Exactly 238 years ago this week, Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that King George III was "a tyrant ... unfit to be the ruler of a free people." Tommy had it right. And ever since then, Americans have been calling out their leaders. Tyrant was just the start of the name-calling. Since then, we've moved on to "crook" (Nixon), "liar" (Clinton), "moron" (Dubya), and "Kenyan anti-colonist," whatever the hell that means.
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 — OK, maybe not so much the iPhone since it's made in China.
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. Together, they've named 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. 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
Gov. Jan Brewer
In 2010, Arizona Gov. 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
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne
Attorney General Tom Horne is the highest law enforcement official in Arizona, but he has less integrity than the slimy political hacks who now no longer return his calls. Horne has been dogged by allegations of impropriety ever since he was banned for life from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in 1973.
In other words, Arizonans should have seen this one coming like triple-digit heat in July. But the Canadian-born Democrat-turned-Republican successfully cheated his way into office during a close 2010 general election by allegedly coordinating illegally with an independent expenditure committee run by his political operative, current AG outreach director Kathleen Winn.
No one would have known of this campaign hanky-panky were it not for Horne's own bumbling in office. First, he hired his mistress for a six-figure job she was unqualified for. Then, when Phoenix New Times published a piece about this impropriety, he assigned a veteran AG investigator to find the "leak" in his administration. Instead, the investigator uncovered evidence of lawbreaking by the AG and his staff, including the aforementioned campaign-finance violations, which the investigator dutifully turned over to the FBI.
Horne avoided an indictment but was hit with a $400,000 civil fine, which he's been dodging in court. Meanwhile, an ex-staffer has accused him of running his re-election campaign out of his public office (that's illegal, son) and has backed up the allegations with 146 pages of emails and documents, including the metadata to show who did what and when.
Realizing he's as done as a burnt corn dog, Arizona Republicans want him to bow out, but — always delusional — Horne ain't going nowhere without further making a fool of himself. So his campaign and disastrous reign continue apace. —Stephen Lemons, Phoenix New Times
Arkansas Lt. Gov. Mark Darr
Why did Mark Darr get elected lieutenant governor of Arkansas in 2010? Because there was an "R" after his name in an anti-Obama tidal wave. The No. 2 officer in the Razorback State is as useless as teats on a boar hog. Because of a weird provision in the 1874 Arkansas Constitution, he may preside over sessions of the state Senate and act as executive when the governor leaves the state.
While in office doing nothing, Darr glad-handed, went to rodeos, and made plans to run for Congress. But his congressional campaign collapsed days after it began when news broke that he had been cheating on his campaign finance reports. After the election for lieutenant governor was over, he continued raising money and spending it on himself and family, paying for everything from gasoline to hotel rooms and clothing. A deeper look revealed he had also cheated on his public expense account. Nobody should've been surprised. He had run a family pizza business into the ground and got upside down on his home mortgage, among other personal missteps. After ignoring months of bipartisan calls to step down — at one point issuing a statement, vowing to keep fighting "for those Arkansans who are sick and tired of these types of political games and the people who play them" — Darr resigned in February. He still owes the state almost $10,000 and is paying his ethics fine on time. Federal investigators continue to review his case. —Max Brantley, Arkansas Times
Arkansas State Sen. Jason Rapert
Jason Rapert is the Elmer Gantry of the Arkansas Legislature — a 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
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 that he had taken 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
State Sen. Leland Yee
Where to begin with Leland Yee? The longtime San Francisco-area pol, a Democrat, was indicted in March for trading an official proclamation for $6,800 in cash from an undercover FBI agent, as well as brokering a meeting between a prospective donor and his fellow legislators in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars in "donations," well in excess of federal campaign limits. But that's not even the good stuff. The good stuff involves international arms dealing and a codefendant named Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow.
Chow, we learned from court documents, is a convicted felon once involved with everything from dealing heroin to pimping underage girls. But even while being held up as a model of rehabilitation by no less than U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Chow led an international crime syndicate involved with murder for hire, money laundering, and drug and gun trafficking, prosecutors allege.
When an FBI agent pretending to be part of Chow's gang approached Yee for help with obtaining missiles and other weapons, the state senator didn't just agree to help. Prosecutors allege he also walked the agent through the steps to acquire them from a Muslim separatist group in the Philippines.
