U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, Arizona
Congressman Trent Franks is a Tea Party Republican who’s obsessed with women’s private parts. Don’t believe it? It’s reflected in the umpteen anti-abortion bills that this one-trick political pony has sponsored during his lawmaking career.
Considered nutty by too many of his congressional colleagues, none of his proposals has gone anywhere.
Most infamous, a 2013 bill that Franks introduced would have outlawed all abortions 20 weeks after fertilization. In pushing for the law, Franks, who must have graduated from the Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock School of Medicine, tried to assuage his colleagues’ concerns about pregnancy from sexual assault by telling them that “the incidences of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low.”
Franks not only wields ineffective power in defense of women’s privates, but he also introduced a narrow piece of legislation simply to prevent one Arizona Indian tribe from building a casino west of Phoenix. It didn’t matter that an act of Congress had granted the Tohono O’odham Nation the right to build its resort-style gaming center because the feds inadvertently destroyed a huge swath of the tribe’s reservation long ago.
Family values were what mattered to Franks. Think about the horror of children seeing a casino near their neighborhood! The truth was that another tribe already had a casino in the area and didn’t want competition, which is why it sought Franks’ help and contributed to his campaign coffers.
The arch-conservative sure didn’t mind helping out anybody who helps him out—the kids be damned. (Monica Alonzo, Phoenix New Times)
U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, Georgia
Why legislate when you can embarrass? Since arriving in Washington in 2007, the right-as-you-can-go Republican has perfected a special kind of crazy—and President Barack Obama, who Broun claims upholds the “Soviet Constitution,” has been a frequent target.
Over the course of five terms, Broun has compared Obama to Adolf Hitler, expressed doubts over the commander-in-chief’s citizenship and pondered his impeachment. While discussing the potential pitfalls of the Affordable Care Act, he referred to the Civil War as the “War of Yankee Aggression.” Broun, who is a medical doctor, also proclaimed that global warming was “one of the greatest hoaxes perpetrated by the scientific community” and that evolution was a lie “from the pit of Hell”—comments that no doubt spurred more than 4,000 Athens voters to write in “Charles Darwin” as an alternative to Broun.
A clean energy bill in 2010 would bring death to not only jobs, he said, but also probably people. Keep in mind that citizens might be hard-pressed to remember Broun’s proposing any important legislation—except for maybe an amendment to the Military Honor and Decency Act, which banned the sale or rental of sexually explicit materials at military facilities.
But it’s not just verbal gaffes and a dearth of ideas. Twice Broun has landed on the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington’s list of most corrupt members, most recently for failing to disclose the source of loans to his campaign. (Broun disputed the allegation and sent a local newspaper a copy of a letter claiming the Office of Congressional Ethics found no wrongdoing.)
Come next year, however, we say goodbye to Broun. He lost a U.S. Senate bid in a crowded GOP primary May 20. (Thomas Wheatley, Creative Loafing)
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Illinois
Even toward the end of his 22-year mayoral reign, when he started selling off pieces of the city to hide its escalating financial woes, Richard M. Daley had broad support in Chicago. Sure, he was a tyrannical, thin-skinned jerk who doled out jobs and contracts to his friends, but he was the people’s tyrannical, thin-skinned jerk who doled out jobs and contracts to his friends. His successor, Rahm Emanuel, is simply a jerk.
At least that’s how he’s seen by lots of Chicagoans after his first three years in office. In a recent poll commissioned by the Chicago Sun-Times, Emanuel had the support of a meager 29 percent of city voters.
The mayor and his allies stress he’s made “tough choices” to get the city back on track, starting with restoring fiscal discipline. It’s certainly true he’s shuttered mental health clinics, raised water fees, privatized city jobs, laid off teachers and closed schools—four dozen of them at once. At the same time, he’s poured millions of additional dollars into nonunionized, privately run charter schools.
