Katy Burns: Governors behaving badly
Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell makes a statement as his wife, Maureen, listens during a news conference in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014. McDonnell and his wife were indicted Tuesday on corruption charges after a monthslong federal investigation into gifts the Republican received from a political donor. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie waves as he stands near his wife Mary Pat Christie after he was sworn in for his second term Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, in Trenton, N.J. Mired in a scandal, Christie sought to turn back the clock Tuesday and focus on the mandate he said he got in November to "stay the course" and put aside differences, even as Democrats ramped up an investigation into whether his administration abused its power. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Former New Jersey Gov. John Corzine, and wife Sharon Elghanayan attend the funeral service for U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, in New York's Park Avenue Synagogue, Wednesday, June 5, 2013. Lautenberg, a liberal Democrat from New Jersey, died Monday after suffering complications from viral pneumonia. At 89, he was the oldest member of the Senate and the last of 115 World War II veterans to serve there. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, Pool)
Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer watches the first half of the New York Knicks game as they faced the New Orleans Pelicans in an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden in New York, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
In a Dec. 18, 2013 photo, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., laughs while discussing his first months back in Congress during an Associated Press interview in his district office in Mount Pleasant, S.C. Sanford, a former two-term governor, won a special election in May 2013 to win his old 1st District seat in the House. He held the seat for three terms in the 1990s. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith)
Retired Air Force General Chuck Yeager, left, is seen with Gov. Arch Moore Jr. of West Virginia, at a news conference in Washington, Feb. 10, 1986. (AP Photo/Tom Reed)
Jailed former Rhode Island Gov. Edward D. DiPrete, is shown in this Jan. 12, 1998 photo, does not have to answer a set of questions asked by the state attorney general about money DiPrete received while in office, a Superior Court judge has ruled. The Rhode Island state Retirement Board voted to strip him of his state pension after he was sentenced last year to one year in prison after pleading guilty to charges of racketeering, extortion and bribery during his years as govenor. (AP Photo/Matt York)
File -In this Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012 file photo, Former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards and his wife Trina Scott Edwards attend a luncheon for a Council For a Better Louisiana in Baton Rouge, La. Edwards and his wife, Trina, get their own reality show starting in February on the A&E cable network. "The Governor's Wife" is a vehicle to showcase Trina, the 30-something wife of the octogenarian ex-con former governor of the Pelican State. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)
Former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland fills in as a talk show host on WTIC AM radio in Farmington, Conn., Friday, July 2, 2010. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich waves goodbye to supporters after his scheduled address to reporters and his eventual departure for a medium-security facility in Littleton, Colo., for his 14-year sentence on corruption charges, that include his attempt to sell President Barack Obama's former Senate seat. Wednesday, March 14, 2012, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
When I first started reading about Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, I had one thought: We’ve really gotta get new friends!
This was last year. Bob was the governor of Virginia, and word started trickling out of Richmond that the McDonnells had a great and generous new friend. This pal, a guy who happened to run a food supplement company, had taken a shine to the first couple, and he was as happy showering them with gifts as they were accepting them.
And it was the gifts that caught my eye.
A silver Rolex watch – inscribed “71st Governor of Virginia” – for him. Oscar de la Renta gowns for her. Black-and-white Louis Vuitton shoes, a blue Giorgio Armani jacket, golf clubs, iPhones.
Oh, yeah. Their friend essentially picked up the tab for at least one daughter’s wedding, gave them a $50,000 loan and happily flew them around on his private jet. Plus the governor was able to tool around in the pal’s Ferrari.
But, hey, no problem, said McDonnell when the largesse of the food supplement guy became known, we are friends. This is what friends do for one another, right?
And I found myself muttering balefully about the miserliness of our friends. If we’re lucky, what gifts do we get from them? A book, maybe? Or a bottle of cheap wine? Was it time to upgrade?