There's much, much more to the story, but here's probably a good place to end when it comes to Sen. Yee: When this onetime rising star in the California Democratic Party failed to resign his seat, fellow senators voted to suspend him with pay. And though those pesky criminal charges forced Yee to abandon his run for California secretary of state, it was too late to change the ballots, and the flood of bad publicity around his name didn't seem to matter much to voters — more than a half-million Californians still backed him. The would-be arms dealer who allegedly exchanged political favors for money beat out five other candidates. —Sarah Fenske, L.A. Weekly
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa
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 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
Campo Mayor Ray Johnson
Being the mayor of tiny Campo isn't a full-time job, so Ray Johnson has plenty of time to run his barbecue joint, Ray's Smokehouse, sell cars, work on his cattle ranch, DJ dances, and get more tattoos — he's been billed as the most tattooed mayor in the nation.
In fact, Johnson was missing so much work while traveling to see his favorite tattoo artist that he thought of resigning a few years ago: "I wasn't doing it justice here," he said. But the townspeople encouraged him to stay — a move they may regret now. Because in February, Johnson and his twin sons, Kevin and Kasey, were arrested and charged with theft and embezzlement.
According to Campo's police chief, the trio had stolen more than 230 gallons of the town's gas, worth up to a thousand dollars, in six weeks — all documented in a video that showed the Johnsons using a locked pump to fill their personal cars and gas cans. The case is pending.
Kevin, a sergeant with the Campo Police Department, had a key to the pump for his patrol car. Kasey is also a public servant: He's with the volunteer Campo Fire Department, where busy Ray Johnson is the assistant fire chief. Ray is also a deacon at the Campo Baptist Church and "spends a great deal of his time volunteering for the community," according to the Ray's Smokehouse website — and volunteering, it would seem, to relieve the community of some of its gas. —Patricia Calhoun, Westword
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.
Backed by a wave of Tea Party support — and bankrolled by $70 million of his own cash — Scott won a shocking gubernatorial victory in 2010. The win was all the more remarkable considering his 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 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
Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez
Poor Hialeah. The sixth largest city in Florida and second most populous in Miami-Dade County is one of the biggest Cuban-American enclaves in the United States — and it's also probably the only town in the land that's been run by two consecutive loan sharks.
Three years ago, Hialeah residents thought they had rid themselves of one of the slimiest operatives in America, Mayor Julio Robaina. "El Jefe," it turns out, was doling out hundreds of thousands of dollars in off-the-books loans and then charging up to 36 percent annual interest. Unfortunately for Robaina, one of the regular customers of his black-market operation was a local jewelry store owner who was also running a massive $40 million Ponzi scheme. When the scam toppled and trustees went looking for spoils, they began asking about the $300,000 the store owner had paid to the mayor. Robaina soon found himself under federal indictment for tax fraud. (He was later found not guilty by a jury and blamed the missing taxes on accounting errors.)
Pretty bad, right? Luckily in 2011, Hialeah got rid of Robaina when he resigned to run for county mayor, replacing him with Carlos Hernandez, his squeaky-clean deputy. All seemed well until this April, when Hernandez was called as a witness in Robaina's trial and put on the stand, where he promptly admitted under oath that yes, indeed, he'd run his own high-interest loan scheme and had even done a $100,000 deal with the same Ponzi schemer.
The good news is that if you're hanging in Hialeah and need some bones on the quick, there's no need to turn to a shady check-cashing operation. Just head to city hall. —Tim Elfrink, Miami New Times
U.S. Rep. Paul Broun
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.
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
Gov. Nathan Deal
We'll skip Nathan Deal's congressional service, which ended with a probe into why the Republican tried to persuade state officials not to scrap a lucrative salvage program that benefited a company he co-owned. Since moving into the governor's mansion in 2011, he's helped a state senator land a cushy $150,000 radio gig with the state media outlet (which the lawmaker held while also lobbying for the Asian-American Hotel Owners Association).
Deal also falls on the wrong sides of issues. Expanding Medicaid — and helping hundreds of thousands of Georgians access health care — is now much tougher since he supported state lawmakers' proposal to take away his authority to do so.