But it’s not only what he’s done; it’s also how he’s done it. Emanuel is widely seen as an outsider who uses Chicago as a backdrop for his broader political ambitions. Though he appears regularly in city neighborhoods for news conferences, his daily meeting schedule is filled with millionaire corporate leaders and investors, earning him the nickname “Mayor 1%” (and inspiring a book of that name by journalist Kari Lydersen). He jets regularly to Washington to maintain his national image—yet he also has a knack for avoiding the spotlight at home when it’s especially hot, such as the time he was on a ski vacation when the school-closings list was released.
Still, Emanuel remains a formidable politician. He already has more than $7 million in his campaign coffers and is prepared to raise millions more before he’s up for election next February. Rahm may not be loved, but he’s unlikely to go down unless some high-profile candidate runs against him, and so far, that special someone hasn’t jumped into the race. (Mick Dumke, Chicago Reader)
Kentucky state Sen. Damon Thayer
Damon Thayer is the Republican senate majority leader of the Kentucky General Assembly and a man who never met a camera or microphone he didn’t want to stick his face in front of. That even includes those belonging to “The Daily Show,” which he obliged to mock him in an interview last year over his bill to nullify any new federal gun control legislation within Kentucky, because the state didn’t vote for President Obama in 2012. Thayer said the federal legislation expanding criminal background checks for gun purchases to exclude felons was an effort of liberals who “hate law-abiding citizens who want to buy guns.” In other words, he sought to violate the Constitution so felons can still buy guns easily, because Obama, man!
Thayer’s main accomplishment in this year’s session of the general assembly was to once again block a popular bipartisan bill to automatically restore the voting rights of former nonviolent felons in Kentucky, which has the most restrictive system in the nation (one in five African-American males is ineligible to vote). After the bill passed the house nearly unanimously for the fifth straight year—and with new support by Sen. Rand Paul—many assumed the Senate would follow suit, until Thayer added a last-minute amendment that gutted the bill and excluded the majority of those eligible to have their rights restored. After facing criticism for this move in a committee hearing for the bill, Thayer told the audience they should show “some level of gratitude” toward him for even allowing it to receive a hearing. Of course, Thayer’s suggestion had nothing to do with the fact that most of those potential new voters were Democrats. (Joe Sonka, LEO Weekly)
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minnesota
Minnesota natives include Prince and Michele Bachmann, explanation enough why the state’s official bird is the loon.
Both His Royal Badness and the Tea Party’s homecoming queen have shown themselves to be geniuses at bizarre self-promotion. Alas, only Prince is a genius at his job. The congresswoman, on the other hand, is retiring in 2014 one step ahead of looming congressional censure, if not outright criminal charges.
Bachmann’s gift for gaffes became horridly apparent in 2012, when she lasted one presidential primary. Visiting Waterloo, Iowa, the candidate grandiosely lauded the town because it birthed that embodiment of red-blooded patriotism, John Wayne. Unfortunately, Waterloo’s most famous resident was actually mass murderer John Wayne Gacy.
The stench still hovers from her sixth-place Iowa finish. Her pathetic showing is remarkable considering the amount of cheating allegedly perpetrated by the Bachmann campaign. Purported election law violations have been or will be investigated by the House Ethics Committee, the Federal Election Commission, Iowa’s Senate Ethics Committee and the FBI. Additionally, one of her Iowa operatives stands accused of making illegal payoffs to political consultants, and Bachmann has been sued for stealing Hawkeye State email lists.
Prospects for Bachmann’s next gig range from hosting her own Fox News blabfest to sitting in a defendant’s chair. She has said God told her to run for national office. And thank the Lord, Congress shortly won’t have Michele Bachmann to kick around anymore. (Neal Karlen)
Missouri state Sen. Brian Nieves
Majority Caucus Whip Brian Nieves wasn’t about to be sidelined last year as national lawmakers took up gun control in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre. Sure, Nieves is just a lowly state senator from Missouri, but he’d teach that “Barack Hussein Obama” not to trample on his sacred right to bear arms.
Nieves’ “Second Amendment Protection Bill” would have made it illegal to enforce federal gun laws in Missouri. Never mind that the headline-grabbing bill would never have passed constitutional muster even if the governor hadn’t vetoed it, which he did.
