Pinch me, cause I might be dreaming. Either that, or there really is a Santa Claus and Christmas has come early. Surrounded by Poinsettias and other glamours associated with holiday cheer, I can't help sense a wee bit of hope that all is not lost.
When the reporter came into the café with news of Randy Duke Cunningham pleading guilty to tax evasion and conspiracy to commit bribery, tax evasion, wire fraud, and mail fraud, and then resigning in tears on the courthouse steps, I admit to a comforting sense of satisfaction. A dragon had been slayed, thereby making windmills that more possible.
How cool is that?
As part of the plea bargain agreed to on November 23rd, Cunningham confessed to committing crimes against America. For the record he detailed how he "demanded, sought, and received at least $2.4 million in illicit payments and benefits from coconspirators in various forms, including cash, checks, meals, travel, lodgings, furnishings, antiques, rugs, yacht club fees, boat repairs and improvements, moving expenses, cars and boats." It should be assumed the moving expenses refer to moving between the spoils of his corruption.
The Duke-Stir's eight terms well now be remembered for his accumulated spoils. Two yachts, an Arlington condominium, a Del Mar house, and a Rancho Sante Fe estate are just the real estate transacted.
Cunningham also confessed that in exchange for the illicit payments, he made recommendations and took other official action in order to influence the United States Congress's appropriations of funds to benefit coconspirators. His plea included admitting he used his public office, and took other official actions, to pressure and influence United States Department of Defense personnel to award and execute government contracts in a manner that would benefit his coconspirators.
Oh yeah, there is also the issue of tax evasion.
It's not everyday young Californians witness corrupt politicians being brought to their knees in public disgrace. Watching a self-proclaimed war hero go down in flames of his own making has a sense of ironic justice. Watching a war mongering fighter pilot cry for the cameras was just sad. From hero to has been in less than a year, I wonder if Tom Cruise is going to option the rights to this part of the Duke's story for a cinematic treatment.
So now, Governator Schwarzenegger has 14 days to call a special election to fill Mr. Cunningham's seat. The election must occur within 120 days. Under the law, Arnold can expand the previously scheduled 2006 primary election in the 50th district to include a special election to fill the remaining 6 months of Cunningham's final term.
As the upcoming elections unfold, it will be difficult to separate the circus from the serious. The political "Free-for-all" resulting from tandem elections for the same congressional seat, and the expected republican feeding frenzy, should be classic Californian chaos. I'm hopeful, voters will remember how much was squandered by Cunningham's criminal leadership, and reverse course.
With all the campaign mess and mendacity soon to be flung at voters in Carlsbad, Encinitas, Solana Beach, Rancho Sante Fe, Del Mar, and the rest of the 50th district, it is my Hanukkah/Solstice/Christmas/Kwanzaa wish that Cunningham's former constituents consider what is possible when ethical and morally minded leadership is no longer the exception to the rule.
Facing 10 years in prison, 12 years probation, and financial penalties, Cunningham will be sentenced in February, and voters can expect a special election primaries in April and June. Moreover, as dramatic as this all is, make no mistake, the real prize is the November election.
Voters should seek candidates, be they Republican, Democrat, Green, or other, unwilling to trade in past valor, fear mongering, political favor, and crony capitalism. The realities facing southern California are grim, and too much is at stake. Vision is needed to remedy what ails the communities disgraced by Mr. Cunningham's lack of integrity.
Instead of a congressman focused the killing sands of Iraq while feathering his nest with Persian rugs, District 50 needs a congressional representative focused of the eroding sands of coastal California while restoring environmental sustainability to the San Dieguito region.
Honest leadership is a gift that keeps on giving. Thanks for nothing Randy.