In an attempt to sway potential voters, he increased education funding by $500 million, which sounds nice until you realize that it's an election year — and that his party has axed nearly $8 billion in school funding over the past decade. After he botched the state's response to a winter storm, leaving people stranded in freezing temperatures, he led the media on a $12,000 helicopter tour to check out a second storm's ice damage (which was minimal). And his administration paid thousands of dollars to a national publication that says Georgia is the best state to do business. The biggest head-scratcher: Deal might very well be re-elected in November. —Max Blau, Creative Loafing
User and Boozer
Former State Sen. 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
Former State House Representative Phil Hart
Phil Hart represented Idaho's panhandle for four terms in the Idaho House of Representatives. But he spent almost as much time in state and federal courtrooms as he spent in the Idaho Capitol. Hart appeared on most citizens' radars after his sponsorship of something called the Idaho Silver Gem Act, which would have allowed Idahoans to pay taxes using silver bars — mined in his home district. But Hart had no intention of paying his own taxes; he stopped filing returns in 1996. At last count, the IRS said Hart owed feds around $500,000, and the State of Idaho said he owes about $53,000 to its tax commission.
But Hart's real chutzpah came when he regularly argued that his status as a state legislator granted him protection from dealing with the tax authorities. Meanwhile, Hart continued to tangle with the Idaho House ethics committee, which ultimately decided to let its fellow legislator skate away unscathed. Perhaps most important, Hart was regularly re-elected to the legislature by wide margins.
Too many scandals eventually caught up with Hart, and he lost a 2012 GOP primary. But his epitaph is far from being written: Federal authorities say they're still laying the groundwork for criminal tax charges against the former lawmaker. —George Prentice, Boise Weekly
State Rep. Derrick Smith
Derrick Smith is merely the latest Illinois politician to transition from the corridors of power to the criminal court system. But he didn't do it without help from some of the top political operators in the state — and the voting public.
Smith was once fired from a gig as a city streets and sanitation supervisor, yet with the support of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, the most popular figure in state government, Smith ended up in the General Assembly in 2011. In 2012, Smith agreed to write a letter supporting a state grant for a daycare center in his district — all he needed in return was a little "donation." On March 10 of that year, Smith met with someone connected to the daycare center and happily accepted $7,000 in cash.
Alas, he didn't have much time to enjoy it, because the daycare representative turned out to be a mole for the FBI. Three days later, Smith was arrested and charged with taking a bribe.
Undaunted, Smith decided he could and should continue to serve the people. A week after his arrest, he won the Democratic primary. His colleagues in the Statehouse voted to oust him from office, but Smith reclaimed his seat in November 2012.
His loyal Democratic votes in the House were enough to secure the ongoing support of Speaker Madigan, but Smith's good fortune ran out when he lost in a recent primary. Then, earlier this month, a federal jury found him guilty of bribery and attempted extortion. He faces up to 30 years in prison but continues to insist the naysayers have it wrong. "God knows the truth about it all," he told reporters after his conviction. "The jury just didn't see what God saw." — Mick Dumke, Chicago Reader
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel
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 non-unionized, 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
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 number one 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 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
State Sen. Damon Thayer
Damon Thayer is the Republican senate majority leader of the Kentucky General Assembly and a man who never met a camera or microphone he didn't want to stick his face in front of. That even includes those belonging to The Daily Show, which he obliged to mock him in an interview last year over his bill to nullify new federal gun control legislation within Kentucky, because the state didn't vote for President Obama in 2012.
Thayer's main accomplishment in this year's session of the General Assembly was to once again block a popular bipartisan bill to automatically restore the voting rights of former nonviolent felons in Kentucky, which has the most restrictive system in the nation (one in five African-American males is ineligible to vote). After the bill passed the house nearly unanimously for the fifth straight year — and with new support by Sen. Rand Paul — many assumed the Senate would follow suit, until Thayer added a last-minute amendment that gutted the bill and excluded the majority of those eligible to have their rights restored. After facing criticism for this move in a committee hearing for the bill, Thayer told the audience they should show "some level of gratitude" toward him for even allowing it to receive a hearing. Of course, Thayer's suggestion had nothing to do with the fact that most of those potential new voters were Democrats. —Joe Sonka, LEO Weekly
Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone
A darling of neoliberals across the Greater Boston region (as well as of the Boston Globe and both local NPR affiliates), rhetorically adorable Joe Curtatone enjoys a glowing public profile in which he masquerades as a handsome young progressive who morphed a postindustrial wasteland into the Hub's answer to Williamsburg. In reality, the seemingly delightful Democrat and famously cool neighbor of Boston operates a municipality rife with old-school shenanigans; turn over a rock and discover an elite and privileged cadre of attorneys and real estate slugs who get virtually anything they wish for. While the local media has mostly focused on the artists, indie businesses, and post-hipster residents carrying Somerville into this century, they've largely ignored the campaign financing and favor deals beneath it all. How does Curtatone keep a peachy public image despite such behavior? For starters, in 2014 his city will spend more than $300,000 on media relations and communications despite skyrocketing property taxes that have forced natives to flee. At last count, Somerville had fewer than 80,000 residents. —Chris Faraone, Dig Boston
State Rep. Robert DeLeo
Speaker of the House 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 and 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
Michigan State Rep. Jase Bolger
It's puzzling how Rep. 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." —Valeria Vande Panne, Detroit Metro Times
Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano
The local commentariat was stunned to hear Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano would run for a fourth term this year. His administration has been rife with scandal from the onset of his tenure. A handful of Ficano aides have been federally indicted for bribery or conspiracy charges. County employees have received sweetheart severance packages: One got $250,000 just for being fired, only to earn an additional $700,000 after a court determined she was improperly canned.
