place Iowa finish. Her pathetic showing is remarkable considering the amount of cheating allegedly perpetrated by the Bachmann campaign. Purported election law violations have been or will be investigated by the House Ethics Committee, the Federal Election Commission, Iowa’s Senate Ethics Committee and the FBI. Additionally, one of her Iowa operatives stands accused of making illegal payoffs to political consultants, and Bachmann has been sued for stealing Hawkeye State email lists.
Prospects for Bachmann’s next gig range from hosting her own Fox News blabfest to sitting in a defendant’s chair. She has said God told her to run for national office. And thank the Lord, Congress shortly won’t have Michele Bachmann to kick around anymore. — Neal Karlen
Marionville Mayor Dan Clevenger, Missouri
On April 13, former KKK member Frazier Glenn Cross fatally shot three people outside a Jewish community center and a Jewish retirement home in a Kansas City suburb. After his arrest, a handcuffed Cross yelled, “Heil Hitler!” from the back of a police car. Why anyone, much less a public figure, would subsequently speak in support of a racist homicidal maniac is beyond comprehension, but Marionville Mayor Dan Clevenger did just that.
He told a local ABC affiliate reporter that, though he believed Cross should be executed, he also “kind of agreed” with, well, you know, racism. “There are some things that are going on in this country that are destroying us. We’ve got a false economy, and it’s — some of those corporations are run by Jews, because the names are there,” he said. “The people that run the Federal Reserve — they’re Jewish.” The reporter also discovered a letter to a local newspaper written by Clevenger in 2004 calling Cross a “friend” and warning readers that the “Jew-run medical industry … made a few Jews rich by killin’ us off.”
After the story aired, residents of the southwest Missouri town demanded Clevenger resign. He initially refused but then relented after citizens aired their grievances at a packed and raucous city meeting. Afterward, Clevenger told reporters he was hurt by the town’s rejection. — Chad Garrison, Riverfront Times
Michigan Speaker of the House Jase Bolger
It’s puzzling how Jase Bolger has remained speaker of Michigan’s Republican-led house. He previously led the state GOP’s quest to eliminate (nonexistent) voter fraud and, more recently, supported the politically sheisty move to reallocate Michigan’s electoral votes based on who wins the popular vote — in districts he helped gerrymander to the benefit of his party.
But Bolger’s most egregious move came during the 2012 election cycle: He hatched a scheme to rig the election in Michigan’s 76th House District. Bolger conspired with state Rep. Roy Schmidt, a Republican from Grand Rapids, to have Schmidt register as a Democrat in the race at the very last second. Schmidt had his son find a phony candidate and agreed to pay to have this person file for the race but never actually campaign.
Their guinea pig initially agreed to go along with the plan but later backed out. Nonetheless, a Republican prosecutor who investigated the case determined the episode wasn’t illegal but was obviously unethical. The prosecutor, William Forsyth, wrote he was embarrassed by Bolger’s plan, a move he said was “clearly intended to undermine the election and to perpetrate a fraud on the electorate.” — Ryan Felton, Detroit Metro Times
Wisconsin State Rep. Brett Hulsey
You have to hand it to the two-term Democratic state representative from Madison. Brett Hulsey knows how to grab headlines. But in his quest for publicity, he has also made himself irrelevant. Not a great tradeoff.
The former county board supervisor and environmental consultant almost immediately pissed off his Democratic colleagues in the state assembly by constantly grandstanding during the chaotic time after Gov. Scott Walker proposed ending collective bargaining rights for most public workers. Once he even jumped up to the podium at a news conference to give an impromptu Democratic response to a speech Walker had just made. His colleagues were not amused.
Then things got weird. News surfaced in July 2012 that Hulsey had pleaded no contest to a disorderly conduct charge for flipping off a 9-year-old boy while both were swimming at a local beach. A little less than a year later, Hulsey’s legislative aide asked to be reassigned, saying she felt threatened by her boss’ plan to use a box cutter to show her how to defend herself.
Hulsey soon after told a reporter that he was going through a particularly difficult time and was receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from childhood abuse.
Knowing his chances to retain his seat were slim to none, Hulsey didn’t seek re-election. But he didn’t go away, either. He threw his hat into the ring for Wisconsin governor, challenging frontrunner Mary Burke in the Democratic primary.
In the lead-up to the state Republican Party convention, Hulsey thought it would be a good idea to show up dressed as a Confederate soldier and to distribute KKK-style hoods to delegates there. He said he wanted to call attention to the GOP’s alleged racist policies.
News of his plans drew worldwide attention, none of it good, and he called off the stunt. But it pretty much burned any remaining relationships with colleagues who might have still admired his smart analysis and progressive stance on issues. — Judith Davidoff, Isthmus
Former Washington, D.C., Councilman Michael Brown
With Clinton-era Commerce Secretary Ron Brown as his father, Michael Brown could have been anything he wanted — a business mogul, a top lawyer, maybe a Cabinet secretary himself. Instead, he became one of the most crooked council members in District of Columbia history.
Brown saw a chance to outdo his father’s legacy by winning elected office. He threw his hat into a 2006 race, only to hear from a city Medicaid contractor who offered him $200,000 to drop out and endorse the contractor’s favored candidate. Brown took the cash, then received hundreds of thousands of dollars more in illicit help from the contractor, and finally won a council seat in 2008.
On the council, the sharp-dressing Brown made his name as a crusader for the poor. But he had his own financial woes, including a home in D.C.’s tony Chevy Chase neighborhood weighed down by nearly $2 million in mortgage and IRS liens. When another group of would-be city contractors offered Brown bribes to help get government business, he jumped at the chance.
The eager contractors, though, were actually undercover FBI agents. The bribes would turn out to be the end of Brown’s white-collar crime spree. Videos released after his indictment on bribery charges in June 2012 showed the councilman eagerly grabbing at duffel bags and mugs filled with cash.
Though Brown’s legacy won’t outshine his father’s, he has introduced a phrase to the District’s corruption lexicon. Before helping the agents, Brown told them he would need his “piece of the piece” — in other words, another stack of bills. — Will Sommer, Washington City Paper
Pennsylvania State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe
State Representative Daryl Metcalfe likes to walk softly and carry a big flamethrower. Whether it’s gay rights, immigration reform — which he has called “illegal alien invasion” — or requiring voter ID cards, you can count on the eight-term Republican from western Pennsylvania to unleash a double dose of inflammatory rhetoric.
As chairman of the powerful House State Government Committee, Metcalfe authored a controversial voter ID law and then drew fire when he went on a Pittsburgh radio station to complain about people who were too “lazy” to apply for the ID card. Then, when newbie state Rep. Brian Sims, the first openly gay lawmaker in Harrisburg, tried to speak on the house floor last June in support of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, Metcalfe relied on his direct connection to the Divine to deny Sims the right to speak. Metcalfe said Sims’ intended remarks were “in open rebellion against God’s law.”
The far-right conservative took the limelight in Harrisburg in 2001 when he introduced a resolution asking the federal government to fund and deploy a national defense missile system. No one could figure out why state lawmakers should be debating the issue, but the measure passed anyway. His latest crusade, launched in May, was to call on Gov. Tom Corbett to appeal a federal court decision that struck down the ban on same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania. He is consistent, at least, and he sees himself as being ahead of the curve. As Metcalfe, 51, told Talking Points Memo: “I was a Tea Partier before it was cool.” — Lil Swanson, Philadelphia City Paper
Massachusetts State House Speaker Robert DeLeo
Robert DeLeo has bobbed and weaved around investigations that have come dangerously close to his circle. But he has somehow avoided the same criminal fate of the three consecutive house patriarchs before him. Nevertheless, with occasional reluctant aid from POTUS prospect Gov. Deval Patrick, the speaker has reacted more to headlines than the commonwealth’s needs.
From facilitating ineffective three-strikes legislation in response to the high-profile murder of a single cop, to perpetually playing politics with casinos and medical marijuana, to his despicably stubborn stance on increasing the minimum wage, DeLeo demonstrates that in true-blue Massachusetts, Democrats generally make the best villains. — Chris Faraone, Dig Boston
Ohio State Rep. John Becker
“This is just a personal view. I’m not a medical doctor.” So says Becker, who, after less than a year in Columbus has introduced a dozen bills, all of them bat-shittier than the last. His personal, nonmedical opinion, if you were wondering, pertained to HB 351, a bill that would have banned health care providers from covering abortions. And not just abortions in the sense we all know, but a hazy, very unscientific view of abortions that would include “drugs or devices used to prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum.”
And he’s after IUDs, which are proven to be, as Slate pointed out, among the most cost-effective and, ya know, effective forms of birth control.
Becker advocated the impeachment of a federal judge in Ohio who had overturned part of the state’s same-sex marriage ban. He also penned an open letter in the wake of gay marriage approval in Massachusetts advocating a constitutional amendment prohibiting the practice. (His next best solution was expelling Massachusetts from the union and removing a star from the flag.)
He has admitted to being a bit of a Don Quixote with his opinions, though we’re pretty sure Becker has never read Cervantes’ masterpiece. Otherwise, he would have read passages like “When equity could and should be upheld, do not apply the rigor of the law on the accused; the reputation of a rigorous judge is no better than a compassionate one” and then promptly proposed a bill to ban “Man of La Mancha.” — Vince Grzegorek, Cleveland Scene
Donald Trump, New York
Though the Donald isn’t technically a politician (he has never held office), he routinely threatens to run for president and perpetually inserts himself into the national political debate. From stoking conspiracy theories by offering a $5 million bounty for President Obama’s birth certificate to calling the 2012 election “a sham and a travesty,” Trump is the ultimate political troll.
The reality TV star and real estate magnate recently toyed with the idea of running as the GOP candidate for governor of New York before removing himself from the race. And he has donated millions to candidates from both parties over the years. While his political ambitions may be as absurd as his comb-over, Trump is a master at exploiting the media to generate semiserious discussion of fringy ideas that would normally be dismissed out of hand.
At various times, Trump has suggested repealing campaign contribution limits, imposing a 25 percent tariff on all Chinese goods, and building a “triple-layered fence” and flying Predator drones along the Mexican border.
Trump’s sideshow routine has become tiresome for some reporters (BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins compared the experience of covering the Donald’s short-lived 2014 gubernatorial campaign to “donning a network-branded parka during a snowstorm and shouting into the camera about a predictable phenomenon”), but many major news outlets still find the act irresistible for the ratings and page views. And that begs the question: Who’s dumber, Donald Trump or the journalists who keep feeding the troll? — Keegan Hamilton