When Is the Best Time To Vote for a Crook?

When he's been convicted.

I've seen some people implicitly or explicitly condemning those Alaskans who voted for Sen. Stevens, and apparently gave him a narrow victory. How could they vote for someone who was pretty obviously a crook? (Set aside those who might think the conviction was unfounded; presumably many voted for him even though they had little reason to doubt the accuracy of the jury's finding.)

Seems to me that it's pretty easy: It seems nearly certain that Stevens will be expelled, which means he will be replaced, likely -- in heavily Republican Alaska -- by a Republican in the next special election. (The question whether there'll be a temporary appointed replacement, also a Republican, is irrelevant here.) And this prospect was clear at the time of the election as well.

So the choice isn't between getting a Republican crook and getting a Democratic noncrook. It's between getting a Republican crook for a very short time followed by a Republican noncrook and getting a Democratic noncrook. Anyone who generally thinks the Republican Party is better than the Democratic Party (e.g., who wanted Republican control in the Senate, or a Republican minority capable of mounting filibusters, or just as many Republican votes as possible) could thus quite reasonably vote for Sen. Stevens, even if he thought Stevens was a crook who doesn't deserve to be in the Senate. The same is true of anyone who supports government that's as split as possible, given his anticipation of a Democratic victory in many places.

This is not exactly the point I made in my "vote the party, not the candidate" post; recall that there was a "truly awful candidate" exception to that rule, which might well apply to Sen. Stevens if Sen. Stevens was likely to retain the office. Rather, my point is that voting for a crook who'll likely be thrown out right away, and replaced by a noncrook of your own party, is much better than voting for a noncrook of the opposite party (or not voting at all, which may also help the opposite party get elected).

They're all crooks.
11.6.2008 10:36pm
11.6.2008 10:41pm
Justin (mail):
McConnell won't agree to expulsion until all his appeals are final. Enjoy Senator Stevens for the next year and a half or so. Hope he doesn't win a new trial on Brady grounds.....
11.6.2008 10:45pm
Light Hearted (mail):
And if, as is usually the case, the choice is between voting for a established crook and one desiring to be placed in the position of easily becoming a crook...?
11.6.2008 10:53pm
See also the 1998 election for Sheriff of Los Angeles County, when I voted for Sherman Block precisely because he had died five days before the election. It seems analogous.
11.6.2008 11:03pm
Light Hearted (mail):
Dead people voting...BAD

Voting for dead people...GREAT!
11.6.2008 11:07pm
Johnny Canuck (mail):
Did Alaskans vote for Stevens because they appreciate how much money he causes to be sent from Washington to Alaska, crook or no crook?

Will reelecting Stevens hurt the image of Alaska in the eyes of Congress/public opinion? and if so, will it have any adverse effect on the quantum of federal funds going to Alaska? Or has the high profile occasioned by Palin's candidacy already highlighted this issue and will cause such an effect?
11.6.2008 11:07pm
Kelly (mail):
McConnell has already said he favors expulsion if Stevens is re-elected. It's the best of both worlds for the Republicans - they get to keep a seat and bring in a fresh member without Stevens' baggage. I wouldn't be surprised if the Democrats put off expelling Stevens until the last possible moment. Aside from picking up another seat, the best way to weaken the Republican caucus in the Senate is to make it own its convicted felon for a while.
11.6.2008 11:09pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
There are a lot of sleazy politicians who do favors for campaign contributors. That seems more like bribery than what Stevens was actually convicted of. A lot of cynical voters don't care.

Did Obama lose any votes because of Tony Rezko? Yes, I know Obama was not convicted of anything. But it is possible that Obama got a crooked benefit from Rezko, and nobody cared.
11.6.2008 11:16pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
Ted Stevens is pretty widely loved in Alaska, and Mark Begich is less so. Stevens still controls a big chunk of Republican machine -- as rare as those are -- and is tight with both the Murkowskis too.

