Taft goes down

$6000? Really?

So Bob Taft becomes the first governor convicted of criminal conduct in the history of Ohio for a total of $6000 worth of golf games and basketball tickets? Bizarre!

I haven’t been following the Ohio coin scandal as closely as I should have been (or as you should have been, or as the national media should have been). But that case is obviously big-league stuff, with millions of dollars gone missing from the state worker’s comp fund and some of it probably havng gone to the Bush campaign. It’s hard to tell how the misdemeanors Taft will admit to relate to the larger scandal; apparently Taft took relatively little in this sort of petty graft from Noe.

Some notes and queries:

1. Is this a matter of Taft’s simply having been sloppy and maybe a little bit cheap, or is this simply the only thing the prosecutors can prove against him right now?

2. A plea of nolo contendere, which Taft will apparently enter tomorrow. is somewhat unusual. It isn’t, technically, an admission of guilt, though it has the same effect as a guilty plea; the defendant agrees to be convicted without actually admitting that he committed a crime, thus avoiding both the stigma of a guilty plea and the stigma of a “guilty” verdict from a jury. The prosecution doesn’t have to accept such a plea. If I’d been the prosecutor, I would have used that as bargaining leverage: if you don’t want to either plead guilty or stand trial, governor, then how about a little co-operation on these other cases? Do we know whether any of that happened? Alternatively, the prosecutors might have judged that Taft was clearly guilty of breaking the law but not obviously morally culpable, and decided to give him a break. That’s one of the things good prosecutors are supposed to do, as opposed to always wanting a pound of flesh.

3. It does look as if one-party Repubilcan rule in Ohio, as in Washington, has led not merely to corruption but to a we-can-get-away-with-it carelessness. The voters apparently are taking notice. Secretary of State Blackwell, the Katherine Harris of the 2004 election and a candidate to succeed Taft, is backing away from him.

4. Corruption is obviously the right theme for the Democrats to carry into the 2006/8 elections.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com