It’s Ohio month, and JFJ or Just for Jan, I thought I might drop in a few posts about famous Ohioans.
UP today is James Traficant.
I hate politics, but I’ll have to admit, I love a good political scandal.
James Traficant provided a few in his 73 years on Planet Earth.
Frankly, he made the news more interesting. And, if I’m truly honest, fact is, I’m drawn to stories like his.
Born into a working class, Catholic family in Youngstown in 1941, James graduated from Cardinal Mooney High in 1959 and went on to the University of Pittsburgh. He played quarterback for Pitt’s football team along side of football great Mike Ditka.
In the 20th round of the NFL draft he was by picked UP by the Steelers in 1963.
That should have been the first sign trouble was to come.
Really, the Steelers?
He never played professionally being cut in training by both the Steelers and the Oakland Raiders.
After getting his Masters from Pitt, he worked as a consumer finance director for the Youngstown Community Action Program, teaching courses on drug and alcohol dependency and recovery at both Youngstown and Kent State Universities.
He was the executive director of the Mahoning County Drug Program for ten years, Sheriff of Mahoning County for another five, and made headlines early by refusing to foreclose on unemployed homeowners – most of whom were steel workers laid off by closures of several of Youngstown’s steel mills.
Endeared to the locals and hated by businessmen, Traficant was charged with racketeering for accepting bribes. Representing himself at trial, he argued he accepted the bribes only as part of his own secret undercover investigation into corruption.
What’s that saying about a fool for a client?
He was acquitted and remains the only person to beat a RICO rap while defending himself.
The win and the ensuing publicity got him elected to Congress from Ohio’s 17th district. He defeated a three-term Republican incumbent, and was elected eight times with little or no opposition.
As if Congress needed any more show boaters, Traficant was known for his flamboyant style aka bad taste. He dressed tackily, mixing and matching styles that were both in and out.
You know, wide lapels and narrow ties, denim suits, stuff like that.
My entire wardrobe in the 1970s!!
He was also known for his pompadour, and apparently he and I were the only two who knew it was a toupee. Honestly, a rug’s a rug, and you can tell a mile away!
Trust me on this, I should know.
He claimed he cut his hair with a weed whacker and was known for his “trademark” closing lines, “Beam me UP…” and “I yield back the fact…”
He supported some unusual causes, like immigration reduction and was a strong opponent of illegal immigration.
His big accomplishment in the House was against the IRS. He proposed to constrain enforcement activities by the agency on delinquent taxpayers.
It was a harbinger of things to come.
When the Republicans took control of the House in 1995, Traficant tended to vote more often with the Republicans than with his own party.
But, he was never a vote the party line guy.
On the issue of abortion, Traficant voted with the position of the National Right to Life Committee 95% of the time in the 105th Congress, and 100% of the time in the 106th and 107th.
He also voted against all four articles of impeachment against President Clinton.
When he voted for Republican Dennis Hastert for Speaker of the house in 2001, the Democrats stripped him of his seniority and refused him any committee assignments.
He became the first congressman, outside the top leadership, not to hold a single assignment in over 100 years.
His buddies were shunning him.
When he championed the cause of Ukrainian born autoworker and convicted war criminal John Demjanjuk, the press went crazy.
For nearly 10 years, Traficant had insisted the Demjanjuk had been denied a fair trial, and the Supreme Court of Israel overturned the conviction. Demjanjuk was deported to Germany, retried, convicted, and died before his appeal could be heard.
In 2002, a mere 13 years ago, James was indicted on federal corruption charges for taking campaign funds for personal use.
He played the role of his own attorney once again, and after a two month federal trail, was convicted of ten felony counts including bribery, racketeering, and tax evasion.
He lost his right ot vote on legislation pending an investigation by the Committee on Ethics.
The committee recommended that he be expelled from Congress and on July 24, he got the boot in a 420 to 1 vote, making him the first Congressman to be expelled in over 20 years.
The lone dissenter was Gary Condit, who was UP to his aspidistra in his own scandal.
While in the US Pen at Allenwood, he ran as an independent for another term in the US House. He got 15% of the vote.
After his first 17 months in Allenwood, he was slapped into solitary for causing a riot. He told a guard, “People can’t hear you. Speak UP.”, and the place went wild.
While in prison, he refused visitors. He didn’t want anyone to see him bald and in jail.
When he was released three years early and put on probation in 2009, 1,200 supporters welcomed him home at a banquet which included an Elvis impersonator, a Traficant lookalike contest, and tee-shirts emblazoned with “Welcome Home Jimbo”.
At the bash he further tweaked the noses of those in authority by stating, “…I think it’s time to tell the FBI and the IRS that this is our country and we’re tired – tired of the pressure, tired of the political targeting, tired of a powerful central government that is crippling America.”
He also said he was considering a run for his old Congressional seat.
James was certified to run for the seat he held before his expulsion in September 2010. He said that his platform would be to repeal the 16th Amendment of the US Constitution. FYI, that’s the one that gave us the income tax and the IRS.
But, he did better. This time he got 16% of the vote.
After prison and his failed run for Congress he did what all former politicians do, he became a public speaker.
He was featured as a guest speaker at a Tea Party protest in Columbiana, Ohio, and began a grassroots campaign in 2014, “Project Freedom USA”, to put pressure on Congress to “get rid of the IRS, and divorce the Federal Reserve.”
He was not successful.
Just last fall, September 2014, Traficant was driving his tractor into a barn when it flipped over and trapped him underneath. Taken to Salem Regional and airlifted to St. Elizabeth’s Health Center in Youngstown, it was reported that he was “sedated and not doing well.”
On September 26, 2014, Jim Condit, Jr. sent a text stating “the machines were disconnected at 2 PM. He is still breathing. Thousand are Praying.”
Traficant died on 9/27/14 in hospice in Poland, Ohio at the age of 73.
There was no public service and he was buried in an undisclosed location.
A little crazy, way over the top, and always for the common man, James Traficant kept the news interesting for his entire public career, but at one time, America’s Last Minuteman was just a boy from Ohio.