"Republican crook" vs "Democrat non-crook" is probably a bit simplistic.
11.6.2008 11:22pm
winstontwo (mail):
It takes a very special sort of intellect to come up with a post justifying a vote for a felon. Nice jorb!
11.6.2008 11:22pm
What about the choice between someone who would be a crook if his crookedness hadn't been crassly recraft as crooklessness (or mere miscrookery) at a crucial crux between the crook -- sorry, crime and an elecrookteral vicrooktery?

I'm crooking serious, man. This is so crooked up.
11.6.2008 11:24pm
Light Hearted (mail):
Does this sound familiar?

From Wikipedia entry on scandals in Warren Harding administration:

"The most infamous scandal of the time was the Teapot Dome affair, which shook the nation for years after Harding's death. The scandal involved Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall, who was convicted of accepting bribes and illegal no-interest personal loans in exchange for the leasing of public oil fields to business associates. (Absent the bribes and personal loans, the leases themselves were quite legal.) In 1931, Fall became the first member of a Presidential Cabinet to be sent to prison."
11.7.2008 12:23am
Matthew K:

It takes a very special sort of intellect to come up with a post justifying a vote for a felon. Nice jorb!

EV is making a good point. I doubt this is why most Alaskans who voted for Stevens did so, but it is a perfectly defensible rationale.

Assuming that Stevens sentence includes jail time and he is unsuccessful with appeals, how long before he'd be sent to prison?
11.7.2008 12:27am
Alaska Jack (mail):
For what it's worth, I abstained.*

I couldn't bring myself to vote for Stevens. He was literally the Alaskan of the Century, but is now a walking advertisement for term limits. When anyone is in power that long, they can't help it -- they just start to believe that the position is theirs, they're entitled to it, and hey, after all the good they've done for Alaska, it's only natural that some Alaskans would want to reward them for decades of hard work and a job well done. It's human nature.

On the other hand, I couldn't vote for Begich either. He's a fairly good guy and has been a decent mayor. But to me the worst possible outcome would have been to have a progressive president with a filibuster proof congress, and I just couldn't in good conscience contribute to another New Deal. Shades of Wickard v. Filburn kept dancing in my head.

- Alaska Jack

* Actually that's not exactly true. I wrote in a friend of mine, a local actor who once accepted a role as a "do nothing" Lieutenant Governor in a political add. He portrayed the kind of Lt Gov the candidate (who sponsored the ad) would NOT be -- sleeping on the job, watching those little balls clack back and forth, etc. In other words, exactly the kind of Lt Gov I WANTED.
11.7.2008 12:41am
Jestak (mail):
Just want to note--apparently there are some 60,000 absentee ballots still to be counted in Alaska. Stevens currently has a margin of just over 3000 votes, so the race isn't decided as of yet.
11.7.2008 1:34am
Kevin P. (mail):
An analogous situation arose with Mel Carnahan of Missouri.
11.7.2008 2:04am
EIDE_Interface (mail):
Lesser of two evils, vote in the felon or vote in the Hussein Deal.
11.7.2008 2:09am
devin chalmers (mail):
Alaska Jack--I expect there was a lot of abstaining this year. My friend and I were trying to figure out why turnout was so low this time around (we usually have a pretty solid mid-to-high-60s), and I wonder if it wasn't a lot of people faced with the prospect of deciding between a multiple felon and a Democrat (a common dilemma in Alaskan politics--rim shot!) who just gave up.

Berkowitz is the race I'm kind of sad about. He had some solid ideas about Alaska branching out into other types of energy supply, and the importance of bringing us towards sustainable, local food. As opposed to Don Young, who has no ideas.

[It's a choice] between getting a Republican crook for a very short time followed by a Republican noncrook...

I'm not sure we've managed to find any Republican non-crooks yet. Not even Bruce Weyrauch! That guy was like Ward Cleaver but somehow more wholesome. Alaska does cruel things to a politician, I guess.
11.7.2008 2:16am
just me (mail):
You know if I lived in Alaska, and with the dynamics of this election-a likely Obama victory with a possible filibuster proof majority in the senate-I might have been tempted to vote for the crook with at least the prospect of keeping the seat in GOP hands, rather than handing the democrats a definite 6 year term when it could add to the Democratic majority. 6 years ago, when the senate wasn't quite as close and the GOP controlled the white house I may have voted against the crook.