Undeterred, Nieves filed a similar bill this year that was so confusing even the NRA couldn’t endorse it. Then again, not much makes sense with Nieves—be it his screaming fits on the Senate floor, his grammatically challenged Facebook rants or his angry exchanges with constituents (one of whom he allegedly referred to as a “piece of fuck”).
Oh, and let’s not forget that pending civil lawsuit in which a fellow Republican accuses Nieves (who by his own admission is armed “97 percent of the time”) of pulling out a gun and physically and verbally assaulting him. Now, after a dozen wild years in office, perhaps Nieves will finally holster it—a bit.
In March he announced his plan to leave the senate to pursue the job of recorder of deeds in his home district. Why would a firebrand legislator want to become a paper-pushing bureaucrat? Because, Nieves says, the people deserve a “constitutional freedom fighter” in county government. (Chad Garrison, Riverfront Times)
Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone, Massachusetts
A darling of neoliberals across the Greater Boston region (as well as of the Boston Globe and both local NPR affiliates), rhetorically adorable Joe Curtatone enjoys a glowing public profile in which he masquerades as a handsome young progressive who morphed a postindustrial wasteland into the Hub’s answer to Williamsburg. In reality, the seemingly delightful Democrat and famously cool neighbor of Boston operates a municipality rife with old-school shenanigans; turn over a rock and discover an elite and privileged cadre of attorneys and real estate slugs who get virtually any permissions they wish for. While the local media has mostly focused on the artists, indie businesses and post-hipster residents carrying Somerville into this century, they’ve largely ignored the campaign financing and favor deals beneath it all. How does Curtatone keep a peachy public image despite such behavior? For starters, in 2014 his city will spend more than $300,000 on media relations and communications despite skyrocketing property taxes that have forced natives to flee. At last count, Somerville had fewer than 80,000 residents. (Chris Faraone, Dig Boston)
Montana state Rep. Jerry O’Neil
In fall 2012, this Republican from Columbia Falls drew national media attention when he requested that the state pay his legislative wage in gold and silver. But his letter to Montana Legislative Services was largely laughed off.
The response was in keeping with public reaction to much of O’Neil’s 12-year legislative record. During the 2013 legislative session alone, he introduced bills to eliminate the minimum wage for high school dropouts, limit the federal government’s ability to regulate firearm restrictions and allow criminals to opt out of jail time by submitting themselves to corporal punishment. Of the last proposal, O’Neil famously told The Associated Press in January 2013: “Ten years in prison or you could take 20 lashes, perhaps two lashes a year?”
Professionally, O’Neil calls himself an “independent paralegal.” He has been at odds with the Montana State Bar and the state Supreme Court’s Commission on Unauthorized Practice ever since 2001, when a district judge wrote a letter stating O’Neil was engaged in the “unauthorized practice of law.”
All of this adds up to a long and predominantly unsuccessful career of comical yet troubling policy attempts. But O’Neil is determined to keep trying. He’s campaigning for his seventh term in the Montana Legislature. (Alex Sakariassen, Missoula Independent)
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, New York
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino seized the moment following this past May’s rampage in Santa Barbara, Calif., that left seven people dead. He aimed to bolster his conservative cred while appealing to the moderate New York voters he’ll need to unseat Gov. Andrew Cuomo in November’s election. Astorino blamed the tragedy on inadequate resources for mental health treatment and argued that tighter restrictions on gun ownership would not have saved lives. “Government failed,” the GOP gubernatorial candidate said gravely. “Here you had a person who is mentally unstable. Clearly this young boy had problems, and yet the system failed him.”
Though Astorino made a valid point, the glaring problem with his grandstanding, as the New York Daily News later revealed, is that he had just spent four years slashing the mental health budget in Westchester County. Mental health funding fell from just under $18 million to $8.4 million on Astorino’s watch. Staffing at the relevant county agencies dropped from 152 to 74.
