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Expulsion only punishment for LA Senate miscreant

Should Democrat state Sen. Troy Brown stay or should he go from the chamber, after another no contest pleading to a misdemeanor use of violence on a woman? Answering this requires thoughtful understanding of the purpose and role of a legislator.

Past policy-makers had written into law a value judgment about such matters: legislators convicted of a felony cannot continue to serve. The severity of felonious behavior, it would seem, presupposes that the official (this applies to all state government officeholders, elected or not, although not judicial or not civil service) in question does not have the sufficient trustworthiness to govern in the interest of the people. Suspension from office occurs until the conviction reaches finality, i.e. exhaustion of appeals through the judicial system.

None of this applies to Brown, but the Constitution provides for removal of a state official through impeachment for “gross misconduct” while in office. While some senators have raised this possibility, other seem hesitant, such as state Sen. Yvonne Dorsey Colomb, who wants to rewrite the law to allow for “suspension.”

But this approach, like the use of informal sanctions such as attenuation of his influence in committees already employed upon Brown’s first notice of charges over a year ago, accomplish little. Suspension appears designed to make Brown change his ways, yet what does that mean? That he not beat on women for some interval of time, and then he’s ready to rejoin polite society?

Brown seems entirely confused on this matter as well when he justifies his refusal to resign, remarking on the matter that “I can only echo my anger management therapist: take a few deep breaths and try to come up with a more constructive reaction to help women, like voting for equal pay.” The inanity of this statement alone merits his expulsion, not for acts that bring doubt on the integrity of the chamber but for thinking in such a spectacularly stupid manner.

Note that he implies any call for his resignation or expulsion elicits anger from him that he must work to quell; such intemperance does not become an elected official. Further, since he says his alternative action must take the contours of “constructive reaction to help women,” he claims that his anger at being told or made to leave he directs only at the females in the body, so why does he take it so personally with women when some males as well have called for him to go. Finally, it’s asinine to think one can substitute artificially increasing women’s pay (in response to a gender wage gap that does not exist) with violence against women; so the next time Brown feels like settling disputes with the fairer sex using his fists, instead he should offer them to make government increase their pay?

At least Brown’s response got to the nub of the problem with ideas to ostracize him that fall short of outright expulsion, when he noted that these would rob his constituents of their right of representation. Expulsion would not do that, for it rids the body of the cancer and begins a process of replacement.

Still, Colomb’s sentiment to seek some punishment but not the ultimate sanction in order to provide the possibility of redemption bears consideration. Brown’s transgressions had nothing to do with his job, and allowing him to continue in it may give him that chance for self-transformation.

Yet the fact is that, legally speaking, Brown committed serial abuse as a sitting legislator. Months after the first incident, when he had plenty of time to act to change his ways and reflect that in performing his public trust, he did something like it again. Fool us once, shame on you; fool us twice, shame on us. He blew his chance for consideration of redemption.

Above all, a legislator must have good moral character. Only in that way can people trust their representatives to govern in the best interests of the public. Even if, depending on one’s political viewpoint, policy-makers’ actions do not optimally serve the public good, representatives of good character at least have the benefit of the doubt that they try, even if when mistaken. And, given our fallen nature, human beings slip up at times, not necessarily bringing their characters into question.

However, the multiple incidents of Brown, compounded by his confused state of mind in how his transgressions affect the conduct of his elected office, indicate a lack of character that disqualifies him from service. The Senate should at the first available opportunity expel him.

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