Some officials have received such lucrative pension deals that they've been able to retire in their 40s. All thanks to Ficano. The county executive's most recent flub involved a proposed jail in downtown Detroit. Ficano had to scrap the half-built project because it was $100 million over budget. On top of that, he hasn't been able to grapple with the county's debt, which has ballooned to $175 million. If Ficano's recent plan to shed that debt fails, reports have suggested Wayne could be the first county to receive a state-appointed emergency manager who would have near-total control over its day-to-day finances. —Valeria Vande Panne, Detroit Metro Times
User and Boozer
Gov. Mark Dayton
In 2000, liberal Democrat Mark Dayton purchased a one-term U.S. senator gig with $12 million of his inheritance and then immediately began forging, as the New Republic put it in 2004, a remarkably bipartisan impression inside the Beltway that he was "crazy." In 2006, Time named him one of the nation's five worst senators, and his Capitol Hill nickname became "the Blunderer." Dayton cemented his place in Washington's cuckoo's nest in 2004, when he closed his D.C. office and shooed his entire staff back to the provinces. Dayton explained he had been confidentially apprised that the Capitol itself would shortly be laid waste by terrorists.
Meanwhile, Dayton was adjudged less than zero as a policymaker, known only for introducing legislation that would create a cabinet-level position of "Secretary of Peace and Non-Violence."He even gave himself an "F" when asked by a high school class to grade his Senate performance.
Dayton returned to Minnesota, where he'd always enjoyed giving unsolicited confessions — that he was a recovering alcoholic, that he was a medicated lifelong depressive, that he'd begun drinking again as a senator. In 2010, again working the politics of pity, he was elected Minnesota's governor after spending another $4 million of his allowance. Yet he had changed. He had morphed into just another political hack. He played the backroom-in-Brooklyn ward heeler so the Minnesota Vikings would have their new football stadium. And though he has gained relief from enough psychotropic drugs to fill a Walgreens warehouse, he refused to support a medical marijuana bill this spring because it was opposed by statewide law enforcement, whose support provided the wafer-thin margin of Dayton's gubernatorial victory. Yet there were still signs of the lost, rich doofus who meant well. Confronted by angry parents demanding medical marijuana for their children suffering from epilepsy, Dayton suggested they get their weed on the street, illegally. —Neal Karlen
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann
Both Prince and Michele Bachmann are Minnesota natives, 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. 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
State Sen. Brian Nieves
Majority Caucus Whip Brian Nieves wasn't about to be sidelined last year as national lawmakers took up gun control in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre. Sure, Nieves is just a lowly state senator from Missouri, but he'd teach that Barack Hussein Obama not to trample on his sacred right to bear arms.
Nieves' "Second Amendment Protection Bill" would have made it illegal to enforce federal gun laws in Missouri, never mind that the headline-grabbing bill would never have passed constitutional muster even if the governor hadn't vetoed it — which he did.
Undeterred, Nieves filed a similar bill this year that was so confusing even the NRA couldn't endorse it. Then again, not much makes sense with Nieves — be it his screaming fits on the Senate floor, his grammatically challenged Facebook rants, or his angry exchanges with constituents (one of whom he allegedly referred to as a "piece of fuck").
Oh, and let's not forget that pending civil lawsuit in which a fellow Republican accuses Nieves (who by his own admission is armed "97 percent of the time") of pulling out a gun and physically and verbally assaulting him.
