Friday, October 14, 2011

charlie white files specious complaint; bloggers pretend it has merit

secretary of state charlie white, who is awaiting trial for voter fraud among other things, filed a complaint yesterday alleging that former senator evan bayh is also guilty of voter fraud. the complaint (PDF link) is poorly written, poorly reasoned, poorly proofread (if proofread at all), and doesn't even attempt to be impartial—it's more of a rant than a legal brief, full of petty personal attacks on bayh, his family, democrats in general, and the local media. predictably, the local media was not impressed, while conservative bloggers ate it up.

by filing this complaint, white has either effectively admitted guilt, or he has deliberately filed a specious complaint. if he legitimately believes that the charges against him are bunk, then by asking the prosecutor to file the same charges against bayh, he is asking the state to intentionally waste its time on a case where it knows no crime occurred. the only way white's complaint makes sense if you assume that he's guilty. either way, i doubt the judge at his pending criminal trial will be impressed.

bayh's response to the complaint was to call the charges "baseless" and state that white's "situation is factually and legally different than mine." conservative bloggers whined that bayh didn't elaborate on how their cases differ, but this should be obvious to anyone who's willing to think about it. as a town council member, white was expected to truly live within his district and commute to work. this is the whole point of a town council, and white is accused of lying to cover up the fact that he had moved (or was planning to move) out of his district and was thus no longer eligible to serve.

in contrast, as a US senator, bayh's job duties were in washington DC, not in indiana. thus not only did bayh have a legitimate reason to acquire a second home in washington, but his job required him to have two homes, and indeed required him to spend more time at this second home than at his "primary" residence in indiana. on the surface, it may seem odd that we require congress to simultaneously "live" in their "home" states while working full time in DC, but that catch-22 is built into the system—bayh was playing by the same rules all members of congress must play by.

after bayh's term ended at the end of last year, the question then becomes where is his official residence now? the job of congressional representative is unique in that they are technically federally employees but their job is to represent their home state's interests. in a sense their residency in DC is similar to members of the military, who are considered residents of their home states even when stationed elsewhere—except that the military is generally provided room and board, whereas members of congress are expected to maintain two residences. so what happens when they resign or get voted out, and are stuck with two homes?

in his complaint, white notes that dan coats relinquished indiana residency after leaving office in '98, but this ignores the fact that coats had no intention of ever moving back here until he was drafted to run again in 2010, at which point he promptly flew in to establish a home here. (white's complaint makes no mention of whether coats actually "lives" at his new indiana address.) the bayhs claim that their official residence is still in indiana, just as it was while bayh was in office, and that they are only staying in DC temporarily until their kids graduate high school, after which they intend to move back to indiana full-time. this is a plausible enough story (your opinion of the bayhs' trustworthiness notwithstanding), and their case is boosted by the fact that they still carry indiana driver's licenses and have a homestead exemption on their admittedly-crappy northside condo. also, even if they wanted to move back right away, it's not as easy to sell a mansion as it used to be.

white would have you believe that the moment bayh's term expired, he was required to pull the kids out of school and move back to indiana full-time or else lose his indiana residency. this seems extreme considering that the reason bayh moved his kids to DC in the first place was to keep them close while he represented indiana in congress. even if a prosector were nuts enough to press voter fraud charges, no judge or jury would convict.

in short, "factually and legally different" is an understatement—bayh's and white's situations have virtually nothing in common, and you'd have to be willfully obtuse in order to think otherwise. (and that's not even mentioning that white is accused of voting fraudulently in a general election whereas bayh's vote was in a primary, and that bayh voted absentee whereas white voted in person—thus the only recent documented case of in-person voter fraud was committed by a GOP politician.)

one more thing that's odd about white's complaint: his repeated claims that the indiana democratic party "by all accounts, is still led in all but name by Evan
Bayh." to be sure, bayh still holds power here, but he burned a lot of bridges in 2010 when he made a big show about resigning from the senate and then took lobbying work the minute he was out of office. bayh may have once been our golden boy, but he's not very popular with the rank and file these days. furthermore, how would he even find the time to run the state party in addition to all of his lobbying work?

finally, why did carl brizzi, white's attorney, allowed white to embarrass himself like this? throwing these sorts of tantrums is just how white rolls, but brizzi had to know that such a stunt wasn't going to impress anyone who wasn't already convinced, least of all the local media. so why? can brizzi not control his client, or perhaps is brizzi also bitter about how the media treated him during his own scandals? and what value is brizzi adding if he can't even prevent white from humiliating himself?

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