John Ensign, the disgraced former senator from Nevada, attributed his downfall (recently chronicled in graphic detail by the Senate Ethics Committee), to the trappings of office. “When one takes a position of leadership, there is a very real danger of getting caught up in the hype surrounding that status,” he said in his final speech on the Senate floor. “Oftentimes, the more power and prestige a person achieves, the more arrogant a person can become. As easy as it was for me to view this in other people, unfortunately, I was blind to how arrogant and self-centered I had become.”
Perhaps. Or perhaps Ensign (R) fell victim to what I am beginning to think might be the curse of D.C. Now I know such talk is superstitious, if not downright silly. But consider the fact that Ensign -- chief engineer of the defeat of D.C. voting rights two years ago -- is not the only lawmaker out to get the District who ended up, instead, getting his comeuppance.
Before the revelation of Ensign’s affair with a campaign aide and his elaborate (and possibly illegal) efforts to conceal it, there was Rep. Mark Souder, who left office last year when his affair with an aide was made public. The Indiana Republican had spent years aggressively attacking the District’s gun laws. Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.) viewed the District as his own playground, arranging a $3 million federal appropriation to spruce up the Washington marina where he moored his yacht but insisting, as a quid pro quo, that individuals of his choosing get future occupancy leases. Cunningham quit the House in 2005 and went to jail after he was caught taking more than $2 million in bribes.
Then there’s former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) who played such a big role in riders restricting the city’s ability to spend its tax dollars. He resigned from the House in 2006 amid the growing scandal around lobbyist Jack Abramoff and was recently sentenced to three years in prison for illegally plotting to funnel corporate contributions to Texas legislative candidates. Another foe of D.C. was Ted Stevens, the late senator from Alaska who fought D.C. voting rights and budget autonomy. He was defeated for re-election while embroiled in a federal corruption trial.
I’ll concede it is possible the District had nothing to do with the downfall of these men; rather it was their own deep character flaws that lead to do their undoing. In any event, it’s possible that virulent opposition to the District and its residents is something to look out for in a lawmaker.