In March he announced his plan to leave the Senate to pursue the job of recorder of deeds in his home district. Why would a firebrand legislator want to become a paper-pushing bureaucrat? Because, Nieves says, the people deserve a "constitutional freedom fighter" in county government. —Chad Garrison, Riverfront Times
Marionville Mayor Dan Clevenger
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
State Rep. Jerry O'Neil
In fall 2012, Montana Representative 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 ever 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
State Sen. Art Wittich
The call for campaign finance reform has escalated dramatically since the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the Citizens United case. Much of the concern centers on the shadowy world of so-called dark-money groups — politically active nonprofits that aren't required to disclose their donors. No politician in Montana is more closely tied to dark money than Sen. Art Wittich, a Republican from Bozeman and the 2013 state Senate majority leader.
For years, Wittich's law firm acted as the registered agent for the nonprofit, Colorado-based American Tradition Partnership (ATP). Formerly known as Western Tradition Partnership, ATP was featured in a 2012 exposé on Frontline. Wittich's firm also represented ATP in its challenge to Montana's Corrupt Practices Act, which barred corporate spending in state campaigns for a century. The act was overturned.
Relying in part on information contained in several boxes of documents recovered from a meth house in Colorado, Montana's Commissioner of Political Practices has issued eight rulings of campaign practice violations against ATP over the past year. One of them was tied to Wittich's 2010 primary bid.
The commissioner also ruled this year that Wittich violated campaign law during that race by coordinating with and accepting corporate donations through ATP. A district court judge recently declined a recommendation that Wittich be removed from the 2014 ballot. So the senator will again bid to run — in a district where he does not reside. —Alex Sakariassen, Missoula Independent
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino seized the moment following this past May's shooting spree in Santa Barbara, Calif., that left seven people dead. He aimed to bolster his conservative cred while appealing to the moderate New York voters he'll need to unseat Governor Andrew Cuomo in November's election. Astorino blamed the tragedy on inadequate resources for mental health treatment and argued that tighter restrictions on gun ownership would not have saved lives. "Government failed," the GOP gubernatorial candidate said gravely. "Here you had a person who is mentally unstable. Clearly this young boy had problems, and yet the system failed him."
Though Astorino made a valid point, the glaring problem with his grandstanding, as the New York Daily News later revealed, is that he had just spent four years slashing the mental health budget in Westchester County. Mental health funding fell from just under $18 million to $8.4 million on Astorino's watch. Staffing at the relevant county agencies dropped from 152 to 74.
Hypocrisy doesn't necessarily equate to stupidity, but Astorino has made a campaign pledge that covers both bases on this issue. He has vowed to repeal New York's SAFE Act, which was approved after the Sandy Hook massacre. It includes a provision that requires mental health professionals to evaluate people who have made threats to harm themselves or others and, if necessary, refer them to authorities who can confiscate weapons before a killing spree. —Keegan Hamilton
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 semi-serious 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
State Treasurer Josh Mandel
Josh Mandel parlayed a place on the city council into a job as a state rep into a third gig that subjects far more people to his unrivaled brand of idiocy and backroom deals. A few things to know about him: When he ran against sitting Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2012 for a chance at another promotion and a whole new zip code to terrorize, Mandel and his campaign followers were less than virtuous. Accusing Brown of shipping Buckeye jobs to China, Mandel could not be bothered with specific examples. "If that's the level of specificity you're looking for, you're the reporters — you go do the grunt work," he replied to journalists who had asked about the allegation.
And then there's his connection to the Suarez Corporation. That fine workplace has been in the news since an investigation revealed Suarez founder and President Benjamin Suarez had directed 21 employees to donate to the Mandel campaign and other GOP causes — and then promised to reimburse them with company funds.
Mandel, naturally, is pleading ignorance, but prosecutors have dug up plenty of correspondence from the Mandel campaign asking for donations. And the very week all of that was happening, Mandel was writing letters on Suarez's behalf for business dealings in California. That's embarrassing enough, but it's nothing compared to this: Mandel's cousins penned an open letter blasting the then-senate-candidate for his opposition to gay marriage and gays openly serving in the military, saying, "Your discriminatory stance violates the core values of our family." —Vince Grzegorek, Cleveland Scene
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. —Vince Grzegorek, Cleveland Scene
Republican Party Chairman Art Robinson
Give the Oregon GOP credit for thinking outside the box. They could have chosen just any old Tea Partying climate-change denier as a leader. Instead, they found Art Robinson.
