7 States Where the Levels of Corruption and Ideological Madness Have Gotten Beyond Embarrassing
Ideological hijinks, bipartisan incompetence and outright corruption have infected state capitals -- and mortified citizens -- across the U.S. Is there a cure? Miller-McCune.com has supplyied a dose of satire.
State of Embarrassment — Virginia
How gun laws, Confederate History Month and a statue of Stalin contribute to the citizen embarrassment level in Virginia.
You Probably Heard About: The gun laws. This spring, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed legislation allowing “concealed carry permit holders to bring loaded handguns” into bars — as long as the holders don’t drink. But the gun lobby wants the law to go further, so folks can carry and drink. Also, lawmakers proclaimed April Confederate History Month without mentioning, uh, slavery. McDonnell apologized for the “major omission” and cited the Assembly’s 2007 statement of “profound regret” for slavery. Which should fix everything.
But Did You Know: There’s now a Stalin bust at the National D-Day Memorial! That’s right, boys and girls, while most of Europe has been tearing down monuments to the genocidal dictator for decades, the tiny town of Bedford, Va., is just getting around to putting one up. And why not? Stalin signed a pact with Hitler before he joined the Allies; Russians didn’t participate in D-Day; and he killed an estimated 20 million people during his reign. Na Zdorov’ye!
They Said It: “Having Stalin in our backyard, people are really upset about that.” — Karl Altau, managing director at the Joint Baltic American National Committee, which has protested the Stalin bust.
The Silver Lining: During the 2008 presidential campaign, the brother of Republican nominee John McCain, Joe McCain, dismissed Northern Virginia as “Communist Country.” With the Stalin bust now up in Bedford, near the border with West Virginia, Communist Country just got a whole lot bigger …
Citizen Embarrassment Level: Red with shame. Just who the hell is this Stalin character, anyway? There are several Civil War generals who would have looked just fine up there.
State of Embarrassment — Illinois
How former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and state corruption in general affect the citizen embarrassment level in Illinois.
You’ve Probably Heard About: Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Impeached and indicted for trying to sell President Obama’s vacated Senate seat, Blago is also accused of plenty else, like withholding government money from a children’s hospital until its leaders gave him $50,000 in donations. Alas, that didn’t stop the ex-governor from launching his own website and appearing on the reality TV show Celebrity Apprentice.
But Did You Know: The state’s previous governor was also a crook! When he was secretary of state, Republican George Ryan took bribes in exchange for licenses, contracts and leases. Ryan was eventually sentenced to more than six years in prison. As one Illinois journalist put it, “Instead of selling license plates, he gets to make them.”
They Said It: “There will be a Blagojevich odor in the air, and it will be with us day after day, like political Muzak.” — David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, raising the difficult question: What, exactly, does Muzak smell like?
The Silver Lining: Blagojevich’s successor as governor, Pat Quinn, touts his VIP membership card at Super 8 motels as a testament to his integrity and frugality. Alas, local reporters discovered that the incentive program ended five years ago. So there’s hope yet that Quinn turns into the deceitful cheat Illinois knows he can be.
Citizen Embarrassment Level: Grimly resigned. Government graft and illegal quid pro quos are as ingrained in the state psyche as the Cubs losing. Some things don’t change.
State of Embarrassment — California
How a budget deficit, credit crisis and the Governator affect the citizen embarrassment level in California.
You’ve Probably Heard About: The budget crisis. The world’s eighth-largest economy has been battered by the recent recession and not helped by a gridlocked state Legislature that faces a $20 billion budget deficit and more than $80 billion in long-term debt. Already billions have been cut from schools, and years of restrictive ballot initiatives make life even more difficult for legislators. Also, Arnold is in charge.
But Did You Know: California’s debt is the lowest-rated among U.S. states, on par with Borat’s home nation of Kazakhstan; Standard & Poor’s rates the Golden State’s bonds only four notches above “junk” status. (Or roughly equivalent to most of what comes out of Hollywood these days.)
They Said It: “You see what is happening in Greece, you see what is happening in Ireland, you see what is happening in Spain now…. We are left with nothing but tough choices.” — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose approval rating reached an all-time low of 23 percent this spring (the same number former Gov. Gray Davis had before being “totally recalled”).
The Silver Lining: Greece, Ireland and Spain are all beautiful countries. Really. And any scenario that sees an old guy nicknamed “Moonbeam” swooping in to save the day is worthy of a blockbuster script.
Citizen Embarrassment Level: Deeply chagrined; midlife crises were supposed to be fun. After all, in the movies, they never show someone actually paying for a Porsche.
State of Embarrassment — New York
How rampant corruption, a governor’s affair with a prostitute and the fall of “America’s Cop” affect the citizen embarrassment level in New York.
You’ve Probably Heard About: The rampant corruption. Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer consorted with prostitutes; his replacement, David Paterson, dropped out of a troubled re-election race when a top aide was accused of a domestic violence cover-up involving the state police; state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno was convicted of federal corruption charges; and state Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi resigned after admitting he hired a state worker to drive his wife around. (Note: The list goes on and on.)