Hypocrisy doesn’t necessarily equate to stupidity, but Astorino has made a campaign pledge that covers both bases on this issue. He has vowed to repeal New York’s SAFE Act, which was approved after the Sandy Hook massacre. It includes a provision that requires mental health professionals to evaluate people who have made threats to harm themselves or others and, if necessary, refer them to authorities who can confiscate weapons before a killing spree. (Keegan Hamilton)
Donald Trump, New York
Though the Donald isn’t technically a politician (he has never held office), he routinely threatens to run for president and perpetually inserts himself into the national political debate. From stoking conspiracy theories by offering a $5 million bounty for President Obama’s birth certificate to calling the 2012 election “a sham and a travesty,” Trump is the ultimate political troll.
The reality TV star and real estate magnate recently toyed with the idea of running as the GOP candidate for governor of New York before removing himself from the race. And he has donated millions to candidates from both parties over the years. While his political ambitions may be as absurd as his comb-over, Trump is a master at exploiting the media to generate semiserious discussion of fringy ideas that would normally be dismissed out of hand.
At various times, Trump has suggested repealing campaign contribution limits, imposing a 25 percent tariff on all Chinese goods and building a “triple-layered fence” and flying Predator drones along the Mexican border.
Trump’s sideshow routine has become tiresome for some reporters (BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins compared the experience of covering the Donald’s short-lived 2014 gubernatorial campaign to “donning a network-branded parka during a snowstorm and shouting into the camera about a predictable phenomenon”), but many major news outlets still find the act irresistible for the ratings and page views. And that begs the question: Who’s dumber, Donald Trump or the journalists who keep feeding the troll? (Keegan Hamilton)
Oregon Republican Party Chairman Art Robinson
Give the Oregon GOP credit for thinking outside the box. They could have chosen just any old Tea Partying climate-change denier as a leader. Instead, they found Art Robinson.
A chemist and newsletter publisher who bases his operations in Cave Junction, Robinson has been spreading the gospel of nuclear power and Christian homeschooling since the 1980s. He ran two losing challenges to U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio—campaigns that brought fewer votes than headlines about his views on public schools (they’re child abuse) and nuclear waste (a little exposure is good for us). He has advocated sprinkling radioactive waste over the ocean from airplanes to strengthen our immune systems.
Robinson might just be your run-of-the-mill country kook—Grizzly Adams meets Dr. Strangelove—except his views have tapped a lucrative vein in the paranoid style of American politics. (He raised about $1.2 million in each of his congressional races.) That fundraising power was too much for the cash-strapped state GOP to resist—it elected him chairman last fall, deciding extremism in pursuit of money is no vice.
Robinson immediately proved he isn’t shy about asking for contributions. Weeks after his appointment, he mailed every household in Josephine County and requested a urine sample. He explained the fluids would be used in tests that would “improve our health, our happiness, and prosperity.” (Aaron Mesh, Willamette Week)
Clackamas County Chairman John Ludlow, Oregon
Portland, Ore., may be known in the national consciousness as a frivolous paradise of banjos, naked bike rides and fair-trade coffee. But its suburban commuter communities have nourished a resentful Republican movement that’s dead serious about stopping what they call “Portland creep.”
The face of this anti-Portland movement is John Ludlow, a brawny real estate broker with a shaved head that suggests Lex Luthor as a high-school sports coach. His bid for Clackamas County chair was funded by a timber magnate and propelled by a populist revolt against light rail. Once elected, he set about trying to break contracts the county had signed years earlier to extend rail lines south from Portland.
But it’s his demeanor in Clackamas—a largely rural county of 380,000 that’s becoming more Stepford all the time—that’s been the most embarrassing. In a planning meeting last summer, he yelled, “Do you want a piece of me?” at a fellow commissioner.
You can’t say voters weren’t warned. When he ran for county chair in 2012, lawn signs went up that declared, “John Ludlow is a bully.” Ludlow had previously been removed from the planning commissioner in Wilsonville, where he served as mayor, for what one city councilor called “rude, combative, argumentative and disrespectful” behavior toward the public. Ludlow sued, and in 2003 a judge restored him to his position, ruling his objectionable ways were actually protected speech.
