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Stockman sentence sends message on corruption

November 8, 2018

If you’re tempted to feel sorry for former congressman Steve Stockman, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison, don’t. He is entirely responsible for his own predicament, and he had every opportunity to create a better future for himself.

Stockman, best known for defeating veteran congressman Jack Brooks in 1994, was sentenced for masterminding a wide-ranging fraud scheme that included spying on a Republican challenger and diverting $1.25 million in campaign donations for personal use. He was convicted in April on the astounding total of 23 felony counts.

Part of this case was not surprising. Stockman always ran as a rebel and an outsider, even from his own party. It’s one thing to scoff at political rules, but it’s another to have that attitude toward campaign finance laws. Voters should keep that distinction in mind and be leery of candidates from either party who seem to have no moral compass.

Southeast Texans might have been surprised by Stockman the first time he won because he was basically swept into office in a wave election. That vote was more against Democrats than for Republicans. His true character became apparent, however. Voters should have known better than to return him to Congress a second time in a different district in East Texas in 2012. That is when the fraud that sent him to prison occurred.

Ironically, given the way that incumbents are often re-elected, he might still hold that post had he not mounted a quixotic quest against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in the GOP primary in 2014. Fortunately, Stockman lost that race, and Brian Babin was elected to the 36th District congressional seat. Stockman, like so many criminals, got caught because he got greedy.

True to form, he tried to portray his prosecution as a “deep state” conspiracy to silence a courageous voice. Fortunately, a federal jury was not duped. It was a far fall from grace to see him in a federal courtroom this week in an orange jump suit, wearing jail clogs, with his ankles chained together.

Political corruption is probably less common than most voters suspect, but it does occur. Steve Stockman would be Exhibit A. When it does happen, it should be vigorously prosecuted, and anyone convicted should receive serious time behind bars. That is the best incentive for other politicians who may be tempted to cross a line to stay on the correct side of it.

Elected officials are entrusted by the voters to serve the public interest, not their own. They often have many chances to abuse that trust to enrich themselves or cronies. Sentences like the one meted out to Stockman will help reduce that problem.

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