A chemist and newsletter publisher who bases his operations in Cave Junction, Robinson has been spreading the gospel of nuclear power and Christian home-schooling since the 1980s. He ran two losing challenges to U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio — campaigns that brought fewer votes than headlines about his views on public schools (they're child abuse) and nuclear waste (a little exposure is good for us). He has advocated sprinkling radioactive waste over the ocean from airplanes to strengthen our immune systems.
Robinson might just be your run-of-the-mill country kook — Grizzly Adams meets Dr. Strangelove — except his views have tapped a lucrative vein in the paranoid style of American politics. (He raised about $1.2 million in each of his congressional races.) That fundraising power was too much for the cash-strapped state GOP to resist — it elected him chairman last fall, deciding extremism in pursuit of money is no vice.
Robinson immediately proved he isn't shy about asking for contributions. Weeks after his appointment, he mailed every household in Josephine County and requested a urine sample. He explained the fluids would be used in tests that would "improve our health, our happiness, and prosperity." —Aaron Mesh, Willamette Week
Clackamas County Chairman John Ludlow
Portland 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
State Sen. LeAnna Washington
LeAnna Washington, age 68, was not one to let her July birthday go by without a big bash that doubled as a campaign fundraiser. Problem is, she used her state office staff to plan and promote her elaborate gala, according to a grand jury report released this past March. In fact, some of her staffers allege they spent the weeks and months leading up to the party concentrating entirely on the celebration.
Those who objected say they saw their salaries cut or were shown the door. When a former aide challenged the senator, telling her it was illegal to use her office staff this way, she allegedly blew up at him: "I am the fucking senator, I do what the fuck I want, and ain't nobody going to change me," she told him, according to the grand jury report. "I have been doing it like this for 17 years. So stop trying to change me."
The Democratic senator is accused of spending between $30,000 and $100,000 in state taxpayer funds on her annual gala fundraiser and now faces felony charges of conflict of interest and theft of services. Voters in the Democratic primary in May told Washington she could no longer have her cake and eat it too. She lost on Primary Day, losing the senate seat she has held since 2005. —Lil Swanson, Philadelphia City Paper
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe
State Representative Daryl Metcalfe likes to walk softly and carry a big flamethrower. Whether it's gay rights, requiring voter ID cards, or immigration reform — which he has called "illegal alien invasion" — 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. But 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. —Lil Swanson, Philadelphia City Paper
U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford
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 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 a divorce documents. But despite all of that — the cheating, the lying, the stalking, and North By Northwest-style 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
Former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint
For a brief moment, Jim DeMint was a GOP kingmaker. Thanks to him and his Senate Conservatives Fund, libertarian charlatans such as Marco Rubio in 2008 — and Rand Paul and Mike Lee in 2010 — won U.S. Senate seats. But then 2012 rolled around, and DeMint backed Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin, Richard "God Wants Rape Babies" Mourdock, and a host of other troglodyte true-believers, and, well, things didn't turn out so well.
So DeMint did what sore losers almost always do — he took his super PAC home and got a cushy job at the Heritage Foundation with four years left in his term. Of course, this was just the latest bit of asshattery by the DeMinted One. A notorious homophobe, DeMint once said he could never vote for a gay president. Even worse, he said gays shouldn't be allowed to teach in public schools; the same went for unwed heterosexual women engaging in premarital sex.
He also characterized African-Americans as government beneficiaries and stated that only a follower of Judeo-Christian beliefs could truly be an American. Oh, and on more than one occasion, he said that all — yes, all — of his fellow Capitol Hill comrades were greedy bastards on the take. No wonder the House and Senate rejoiced when DeMint left Capitol Hill. Unfortunately, the people of South Carolina continue to hail him as a hero. —Chris Haire, Charleston City Paper
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais
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 "bald-headed 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
Tennessee State Sen. Stacey Campfield
The Wikipedia page for Knoxville Republican Stacey Campfield features sections summarizing his years in the Tennessee House and the Tennessee Senate, followed by a section titled "Other Controversies." To understand Campfield is to understand he does not have legislative efforts tainted by some controversies on the side. There are his legislative efforts, and then there are other controversies. He is the controversy.
