James Traficant in 2002. He died Saturday at the age of 73. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
James A. Traficant Jr., an Ohio Democrat whose career as a colorfully combative congressional gadfly ended in 2002 when he became the fifth House member ever expelled, died Saturday at a hospital in his native Youngstown. He was 73 and had been critically injured Sept. 23, when the tractor he was driving at his family farm flipped over.
That horse farm was a central location along the trail of low-impact corruption that caught up with Traficant 17 years after he started playing the part of the most bombastic populist at the Capitol. He was convicted of conspiring to commit bribery, seeking and taking illegal gratuities, racketeering, obstructing justice and lying on his tax returns. Among Traficant’s crimes were having members of his House staff do work on the farm (and the boat he kept there) while on congressional time, and doing official-business favors for a pair of construction contractors in return for their sprucing up his 76-acre spread.
Almost all members convicted of felonies have decided to resign rather than endure the additional humiliation of expulsion. But Traficant refused to depart sooner than he had to, wanting the last word in front of the TV cameras — and the maximum number of paydays — before his colleagues voted 420-1 to kick him out of the House.
His final appearance in the well was characteristic of his rhetorical style, that is, long on flamboyance but lacking any sustained effort to change minds. He returned to several of his favorite tropes: Vast federal conspiracies, unproven cover-ups, the unfairly long arm of the IRS and the government disinterest’s in the fading lot of the Rust Belt working man.