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A Times Editorial

For lawmakers, ethical behavior not required

State Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, and his wife, Mearline, take in the Senate chamber Tuesday. He was assigned a committee chairmanship.

COLIN HACKLEY | Special to the Times

State Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, and his wife, Mearline, take in the Senate chamber Tuesday. He was assigned a committee chairmanship.

It's no wonder the public holds politicians in such low regard. In Washington and Tallahassee, scandalous conduct that would get an average person ousted from a job, if not arrested, is treated with a big shrug or a tap on the wrist. It's a bipartisan trait: Party loyalty matters more than ethics.

Take the example of Rep. Charles Rangel, the New York Democrat convicted Tuesday on a raft of ethical charges by a Democrat-chaired House ethics panel. It took two years of investigation and foot-dragging for this modicum of justice to be done. Yet Rangel's 11 violations read like a to-do list for a politician who thinks the rules don't apply to him. Rangel failed to pay more than $60,000 in taxes on rental income from a Dominican beach villa. He improperly used his position to solicit donations for a college-affiliated center that bears his name, and he misused rent-stabilized Manhattan apartments, among other misdeeds.

But Rangel knows he's facing little more than a reprimand or, at worst, censure. Expulsion is an option, but no one expects that to happen. Which is a shame. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who sits on the panel, should push for the harshest possible punishment. Rangel has treated the ethics inquiry with contempt and grandstanding, including walking out of his trial Monday in a theatrical huff. This is not a game, and Castor's panel needs to drive that point home through its sanctions.

And here in the Florida Legislature on Monday, there was incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos' base display of protecting one of his own. Haridopolos rewarded disgraced freshman Sen. Jim Norman, a Republican from Tampa, with a committee chairmanship.

Norman, a former Hillsborough County commissioner, was appointed chairman of the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee, not the most powerful body but still a prize. Haridopolos apparently doesn't care that Norman is under investigation by the FBI and faces state ethics complaints for failing to disclose that his wife purchased a lakefront Arkansas home with $500,000 from the late Ralph Hughes, a businessman with close ties to Norman.

Instead of isolating Norman as ethically tainted, Haridopolos gave him a coveted leadership spot. The communication is clear: Ethics infractions will be overlooked for someone loyal to the party. Rules don't apply.

For lawmakers, ethical behavior not required 11/16/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 16, 2010 6:25pm]
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