However, I am sure there were some, maybe many Alaskans that voted for Stevens because they still like him and/or thought he has been treated unfairly and will win his appeals. I don't believe this, but some might.

I hope that Stevens will do the right thing and just resign his seat, but I suspect Stevens won't be that helpful.
11.7.2008 6:32am
Sarah (mail) (www):
None of this explains all the people who voted for the man in the primary, of course.
11.7.2008 7:13am
mls (www):
Stevens's expulsion is not "virtually certain." I would say it is highly likely that Stevens will be given an opportunity to pursue post-trial remedies before he is expelled. Even if he goes to prison, I think there is a reasonable possibility that the Senate would wait until his appeals are exhausted before expelling him. If his appeals are exhausted and a lengthy prison sentence lies ahead, at that point it is "virtually certain" he would be expelled.
11.7.2008 7:46am
Lucius Cornelius:
Angus, you are a poor winner. Taunting Republicans by insulting Governor Palin shows that you are immature.

President-Elect Obama called for us to work together as Americans to try and solve this country's problems but you seem more focused on insulting Republicans. You are much worse than the people who booed when McCain mentioned Obama's name during his concession speech.

Why don't you try to act like an adult and find a way to work with Republicans.
11.7.2008 7:53am
Sarcastro (www):
In before someone mentions Pali-


Never mind.
11.7.2008 8:24am

When Is the Best Time To Vote for a Crook?

Edwin Edwards vs. David Duke --- you decide.
11.7.2008 8:32am
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
It might be a rational decision, if not one particularly good for the republic. Alaska is dependent upon federal decisionmaking to an exceptional degree. At Interior, we had one attorney devoted to nothing but Alaska fish and wildlife issues. There was another, in another division, also devoted to nothing but Alaska. Gigantic wildlife refuges and parks, Alaskan native issues, oil and gas, land use issues involving complex realty exchanges and title battles under the Alaskan native whatever act, etc., etc..

In that setting, it might be rational to try to keep a guy with a ton of federal seniority and power in office, and figure the fact that he's a crook is just a cost of doing federal business. As I recall, more than one legislative district in the east has made that choice. Alcee Hastings sits in the House despite having been impeached as a judge for bribery. (Once appeared before him, BTW, and he seemed like a nice and fair fellow on the bench.)
11.7.2008 9:17am
DonP (mail):
"When Is the Best Time To Vote for a Crook? "

Here in Chicago (where we have a lot of experience on this issue) we usually feel that anytime following the indictment but at least a week prior to sentencing is a reasonable period.

For the folks that vote the Holy Sepulchre and Chapel Hill precints, slightly different rules apply.
11.7.2008 9:31am
Without a doubt the best time is after conviction. Criminal proceedings no longer hanging over his/her head, he/she can now get to work reaching across the aisle in the true spirit of bipartisanship to secure the "Change" we have been promised.
11.7.2008 10:25am
Ki Ho'alu Kid (mail):
I happen to be in Alaska on business, and last night in the hotel bar I overheard folks griping about the unfairness of the Justice Department’s trying “Teddy” in D.C. instead of Alaska, where he could have been judged by a jury of his “peers” rather than a jury of Democrats who were obviously influenced by the opportunity to affect the balance of power in the Senate. I dunno, from what I heard about the evidence (mostly from what I read in the news reports the last time I was here) he sounded guilty to me, but I guess it’s a matter of perspective (as the other posters have pointed out). On the underlying question, I could see voters making the rational calculus Prof. Volokh describes. In fact, for many years I have followed the practice of voting to reduce the margin of victory (the outcome in my home state is never in doubt). When I can’t bring myself to vote for either Presidential candidate (GHWB/Clinton, GWB/Gore, GWB/Kerry), I write in someone I wish had survived the primaries, a process I would call “active abstention.” I know this practice doesn’t genuinely affect anything, but it makes me feel better for some reason. Anyway, had I been an Alaskan voter this year, I would have voted “for” Sen. Stevens precisely because I think it is imperative that the Dems be required to temper pursuit of their pent up wish list by the possibility that their more extreme ideas could be blocked by a filibuster. Whether the Repubs will use this power wisely is an entirely different question, but I try to be optimistic that Pres. Obama is genuinely interested in bipartisanship, and that the Senate Republicans will respond accordingly.
11.7.2008 10:37am
Here in Chicago (where we have a lot of experience on this issue) we usually feel that anytime following the indictment but at least a week prior to sentencing is a reasonable period.