A personnel complaint filed by the county’s lobbyist in April claims that, when news broke about the Boston Marathon bombing, Ludlow declared it was likely the work of “a damn A-rab.” Speculating about suspects in a local shooting, he allegedly said, “I bet they were Mexicans.” And when a former county board member, Ann Lininger, won appointment to an open state legislative seat this year, Ludlow said she succeeded because “she does a good job of sticking out her perky titties in people’s faces.”
Ludlow apologized for his statements while denying making the comments about the state legislator’s breasts. An investigator cleared Ludlow of violating any county rules—but added that, when it came to the “perky titties” comment, Ludlow’s denial was probably a lie. (Aaron Mesh, Willamette Week)
Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe likes to walk softly and carry a big flamethrower. Whether it’s gay rights, immigration reform (his words: “illegal alien invasion”) or requiring voter ID cards, you can count on the eight-term Republican from western Pennsylvania to unleash a double dose of inflammatory rhetoric.
As chairman of the powerful House State Government Committee, Metcalfe authored a controversial voter ID law and then drew fire when he went on a Pittsburgh radio station to complain about people who were too “lazy” to apply for the ID card. Then, when newbie state Rep. Brian Sims, the first openly gay lawmaker in Harrisburg, tried to speak on the house floor last June in support of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, Metcalfe relied on his direct connection to the Divine to deny Sims the right to speak. Metcalfe said Sims’ intended remarks were “in open rebellion against God’s law.”
The far-right conservative took the limelight in Harrisburg in 2001 when he introduced a resolution asking the federal government to fund and deploy a national defense missile system. No one could figure out why state lawmakers should be debating the issue, but the measure passed anyway. His latest crusade, launched in May, was to call on Gov. Tom Corbett to appeal a federal court decision that struck down the ban on same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania. He is consistent, at least, and he sees himself as being ahead of the curve. As Metcalfe, 51, told the liberal news website Talking Points Memo: “I was a Tea Partier before it was cool.” (Lil Swanson, Philadelphia City Paper)
U.S. Representative Steve Stockman, Texas
There will soon come a day when Steve Stockman, the U.S. representative for the 36th District of Texas, will depart his Washington, D.C., office for the last time and fly home to southeast Texas, never to return to the city he so loathes. He probably won’t fire a celebratory bullet through the Capitol dome. He probably will give it some consideration.
Because Stockman, if nothing else, is the congressman of the gun. It began in 1995, during the first year of his initial, short-lived stint in Congress, when he wrote in Guns and Ammo that the Clinton administration had orchestrated the siege on David Koresh’s Waco compound “to prove the need for a ban on so-called ‘assault weapons.’” Oddly, Stockman’s political career quickly fizzled: He lost his next election. But he resurfaced in 2012 a totally unchanged man.
Less than a month after the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings, he introduced the Safe Schools Act, which would have repealed federal laws keeping guns away from schools. He then vowed to pursue the impeachment of Barack Obama after the president issued minor executive orders seeking more gun control, which Stockman called “an existential threat to this nation.”
Occasionally, and memorably, he has exerted himself, with no NRA puppet strings visible, to fight climate change, sex education and, in February 2013, the Violence Against Women Act, which provides protection to gay and transgender people. “This is helping the liberals, this is horrible. Unbelievable,” Stockman said. “What really bothers—it’s called a women’s act, but then they have men dressed up as women, they count that. Change-gender, or whatever. How is that—how is that a woman?”
It’s this rhetorical flair that journalists will miss come next January, when Stockman, after recent failed bids for the Senate and his House seat, departs Washington again, likely for good this time. The gun lobby might miss him too, but only until it gets it strings attached to the new guy. (Joe Tone, Dallas Observer)
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas
Stupid is as stupid does, but the problem with Republican Ted Cruz is that the freshman senator from Texas isn’t stupid. Since taking Kay Bailey Hutchison’s seat in 2012, he has spent his time railing against pretty much every other politician from either side of the aisle. This approach has earned him the loathing of members of his own party, but it has gotten him tons of attention and made him a household name.
These are not the moves of a stupid man. It’s a clever strategy. Cruz has made himself a Tea Party poster child and become a national political star with clear presidential intentions thanks to his remarkable talent for spouting off against most of the legislation anyone proposes (of the almost 500 votes he has cast since being elected to the Senate, more than half have been nays.)
