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Cocaine and the congressman

Will conviction derail Florida freshman?

By The Mercury

We’re glad Trey Radel, a first-term Florida congressman, doesn’t represent this congressional district, or any district in Kansas. Not because he’s conservative — he’s said to be a favorite of the tea party and on Twitter has described himself as a “Hip Hop Conservative.”

And not because he has used cocaine, at least not primarily. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, 1.6 million Americans admit to being regular cocaine users. What’s more, every day, 1,800 Americans sample cocaine for the first time. We hope their initial experience is dreadful, though not fatal.

Our problem with Rep. Radel is that in his very first year in office, he has displayed a degree of hypocrisy worthy of a career politician. During his campaign, for instance, Rep. Radel promised to represent “values that come with integrity.” Like many other candidates in their initial campaigns, he demonized establishment Washington, especially the “typical politicians” that he said populate our nation’s capital.

As he promised, he cast conservative votes, not just supporting $39 billion in cuts to food stamps but also voting to require mandatory drug testing for food stamp recipients.

That was all well and good until he pleaded guilty earlier this month in a Washington, D.C., courtroom to misdemeanor possession of cocaine. His plea stemmed from his arrest Oct. 29 after he bought 3.5 grams of cocaine from an undercover police officer.

As many defendants do, he pressed the contrition button. He apologized and told the judge. “I’ve hit a bottom … I am so sorry to be here. I know I let my constituents down, my country down and most importantly, my family, my wife, and my 2-year-old, who doesn’t know it yet.”He later said he’d made a mistake.

Perhaps his mistake was getting caught. The occasion of his arrest wasn’t the first time he had bought cocaine for himself and apparently for friends. Prosecutors said Rep. Radel had bought cocaine in Washington’s Dupont Circle area from undercover cops a number of times.

After his guilty plea, he said he would take a one-year leave of absence, and seems certain to run for re-election. Before his arrest became public knowledge, he participated in a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser in his Florida district, which would suggest that his brush with the law hasn’t dampened his political ambition.

Perhaps he’ll be re-elected. If so, he might sponsor a bill calling for mandatory drug-testing of all elected officials. At $174,000 a year plus an impressive list of perks, they’re vastly better compensated at taxpayers’ expense than lowly food stamp recipients.

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