For Democrats, politicians in handcuffs point to image problems

Americans have low—exceedingly low—opinions about government. It’s supposed to stay out of their hair until needed, at which point it’s supposed to solve problems instantly. For the full range of American needs, government is supposed to provide only two things: competence and honor.

For Democrats who have long championed government as a force for social good, competence is perhaps the biggest potential victim of the rocky rollout of the Obamacare insurance program.

Millions of Americans will gain coverage under the plan—some enjoying insurance for the first time—but their voices have been drowned out by the months-long criticisms of websites that wouldn’t work, deadlines that had to be extended, exceptions that had to be made. (The most recent: Tuesday’s news that the supposedly firm March 31 sign-up deadline was actually a bit squishy, extended into April for people who have started the sign-up process by the end of this month.)

The other component—honor—has come sharply into question this week, and not in a good way for the image of Democrats. Handcuffs are almost always a bad sign.

On Wednesday, California state Sen. Leland Yee was arrested as part of a public corruption investigation, the FBI confirmed. No charges were detailed, and Yee was due in court later Wednesday. A Democrat from San Francisco, Yee has been seeking the job of secretary of state, the office that runs California’s elections.


Yee is the third California Democrat caught in seemingly unrelated criminal scandals this brief year.

Sen. Rod Wright of Inglewood was convicted in January of perjury and voter fraud stemming from charges that he had lied about his address on voter registration and candidacy papers. His attorney has said he will appeal, and a court date has been set for May 16. Weeks after that conviction, Sen. Ronald S. Calderon of Montebello pleaded not guilty after his indictment on charges of bribery and money laundering.

In both his and Yee’s cases, the Capitol was treated to the specter of FBI agents wading through offices in search of evidence.

At almost the same time that Yee was taken into custody, a Southern Democrat, Mayor Patrick Cannon of Charlotte, N.C., was arrested on a federal complaint that charged him with theft, bribery and extortion.

According to U.S. Atty. Anne M. Tompkins, the complaint alleges that Cannon repeatedly took bribes from undercover FBI agents—the last time accepting $20,000 in cash in a meeting in the mayor’s office. Cannon’s arrest followed by days the resignation of Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox after investigators involved in a secret inquiry searched through the Democrat’s home and office.

None of these things had happened the last time the Pew Research organization studied trust in government, which is probably a good thing. Even then, last fall, only 19% of Americans said that they trusted government most or all of the time. That was down 7 points from January.

The percentage who trusted government only sometimes, or never?

Eighty percent.

Twitter: @cathleendecker