The height of the Cruz show came when he staged a nonfilibuster filibuster to take another stand against the Affordable Care Act, even though the stunt was basically political grandstanding. Cruz stood there reading Green Eggs and Ham while the rest of Congress tried to make a deal to get the government running again.
It would be comforting to write Cruz and his antics off as the doings of a not-so-bright politician, but if he were as one-dimensional and guileless as he pretends to be, he’d be on his way out, a one-term senator. As it is, he looks to be setting himself up for a 2016 run at the White House. (Dianna Wray, Houston Press)
Wisconsin state Rep. Joel Kleefisch
Perhaps Joel Kleefisch, an Oconomowoc Republican, began feeling a bit eclipsed by his wife Rebecca, a social conservative who emerged from political obscurity in 2010 to become Gov. Scott Walker’s running mate and Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor. First elected to the state legislature in 2004, Kleefisch has really come into his own in the past two years—and not in a good way.
An avid hunter, Kleefisch proposed a hunting season for sandhill cranes, a federally protected migratory bird, in early 2012. Anticipating the post-kill feast, he noted that many people describe the majestic bird as “the rib eye of the sky.”
Kleefisch was also caught plagiarizing in an email to members of the state Senate and assembly regarding his proposal the Flexibility for Working Families Bill. The email included unattributed quotes from three congressmen sponsoring the federal measure on which Kleefisch had based his own proposal.
Then there was his proposal to allow anyone with a permit to take a concealed weapon onto school grounds. “Eighteen other states say conceal-carry can carry on school grounds,” he explained. “Wisconsin is not one of them. It’s time to talk about whether that’s a safer alternative.”
The idea didn’t gain many fans, even from Kleefisch’s own party, and he pulled it before a committee vote.
Kleefisch made his biggest splash, however, with his proposal to cap the amount of child support that wealthy parents would be required to pay. People cried foul when it was reported that Michael Eisenga, a wealthy businessman and donor to both Rebecca and Joel Kleefisch, had helped draft the bill after he tried unsuccessfully in court to reduce his support payments. It also came out that the millionaire had put his children on the state’s health-care program for low-income children.
That one did not end well for Kleefisch either. He eventually withdrew the bill, but blamed its demise on “misinformation.” (Judith Davidoff, Isthmus)
Wisconsin state Rep. Brett Hulsey
You have to hand it to the two-term Democratic state representative from Madison. Brett Hulsey knows how to grab headlines. But in his quest for publicity, he has also made himself irrelevant. Not a great tradeoff.
The former county board supervisor and environmental consultant almost immediately pissed off his Democratic colleagues in the state assembly by constantly grandstanding during the chaotic time after Gov. Scott Walker proposed ending collective bargaining rights for most public workers. Once he even jumped up to the podium at a news conference to give an impromptu Democratic response to a speech Walker had just made. His colleagues were not amused.
Then things got weird.
News surfaced in July 2012 that Hulsey had pleaded no contest to a disorderly conduct charge for flipping off a 9-year-old boy while both were swimming at a local beach. A little less than a year later, Hulsey’s legislative aide asked to be reassigned, saying she felt threatened by her boss’ plan to use a box cutter to show her how to defend herself.
Hulsey soon after told a reporter that he was going through a particularly difficult time and was receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from childhood abuse.
Knowing his chances to retain his seat were slim to none, Hulsey didn’t seek re-election. But he didn’t go away either. He threw his hat into the ring for Wisconsin governor, challenging frontrunner Mary Burke in the Democratic primary.
In the leadup to the state Republican Party convention, Hulsey thought it would be a good idea to show up dressed as a Confederate soldier and to distribute KKK-style hoods to delegates there. He said he wanted to call attention to the GOP’s alleged racist policies.
News of his plans drew worldwide attention, none of it good, and he called off the stunt. But it pretty much burned any remaining relationships with colleagues who might have still admired his smart analysis and progressive stance on issues. (Judith Davidoff, Isthmus)