Alaska should look on the bright side. Once Blagojevich is out of office, he's likely to be the second straight Illinois governor sent to federal prison (hell, the DNCC was throwing him under the bus in ads against Republicans). One felonious Senator is an abberation; two staight governors who become convicted criminals starts to look like a trend.
11.7.2008 10:40am
Elliot123 (mail):
I doubt the public cares that much if the crook is a simple crook or a convicted crook. Many think they are all crooks. They also might prefer a crook who gets his house remodeled to a crook who take contributions from Fannie Mae and supports its crooked behavior year after year. Which hurt the public more?

In labeling a politician a crook, the public really doesn't care what the courts say or don't say.
11.7.2008 10:47am
Alaska Jack (mail):
Devin and Sarah -

Young defeating Berkowitz is only a mild surprise. Young is at this point a half-batty crackpot, but he is a conservative with some accomplishment to his record. The flabbergasting thing was Young defeating Lt Gov Sean Parnell in the primary. That makes no sense whatsoever, and yet obviously tens of thousands of people did.

- Alaska Jack
11.7.2008 11:03am
mlstx (mail):
There may be short-term rationality in voting for the crook here, but shouldn't partisan voters consider long-term consequences? Reinforcing the idea that the Republican Party is crooked is not in the long-term interest of Republican voters, is it? Shouldn't that go into the "rationality" calculus?
11.7.2008 11:17am
rarango (mail):
I suppose we could ask the constituents of Alcee Hastings and William Jefferson that question. They seem to have a handle on it. Sarcasm aside, I think it really comes down to the old chestnut that everyone knows the politicians are all crooks, its just that he or she is OUR crook.
11.7.2008 11:20am
I wish I could place a bet on w/er Stevens would be expelled, because I would bet heavily against it. Not because he doesn't deserve expulsion, but because I think Bush will pardon him. Bush has little to lose (his legacy is already tarnished, and he's never been accused of corruption) and lots to gain (goodwill w/in the party establishment after having contributed to a heavy election loss) by letting Stevens off the hook.

Stevens isn't scheduled to be sentenced until February, so the timing works. And once he's been pardoned, I don't think he'll be punished.
11.7.2008 11:28am
Uh_Clem (mail):
Agree with those who point out that expulsion is far from certain. I'll believe it when I see it. We'd still need at least 10 Republican senators to vote for expulsion in the new Senate and I wouldn't count those votes until they're cast.

Remember that Larry Craig is still in office.
11.7.2008 11:34am
Joe Kowalski (mail):
If Tubes does end up winning, which still isn't certain, it's likely that if he isn't expelled, he will end up with his committee memberships stripped along with his seniority, and will be at the bottom of the heap of a minority party.
11.7.2008 11:50am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Maybe.... However, I also wonder if it minimizes the impact of being a crook.

Maybe if everyone voted against crooks, the ideals of loyalty to one's party would help prevent some of the crookedness....
11.7.2008 11:58am
Buckland (mail):

Seems to me that it's pretty easy: It seems nearly certain that Stevens will be expelled, which means he will be replaced, likely -- in heavily Republican Alaska -- by a Republican in the next special election

I'm guessing that the issue won't come before the senate before his appeals are exhausted, and considering he's 80+ I'm guessing his appeals will outlive him.

The problem is the Democrats don't have a reason to expell him. In Stevens you have a guy that's injured politically, not physically strong, and a great reminder of Republican sleeze. They don't want a new guy to be appointed and solidify his hold on that seat.

