Normally, if a person is convicted of a crime and goes into a drug rehabilitation program, he or she often must cope with harsh consequences.
But not if you're a congressman, or for that matter, any elected official.
Last month, Florida Congressman Trey Radel was arrested in a Washington, D.C., sting operation and charged with possession of cocaine. He quickly pled guilty to a misdemeanor. He is now on a leave of absence as he gets counseling in a drug rehabilitation center.
He stated: "It is my hope, through this process; I will come out a better man. I will work hard to gain back the trust and support of my constituents, friends and most importantly, my family."
So the voters of southwest Florida are minus their congressman as he learns the 12 steps instead of addressing important issues like fixing Obamacare or the Iranian nuclear agreement.
Sure, his staff is still probably working diligently, but no one is at the Capitol debating or voting on their behalf.
It's not the first time that a congressman has gone off the reservation and been convicted of a crime while in office.
It was the same for Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island in 2006. He was addicted to prescription drugs and one night caused a major accident on Capitol Hill while driving impaired. Kennedy also took a leave of absence when he subsequently checked himself into a rehabilitation program.
Sure, there have been calls from Radel's resignation, including from Gov. Rick Scott and state GOP Chairman Lenny Curry, but Radel has refused to step down.
And there's been no real pressure from Radel's colleagues or the congressional leadership for him to step aside.
Too often, government at all levels tolerates "minor" criminal behavior of elected officials. Unless there's an imminent election, voters are often stuck with troubled politicians who refuse to quit while they get treatment.
It's just not bad politicians. It's sick or disabled ones too. Remember when Gabby Giffords was shot and she never really returned to work during her term?
In baseball, when a pitcher is in trouble, the manager brings in a relief pitcher. So in a situation like Radel's, I advocate a political bullpen.
If a politician is disabled or convicted of a crime, misdemeanor or felony, he or she gets taken out of the game and an elected substitute comes to finish the term.
Much like alternate jurors during a trial, one or two candidates can be elected as official substitutes every election cycle at all levels of government.
Instead of waiting for a disgraced or disabled politician to resign, a process can be in place to provide voters continued, uninterrupted representation.
Radel's refusal to step aside shows that it's really bad business for the country when politicians can't be removed for offenses that would get many of us fired.
Published in Context Florida on December 4, 2013