Campfield outbreaks are recalled by Tennessee political observers like old Friends reruns. There's "The One Where Stacey Gets Thrown Out of Congressman Jimmy Duncan's Annual Barbecue," "The One With the Luchador Mask," "The One Where Stacey Explains That AIDS Came From 'One Guy Screwing a Monkey,' " and "The One Where Stacey Compares Obamacare to the Holocaust." Viewers who watched those episodes also enjoyed the time Campfield proposed cutting payments to families if their children did poorly in school. But perhaps his legacy achievement — his middle name could be "As Mentioned on Colbert" — was the introduction of the "Don't Say Gay" bill that proposed banning any discussion of homosexuality in schools. In a more recent iteration, it effectively would have required teachers to out their students.
A full accounting of Campfield's antics would run the length of The Goldfinch, but here's one more: After reporters reprinted some of the wingnuttier comments he had posted publicly, he threatened to take legal action against media outlets that quoted his blog. After 10 years in the legislature, Campfield is being targeted by Republicans and Democrats alike this year. In an uncharacteristic move, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has even flirted with endorsing Campfield's primary opponent. But caution might be in order. If he is struck down, might he become more powerful than we can possibly imagine? —Steven Hale, Nashville Scene
U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman
There will soon come a day when Steve Stockman, the U.S. representative for the 36th District of Texas, will depart his Washington, D.C. office for the last time and fly home to southeast Texas, never to return to the city he so loathes. He probably won't fire a celebratory bullet through the Capitol dome, but he'll probably give it some consideration. Because Stockman, if nothing else, is the congressman of the gun.
It began in 1995, during the first year of his initial, short-lived stint in Congress, when he wrote in Guns and Ammo that the Clinton administration had orchestrated the siege on David Koresh's Waco compound "to prove the need for a ban on so-called 'assault weapons.' " Oddly, Stockman's political career quickly fizzled: He lost his next election. But he resurfaced in 2012 a totally unchanged man.
Less than a month after the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings, he introduced the Safe Schools Act, which would have repealed federal laws keeping guns away from schools. He then vowed to pursue the impeachment of Barack Obama after the president issued minor executive orders seeking more gun control, which Stockman called "an existential threat to this nation."
Occasionally, and memorably, he has exerted himself, to fight climate change, sex education, and, in February 2013, the Violence Against Women Act, which provides protection to gay and transgender people. "This is helping the liberals, this is horrible. Unbelievable," Stockman said. "What really bothers — it's called a women's act, but then they have men dressed up as women, they count that. Change-gender, or whatever. How is that — how is that a woman?"
It's this rhetorical flair that journalists will miss come next January, when Stockman, after recent failed bids for the Senate and his House seat, departs Washington again, likely for good this time. The gun lobby might miss him too, but only until it gets it strings attached to the new guy. —Joe Tone, Dallas Observer
State Board of Education Member Ken Mercer
Texas is, as so many clichés note, a big place, so its decisions about what to include in its textbooks affect classrooms beyond the state's borders. When former state Education Board member Cynthia Dunbar, a homeschooler, wrote a book that said the creation of public schools was "tyrannical" and public education was a "subtly deceptive tool of perversion," non-Texans were understandably curious about what sort of yahoos had their fingers in the educational soup. Then there was Don McLeroy, the former board chairman who famously said, "Somebody's gotta stand up to the experts," as he attempted to push creationism into science textbooks.
That particular pair of Lone Star loons is off the board now, and with their departure the board has fallen out of the national headlines. In recent years, the state Legislature has even clipped the board's wings some. But don't let that fool you into believing that the overseers of Texas schools have gone pink. They haven't and won't. Not with Ken Mercer still fighting the godly fight.
When his home city of San Antonio was adopting an ordinance banning LGBT discrimination last year, Mercer urged city council to reject it. "Child molesters and sexual deviants will love this ordinance," he said. Because, you know, gay equals child molester.
That point of view is merely grossly offensive and, frankly, not uncommon down South. For sheer, breathtaking dumbness, nothing tops his stunning 2011 refutation of evolution: "If your theory is right, all these species would get together and form a new species. Then where is the cat-dog or the rat-cat, whatever it be? They don't come together. Cats go with cats, and dogs go with dogs."
Take that, science. —Patrick Williams, Dallas Observer
U.S. Sen. 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 was 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
Former Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon
Aaron Reardon was 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." —Ellis E. Conklin, Seattle Weekly
Washington State Sen. Pam Roach
Pam Roach has the temperament of a thunder cloud, with an in-your-face personality and a penchant for screaming and berating staff members and fellow lawmakers that once got her banned from Republican caucus meetings.