So my money's on the issue never being brought before the Senate before his casket rolls down the steps of the building.
11.7.2008 12:24pm
Professor Volokh,
Haven't read the comments yet so someone may have made this point already. You want to "set aside those who might think the conviction is unfounded." I live in Alaska and though I'm a liberal I talk to a lot of people, and they've been interviewing random people after the verdict. I would bet that a majority of those who voted for Stevens believe the conviction was unfounded. Most of the rest believe that everyone does it and they're just picking on him. I'd be willing to bet that a VAST majority of those voting for Stevens did so, not hoping he would be replaced, but hoping (and thinking), that he will be exonerated through appeals or a Bush pardon.
11.7.2008 12:33pm
Is there some Senate rule or GOP caucus rule that says (i) they have to wait for an appeal and (ii) even if he were acquitted Senators can't make up their own minds?

Alcee Hastings was impeached and removed as a federal judge even though he was acquitted of bribery and perjury charges.

Regardless of prosecutorial misconduct against Stevens, does anyone who followed the trial think Stevens' conduct meets even the admittedly-low floor of expectations of a U.S. Senator?

They should expel him immediately.
11.7.2008 12:50pm
Jestak (mail):
As I indicated in comments to another thread, I'd find Eugene's interpretation of the motives of Stevens voters a lot more convincing if they hadn't, at the same time, also voted to return Don Young--essentially Ted Stevens minus the formality of a trial and conviction--to the House at the same time.
11.7.2008 12:53pm
With regard to Edwin Edwards v. David Duke, there was a bumber sticker reading, "Vote for the Crook. It's Important." Amen.
11.7.2008 2:20pm
I would think the issue of having the crook represent you, even for a short period of time, would outweigh the problem of having the non-crook from the other party there for the same, short period of time. The logic escapes me.
11.7.2008 2:43pm
Elliot123 (mail):
The logic is easy. Suppose the crook would provide the vote needed to stop the appointment of a SC judge. The non-crook would ensure his appointment. The crook would uphold the filibuster.

For many, a short time with a crook is better than a long time with a SC justice of an undesirable political ideology.
11.7.2008 3:07pm
DonP (mail):
"...two staight governors who become convicted criminals starts to look like a trend...."

Try three (so far) out of the last six going to the pokey!

Otto Kerner, Dan Walker and George Ryan.

New Illinois Official Governor's motto: "The governor will rise and face the jury"
11.7.2008 3:38pm
Several years ago when Oliver North ran (unsuccessfully, thank God) for Senate from Virginia, for the first and only time in my life I put a political bumper sticker on my car: "I Don't Vote For Felons."

Makes me sad that others don't seem to agree with that sentiment...
11.7.2008 9:45pm
As for Larry Craig, I thought there wasn't any thing wrong with that.

Bush won't pardon Stevens, first of all it would make no difference to the Senate when they consider expelling him. They can expel someone for jaywalking if they want. And second Bush hasn't given a pardon even to Scooter Libby, though that may happen. H. W. Bush threw pardons around like manhole covers too. The most controversial pardon he gave was to Cap Weinberger because he thought Larawance Walsh was unfairly hounding him for an Iran-Contra policy that Cap fought against.
11.8.2008 12:01am
markm (mail):
Josh: It wouldn't be a short time with the Democrat - it would be six years. With Stevens, it should be only a short time.

If the Democrats don't move to expel him from the Senate, and the low-down SOB doesn't resign, could Alaska go ahead with a by-election and/or gubernatorial appointment anyway, forcing the Senate leadership to choose between two "Senators"?

Of course, that's assuming that Stevens can even come to DC. Would it be legitimate for the judge to consider his failure to resign as a sentence-enhancing lack of repentance? Does the constitutional clause protecting members of Congress from offical interference with their travel to Congress apply even to prison officials after the member has been convicted and duly sentenced to prison? And if it takes years to argue that out in court, would the courts issue a temporary injunction to allow him to travel, or leave him in prison while the issue worked it's way up to the Supreme Court?
11.9.2008 6:29pm