But Did You Know: Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard B. Kerik, hailed as “America’s Cop” after 9/11, went to prison earlier this year for getting a free renovation on his Bronx apartment from a New Jersey company with alleged ties to organized crime and lucrative city contracts up for review.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|The New York Crimes – David Paterson & Charles Rangel|
They Said It: “The [sentencing] guidelines don’t take fully into account the operatic proportions of this case.” — Judge Stephen Robinson, explaining why he sentenced Kerik to more than the recommended time because of the “immeasurable” harm caused by his decade-long pattern of corruption and obstruction of justice.
The Silver Lining: Hey, at least, Kerik had a nanny scandal before he could be appointed head of Homeland Security. And if Enron: The Play couldn’t make it, we’re pretty sure Bernard B. Kerik: The Opera is not coming to Broadway anytime soon.
Citizen Embarrassment Level: In the “getting sloshed enough at the office party to make an ill-advised pass at your boss” zone. Human Resources will be calling in the morning.
State of Embarrassment — Tennessee
How battling Obamacare and being highlighted for corruption affect the citizen embarrassment level in Tennessee.
You’ve Probably Heard About: The bungled fight against health care. State Sen. Mae Beavers and state Rep. Susan Lynn, Republicans vying for Beavers’ Senate seat in November, repeatedly sponsored competing bills that would have Tennessee opt out of Obamacare. The two women wrangled for months over their own versions, only to produce a bill riddled with typographical errors that went down, 44-43, in the House. Still, it might have reached the 50-vote threshold to pass — if nine House Republicans hadn’t missed the vote. Maybe they were sick.
But Did You Know: Tennessee is our most corrupt state, according to a study commissioned by the political website The Daily Beast, which combed a decade’s worth of federal data on racketeering, fraud, embezzlement and public corruption cases. Of particular note: Last year a retired police captain was indicted by the FBI on charges that he allegedly joined up with gang members to move stolen property and drugs across state lines. Never saw that in Walking Tall.
They Said It: “The Constitution is very clear about whether the federal or the state government can do these kinds of things. I have not met anyone who knows what they’re talking about who thinks we have the right to opt out [of the new federal health care program].” — Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat who presumably has not met Beavers and Lynn.
The Silver Lining: A recent Pew Center on the States report gave Tennessee a B- on “government management,” so there’s reason for optimism. The state comptroller came in for particular praise, perhaps because so much corruption makes for a comptroller’s field day.
Citizen Embarrassment Level: Blushing like a bruised orange. But that’s mostly because of the Al and Tipper split.
State of Embarrassment — Arizona
How immigration laws, a state boycott and a “worst sheriff” honor affect the citizen embarrassment level in Arizona.
You’ve Probably Heard About: The border controversy. Gov. Jan Brewer has championed a tough new immigration law that requires police to ask people they stop about their citizenship if there’s a “reasonable suspicion” they are in the U.S. illegally. Meanwhile, Arizona’s economic woes trail only California’s, with the state’s foreclosure rates almost five times the national average.
But Did You Know: Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio calls himself “America’s Toughest Sheriff” and has appeared on the FOX reality show Smile … You’re Under Arrest! The New York Times editorial board calls Arpaio “America’s Worst Sheriff,” saying he is “a genuine public menace with a long and well-documented trail of inmate abuses, unjustified arrests, racial profiling, brutal and inept policing and wasteful spending.” You make the call.
They Said It: “It’s 120 degrees in Iraq and the soldiers are living in tents, have to wear full body armor, and they didn’t commit any crimes, so shut your mouths.” — Arpaio, defending his “Tent City,” a compound of Korean War-era military tents erected and inhabited by jail inmates in brutal summer temperatures.
The Silver Lining: As part of the general boycott against the state’s immigration law, music semi-superstars Hall & Oates canceled a July appearance at an Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game. So Arizona will probably cave in any day now.
Citizen Embarrassment Level: Slim to none. What’s there to be embarrassed about? Unless you’re one of them illegals …
State of Embarrassment — Texas
How textbook changes and talk of secession affect the citizen embarrassment level in Texas.
You’ve Probably Heard About: The textbook changes. The Republican-controlled Board of Education has altered curriculum so that the state’s 4.8 million students are taught to question the United Nations, Social Security and Medicare; closely study the “conservative resurgence” of the 1980s and ’90s; and learn the Judeo-Christian influences on the Founding Fathers. Removed: The suggestion that hip-hop is part of a social movement. Breathe easy, Texas.
But Did You Know: Gov. Rick Perry told tea-partiers last year that Texas could secede from the Union if Washington politicians “continue to thumb their noses at the American people.” That’s a unique reading on the 1845 treaty admitting Texas into the Union, which merely allows for the break-up of the state into five different pieces. (And yes, Austin, you can have your own piece. Good luck.)
They Said It: “The way I evaluate history textbooks is first I see how they cover Christianity and Israel. Then I see how they treat Ronald Reagan — he needs to get credit for saving the world from communism and for the good economy over the last 20 years because he lowered taxes.” — Education board Chairman Don McLeroy, explaining how humans and dinosaurs once roamed the Earth together in perfect harmony.
The Silver Lining: After Perry’s pro-secession rhetoric, a Dallas Morning News poll found that 31 percent of Texans believed (incorrectly) that the state could secede, and 18 percent would vote for it.
Citizen Embarrassment Level: None uh-tall. Come 2012, we’ll have five governors and a President Perry.