Rogue’s Gallery:

Republican State Representative Ray Sansom

Democratic County Commissioner Kevin White

When elected officials break the law, they break the law for all of us. They represent us, after all, so their actions in public office reflect the people who elected them.

Unfortunately, some constituents actually seem to relish the role of co-defendant to wrongdoing.  Witness Tampa-area County Commissioner Kevin White, who appears to be enjoying increased support because he was found guilty of sexual harassment of an employee, a sleazy move that cost taxpayers $450,000.

White’s campaign for re-election is based less on his legislative record than on the argument that he is the victim of a witch-hunt because he was found guilty of something.  Financial beneficiaries of the generous taxpayer-funded social programs that dot his district are lining up to tell reporters that nobody can possible ever know what happened between White and his accuser, even though a court determined that, in fact, we do know beyond a reasonable doubt, which is why the councilman’s skin-crawling behavior with a very young woman is costing the rest of us 450 big ones.

This nobody can ever possible know the truth or what lies in the hearts of men or if anyone is every truly really guilty of anything nonsense is precisely why Kevin White needs to be held responsible for his actions.  Sure, it is costing taxpayers more money to sue him to try to recoup the expenses caused by his behavior, but not suing him would be more expensive: it would send the message that you can get away with committing crime so long as you complain loudly afterward that you are the victim, not the perpetrator.

Meanwhile, Florida state representative and former House Speaker Ray Sansom has been pulling a Kevin White (or is it Kevin White pulling a Ray Sansom?) in the Florida state capitol, where a cabal of hold-out Republican bigwigs have been behaving precisely like Kevin White apologists by rallying around the disgraced politician, who funneled big sums of taxpayer cash to a pal in the community college system in return for an unadvertised, six-figure, no-show job at the college.

For months after Sansom’s dealing became public, Republican Party officials worked behind the scenes and before the cameras to dissuade the legislature from taking action on Sansom, claiming it would be too expensive, or needlessly divisive, or just plain mean to do so.  When Sansom resigned suddenly from the House yesterday, Republican Representative Bill Galvano told the media “We are his colleagues, and that makes it heart-wrenching.”

Why heart-wrenching?  Why not call the crime disgusting?  As a former educator in Florida’s community college system, where I took home about $7 an hour with no benefits and no job security to teach a full load of classes to equally hard-working students (who were also subsidizing Sansom with their tuition), I think I speak for many thousands of teachers and students when I say:

What a thief.

The attempted-kid-glove handling of Sansom is particularly troubling because of his ties to U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio, who is running as a political reformer against current Governor and Senate candidate Charlie Crist.  Pretty high stakes, indeed.  National stakes.  If Rubio won’t talk about his dealings with Sansom, after he appointed him as his own budget chief, then how can voters trust him to stand for honest government?  If Rubio won’t harshly condemn this type of theft from the taxpayers, then why should anyone believe he is going to reform anything?

Worst of all, when we excuse criminal acts by elected officials, we are sending a message to other criminals that their behavior is acceptable.  Imagine if Ray Sansom stole a car instead of finangling a shockingly obvious kickback.  What would Marco Rubio say then?  What can anyone say to the car thieves when nests of political operatives are busy trying to help their colleagues (and themselves) avoid full legal inquiries?

When you let this type of corruption go unchecked, here is the government ethics you get, courtesy of Kevin White supporters at a fundraising event held for White at the famous Columbia Restaurant in Tampa last week:

A jury last August found White had made unwanted sexual advances to former aide Alyssa Ogden then fired her when she rebuffed him. White has maintained his innocence. The jury ordered that he pay Ogden $75,000.  A year earlier, White had to pay a fine of $9,500 to the Florida Elections Commission for using campaign funds to buy tailor-made suits and ties.  Those missteps, however, didn’t dim the enthusiasm of the crowd that lined up Wednesday for the Columbia’s renowned Paella a la Valencia and swayed to a light jazz and blues combo. Longtime friend Bob Vallee called White a “good person” who was unfairly accused by a young woman who wanted money.  “You’ve got to realize, there are two sides to every story,” Vallee said. “The mistake Kevin made was in firing her. If he hadn’t of fired her, she wouldn’t have done anything.”

Wow, thanks for clearing that up, Bob.  In other words, if you’re going to break the law, you’d better keep diverting taxpayer funds to your mark, in case she decides to squeal.  There’s a heaping helping of political ethics.  And, note to the Columbia Restaurant: that’s the last time I pay a dime for your rice and beans.  Lie down with dogs, and you deserved to be tarred by the same brush.

“I don’t know if [Kevin White] did what they say he did, but overall I think he’s been a good politician,” said supporter Linda Wilcox, who is making a first-time run for the county commission in another race.  “I think he’ll be a better commissioner because through all this adversity, he still did his job,” said another supporter, Fred Hayes.

Get it?  White is a better man for having tried to wriggle out of paying the bill he ran up for sexually harassing an employee.  It was a learning experience. Heck, if he’d of done it a few more times, Ray Sansom could buy him a college degree.