Serve your time, then do the crime.

We all know the line. It’s usually said near the end of some TV show where the jury has just rendered its verdict and we know the defendant will be sent off to the slammer as punishment:

You did the crime, now serve the time.

It will probably be said yet again in the near future, not as dialog in a TV show but in a real courtroom somewhere in New Jersey. Today’s New York Times has a report Lawmakers Accused in Bribery Sting Poised to Quit that begins as follows:

Under pressure by Gov. Jon S. Corzine and other Democratic leaders in New Jersey, two assemblymen, the highest ranking of 11 current or former public officials charged with taking bribes in a federal sting investigation, signaled yesterday that they would resign from the Legislature tomorrow.

The assemblymen, Mims Hackett Jr., 65, of Essex County, and Alfred E. Steele, 53, of Passaic County, will step down four days after they and others were rounded up and accused of taking thousands of dollars in bribes for promises to steer government contracts to undercover operatives posing as insurance brokers.

The two men made no formal announcements, but several state Democratic officials, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak, confirmed that their resignations would take place tomorrow and that both would be replaced by other Democratic candidates in the November elections.

Corruption is not a new issue. It’s been around a long time and will continue to occur, and not only in New Jersey.

But there is another approach to dealing with it that I first heard expressed over forty years ago. I had just moved to New York to start my graduate studies and was visiting the family of my roommate, who lived in New Jersey.

The New Jersey political machines were running like a well-oiled armored car, delivering the money to those charged with the public’s trust. I mentioned a then-current scandal and one of the people there, a woman who was active in New Jersey politics, responded:

“Politicians should serve their time before running for office. At least then we would know what to expect and they could serve out their terms without the distraction of a trial.”

Though said tongue in cheek, using this approach could result in some refreshing news stories.

Mayor Tom Smith Announces Bid for State Assembly

Mayor Tom Smith held a brief news conference at the gates of the County Jail after finishing a voluntary one-year sentence. Accompanied by his wife and family, Tom said, “I’m well rested after my year in the slammer. I also learned a lot from some of my fellow politicos who were serving their time only after being caught, and so feel fully able to apply my skills at the statewide level.

So I’m proud to announce to you that I am running for office in the State Assembly.

Or

State Assemblyman Tom Smith Announces Bid for U.S. Senate

Former State Assemblyman Tom Smith today completed his voluntary five-year sentence in the New Jersey State Penitentiary.

Surrounded by his wife and family, Tom spoke from the front steps of his new five million dollar McMansion in surburban Trenton. Known affectionately to his friends and family as “Porkopolis,” [1] it was paid for with some of the millions of dollars Tom has made from pork barrel politics. “No subprime mortage for me,” said Tom. “I paid cash, lots of cash. There was too much of it just sitting around in the state treasury.”

Tom said, “I felt five years was enough time to prepare me for national office, so I could continue the proud tradition of our state.”

Tom went on, “I’m proud of my record in the State Assembly. I served the full term, and with the support of my colleagues was able to change our state’s motto to reflect our open political process. The old motto, ‘Liberty and Prosperity,’ didn’t reflect the current reality.”

Tom concluded by saying, “I hope the voters will support me in the next election. I’ll be running for the U.S. Senate.”

The new motto?

Serve your time, then do the crime.

Notes:

1. Cincinnati, Ohio, was once known as “porkopolis.” See History of the Flying Pig.

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