Roach, who has represented a conservative suburban district southeast of Seattle for 24 years, cemented her reputation in 2006 when she threw a tantrum after someone removed a bouquet of roses from her Senate floor desk. Rising red-faced from her seat, she bellowed, "I am incensed that anyone would move or touch anything on a senator's desk, and I want to find out who took my flowers and moved them, and I intend to take action."
Roach has no off switch. She works without a net — and without a filter. She is constantly gaveled down. Legislative reporters grab their notepads when she gets up to speak. Who knows what will come out of her mouth.
On her blog, the Pam Roach Report, she has written, "It is women like me who pass on the genes we hope our sons have when they go to Iraq or Afghanistan. It is women like me who do not show fear." She's been reprimanded repeatedly for her tirades and was told on one occasion to seek professional help after staffers accused her of illegally obtaining employees' email messages and brandishing a handgun at one of them. One Olympia aide said her verbal attacks were commonplace: "We call it being 'Roached.' " —Ellis E. Conklin, Seattle Weekly
Former Washington, D.C. Councilman Harry Thomas Jr.
Harry Thomas Jr. isn't the first public official to steal from kids. But for pure brazenness, it's hard to beat this sticky-fingered former council member.
Thomas came from a long-running D.C. political dynasty, and it seemed like only a matter of time before he moved up to the mayor's suite. But when he ran for re-election for his council seat in 2010, Thomas' Republican opponent noticed something: The financial records for a nonprofit run by Thomas were a mess.
His group, Team Thomas, was supposed to be about introducing at-risk kids to sports like baseball and golf. What it actually did, its financial records revealed, was introduce Thomas to a life of luxury. Enlisting his own staff and corrupted nonprofit officials, he steered grant money toward his organization and then used it to buy trips to Pebble Beach and, in one instance, a $59,000 Audi SUV.
Thanks to his long-shot Republican opponent's digging, Thomas went on to resign from the council, and in 2012 he pleaded guilty to embezzling $353,500. But the ultimate insult was still to come. As Thomas' sentencing neared, the District government released more of Thomas' bank records. Along with the fancy trips and dinners, it turned out, Thomas spent $89 of stolen money on leather chaps — proving that you can steal money, but you can't steal taste. —Will Sommer, Washington City Paper
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
State Rep. Joel Kleefisch
Perhaps Joel Kleefisch, an Oconomowoc Republican, began feeling a bit eclipsed by his wife Rebecca, a social conservative who emerged from political obscurity in 2010 to become Gov. Scott Walker's running mate and Wisconsin's lieutenant governor. First elected to the state legislature in 2004, Kleefisch has really come into his own in the past two years — and not in a good way.
An avid hunter, Kleefisch proposed a hunting season for sandhill cranes, a federally protected migratory bird, in early 2012. Anticipating the post-kill feast, he noted that many people describe the majestic bird as "the rib eye of the sky."
Kleefisch was also caught plagiarizing in an email to members of the state Senate and Assembly regarding his proposal for the Flexibility for Working Families Bill. The email included unattributed quotes from three congressmen sponsoring the federal measure on which Kleefisch had based his own proposal.
Then there was his proposal to allow anyone with a permit to take a concealed weapon onto school grounds. "Eighteen other states say conceal-carry can carry on school grounds," he explained. "Wisconsin is not one of them. It's time to talk about whether that's a safer alternative." The idea didn't gain many fans, even from Kleefisch's own party, and he pulled it before a committee vote.
Kleefisch made his biggest splash, however, with his proposal to cap the amount of child support that wealthy parents would be required to pay. People cried foul when it was reported that Michael Eisenga, a wealthy businessman and donor to both Rebecca and Joel Kleefisch, had helped draft the bill after he tried unsuccessfully in court to reduce his support payments. It also came out that the millionaire had put his children on the state's health-care program for low-income children.
That one did not end well for Kleefisch either. He eventually withdrew the bill, but blamed its demise on "misinformation." —Judith Davidoff, Isthmus
State Representative Brett Hulsey
You have to hand it to the two-term Democratic state Rep. Brett Hulsey. He knows how to grab headlines. But in his quest for publicity, he has also made himself irrelevant. Not a great trade-off.
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 national 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