Then, alas for Bob and Maureen McDonnell, the federal prosecutors, who’d apparently been captivated by the story, decided that it was a crock. That the happy couple had been acting as shills for the food supplement guy, greasing his way into government offices. And last week, the feds indicted Bob (now out of office) and Maureen on 14 counts of conspiracy and fraud in exchange for at least $165,000 in luxury swag and loans.
And my thoughts turned to: Books and wine are great gifts!
And: So happy for our good old New Hampshire governors! They may be boring, even eccentric. (Think about Craig Benson and his crazy three-legged desk.) But they’re resolutely honest.
Never once did Benson – or any other governor at least in recent memory – try to sell a U.S. Senate seat, as did Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, now a guest in a federal slammer.
He is just one of four former Illinois governors (out of the last seven!) who have seen the inside of a prison, although one of them shouldn’t really count because he did his dirty deeds after he left office.
But corrupt governors aren’t unique to Illinois. Just consider, in recent years:
Connecticut’s John Rowland spent six months in the pokey for taking bribes and using state-paid contractors and materials to gussy up his weekend house.
Former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards was generally described as “colorful.” Until he was described as a “convicted felon,” guilty of racketeering, extortion, money laundering, mail fraud and wire fraud. Demonstrating interesting family values, his son Stephen joined him behind bars.
Edward DiPrete of Rhode Island was indicted in 2000 and convicted – along with his son (more family values!) – for taking bribes and did a year behind bars.
In 1990, West Virginia Gov. Arch Moore Jr. was about to be tried for extortion, mail fraud, tax fraud and obstruction of justice when he copped a plea and got off with fewer than six years in prison.
There were chief executives – from North Carolina, South Dakota, Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Ohio – who were convicted of various and sundry misdeeds but managed to avoid doing time.
We in New Hampshire have been saved the ignominy of seeing any governor off to the Big House – or even threatened with it. Which isn’t to say that back in the very bad old days ethical standards may have been just a wee bit lax. But still. Let’s hear it for the Granite State!
Then there are scores more governors across the land who regularly may stay within the limits of the law but who sure behave badly. New York’s Eliot Spitzer, that crusading former prosecutor and patron of prostitutes, anyone? Or Spitzer’s successor, David Paterson, who was accused of witness tampering and soliciting World Series tickets from the Yankees.
South Carolina’s Mark Sanford, of course, made sure he will forever be a footnote in political trivia quizzes when he memorably claimed to be “hiking the Appalachian Trail” when in truth he was dallying with his Argentinian mistress.
And California’s larger-than-life blowhard Arnold Schwarzenegger put an end to his political career as well as his marriage when he admitted to fathering a child with his family’s maid.
New Jersey has had a few charmers. First there was Jim McGreevey, whose heterosexual marriage exploded when it came out he’d appointed his completely unqualified boyfriend as state homeland security adviser.
He then pronounced himself “a gay American,” but neither the gay nor the straight community seemed much in a mood to celebrate him.
One of McGreevey’s successors was Jon Corzine, a multimillionaire ex-U.S. senator who distinguished himself by reportedly paying $6 million to an ex-girlfriend and labor official who later negotiated with the state of New Jersey.
And now, of course, the Garden State has Chris Christie, whose rudeness has been celebrated as a virtue. YouTube has regularly featured clips of Christie – supplied by his own staff – where he delights in telling constituents where to get off. It helped propel the portly governor into the front ranks of 2016 GOP presidential candidates.
Now, to Christie’s great discomfort, folks – including not just prying reporters but subpoena-wielding investigators and prosecutors – are wondering just what motivated some of the governor’s closest aides to engineer four days of massive traffic jams for people trying to cross the George Washington Bridge, dubbed the busiest such span in the world.
And now there’s the question of just what Christie’s lieutenant governor might have threatened the mayor of Hoboken with. And the question of when rudeness becomes something much worse.
On reflection, I think it’s safe to say that sometimes in statehouses a little boring is a very good thing.
(Monitor columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)