Pubdate: Sun, 24 Nov 2013
Source: Miami Herald (FL)
Copyright: 2013 Miami Herald Media Co.
Author: Marc Caputo


Trey Radel owes Big Government. Big time.

Like other tea partiers, the freshman political newcomer from Fort 
Myers went to Washington to keep government out of our lives and to 
fight government spending.

At the same time, Radel and some buddies were snorting cocaine. In 
his private tea parties, the question of one-lump-or-two of sugar had 
a whole different meaning.

On Oct. 29, the two parties collided.

Radel was busted after an undercover agent in Washington sold him 
what's known as an "8 Ball," an eighth of an ounce of cocaine, or 3.5 
grams for $260.

So time to rail against Big Government telling a private citizen what 
he can do, right? Time to question the governmental costs of the drug 
war, eh? Maybe even wonder about equal treatment under the law? 
Growing police power and the Fourth Amendment?


Radel, 37, just apologized and went to rehab.

All the talk of less government, big spending, personal freedom and 
the Constitution were blown away amid the Republican's expressions of 
contrition in a case that highlights our political contradictions, 
especially when it comes to drugs.

"A lot of Republicans say they're against big government, but they're 
not," said Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard University economist and fellow 
of the libertarian Cato Institute.

"Most politicians are for big government," Miron said. "The question 
is: Which big government are they for?"

Miron estimates taxpayers shell out about $44 billion yearly for the 
drug war, and that legalizing and taxing drugs would yield $33 
billion more in annual revenue.

But decriminalizing drugs undercuts the police and prison-industrial 
complex - the ultimate expressions of Big Government power over its citizens.

Now Radel owes that government a solid after the federal cops 
appeared to cut him some significant slack.

When he was busted in the undercover federal sting, Radel wasn't 
taken to the station. It appears he wasn't even jailed or handcuffed.

Prior to his bust, when it came to drugs, the cocaine congressman 
appeared to support the type of Big Government that opposes medical 
marijuana, wants to drug-test food-stamp recipients and shouldn't 
leave marijuana legalization up to the states (so much for state's rights).

Also, Democrats point out, Radel was an outspoken critic of Obamacare 
mandates, which among other things, requires insurers to provide 
coverage for drug-abuse treatment.

Now Radel is in drug treatment. The guy who didn't want tax money 
benefitting some people with drug problems could be benefitting from 
tax money to help him deal with his drug problem. Republican 
opponents are already floating that one-liner to reporters.

None of this means drugs shouldn't be controlled or that Radel's 
record and drug use are completely contradictory - there are 
distinguishable policy reasons, for instance, not to subsidize 
food-stamp recipients spending their limited money on drugs.

Also, Radel did support a go-nowhere bill to reduce mandatory-minimum 
sentences. And the libertarian-leaning conservative had expressed 
concerns about the drug war's effectiveness - albeit only in the 
context of gun control.

"Banning guns is as naive as banning drugs," he told the Fort Myers 
News Press earlier this year.

There's an element of hypocrisy, though, that's tough to ignore - as 
are the drug-war's disparities.

The U.S. Attorneys Office, which prosecutes local crimes in D.C., 
insists Radel was treated like anyone else. When asked why Radel 
wasn't cuffed or jailed on the spot, a spokesman suggested such 
treatment would have jeopardized a broader investigation.

But the news broke anyway a few weeks later and the office won't say 
who else was arrested in its investigation. So what would have been 

More than 1,100 people were arrested in D.C. for simple cocaine 
possession in 2011, according to the most-recent statistics 
available, said Deborah Golden, staff attorney with the Washington 
Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

About 90 percent of the people arrested in D.C. for illegal drugs, 
according to a recent report by the committee, are black in a city 
that's about 50 percent African-American - and it's a good bet almost 
all of them were taken to jail on the spot, Golden said.

"It's rare for someone to just receive a ticket, basically, for 
buying cocaine," Golden said.

She remembered that, after the committee's report was presented in a 
town hall last year, a black resident took issue with a white woman 
complaining about local police being overzealous with traffic and 
parking tickets.

"Lady, no black man knows what a ticket looks like. We don't get 
tickets. We get arrested," the man said, according to Golden.

Contrast Radel's treatment with that of another pol snagged in an 
undercover D.C. sting, former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. He was caught 
on video smoking crack cocaine in 1990. FBI agents stormed the room, 
pinned the mayor to a wall, stretched his arms out, read him his 
Miranda rights, cuffed him, and took him to the station.

Oh, they also made sure CNN had the video.

Barry is black. Radel is white.

Since every criminal case is different, there's not a clear marker 
showing one person got a break or one didn't because of race, 
ethnicity or income. But from a distance, the disparities and 
contradictions are clear.

It's not that drug-war critics like Golden and Miron believe Radel 
should have been jailed on the spot; they think others should at 
least be afforded the same courtesy as the congressman.

However, Golden agreed with the U.S. Attorney's Office explanation 
that Radel was treated like nearly all other nonviolent drug 
offenders in D.C. when it came to his sentence of probation.

The city has decriminalized drugs - unlike Florida, where if Radel 
had been arrested for buying cocaine, he would have faced a felony 
and, therefore, the potential loss of his right to vote. Had he been 
a state worker, he would face losing his job under fellow Republican 
Gov. Rick Scott who wants drug testing of employees.

The location of Radel's arrest wasn't his only lucky break.

There were no press releases noting his bust. So his Oct. 29 arrest 
didn't leak until weeks later: the evening before he appeared in 
court Wednesday. No undercover video or recording was taken or 
released. Nor were there any jail-house mug pictures that his 
opponents would just love to have for their attack mailers if he runs 
for reelection next year.

That's a pretty Big Favor from Big Government.

Indeed, membership in the U.S. House of Representatives has its 
benefits. You're treated like royalty by special interests and 
government workers who need you to, among other things, fund their jobs.

And, elections aside, being a member of Congress isn't hard work.

A goodly portion of a congressman's job consists of parroting talking 
points of their side, whether they believe them or not. They get a 
$174,000 annual salary, preferential treatment for flights home, and 
just 126 days of scheduled work this year.

Again: only 126 work days, which could be reduced to 113 days in 
2014. Now Radel says he's taking a leave of absence (donating his 
salary to charity in the meantime) to get well.

Hmmm. A fat paycheck for all talk, little action, a sense of power 
and the ability to set your own hours... is there a job more 
conducive to cocaine use than Congress?

Radel, at least publicly, doesn't think so.

A sharp, witty and media savvy political newcomer, Radel is a former 
Southwest Florida TV anchor and radio-show host who knows how to play 
by the script: Apologize, admit you have a problem, talk about your 
family and your personal tragedies, check into rehab.

Hours after he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation, Radel 
said he would stay in office.

That's probably because wielding power as a congressman might be as 
addictive as cocaine.

It can even keep you out of jail - especially if you just pay lip 
service to fighting Big Government when it catches you with nose candy.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom