Null and Boyd

The biggest reason we remember and admire the late Chicago columnist Mike Royko was his uncompromising belief that politicians who abused the public trust in exchange for cash were very nearly the lowest scum on the planet. "History teaches us that when any two aldermen begin whispering," Royko once acidly observed, "a grand jury ought to immediately issue subpoenas."

Such outrage is completely lacking in Orange County's mainstream print media. Last week, the Los Angeles Times and The Orange County Register—with an enthusiasm usually reserved for canned-food drives and flower shows—carried stories about the state fining ex-Seal Beach City Councilman Shawn Boyd $25,000.

Both papers ran their stories below the folds on the front pages of their local sections. Both ignored the role in the scandal of big-time Republican consultant Dave Ellis, who acted as a paid middleman between Boyd and a developer with business before the council.

Both also ignored the fact that Boyd had sold out from the start.

"Boyd, 33, once a rising political star, agreed to the civil penalty to resolve an eight-count conflict-of-interest complaint filed by the staff of the Fair Political Practices Commission," the Register reported breathlessly.

Rising political star? Boyd was never any such thing, except so far as he aligned himself with local power brokers to further his own ambitions. First elected in 1998, Boyd's crime was failing to disclose more than $100,000 he received from developer Richard Hall while voting several times last year on a plan in which the city would buy one of Hall's trailer parks—a plan that eventually netted Hall more than $4 million in profits. Boyd still denies there was a quid pro quo, but his actions speak clearly: official takes money from benefactor, then uses public office to help benefactor.

In an honest county, where political corruption was prosecuted with the same harsh and blinding zeal as small-time pot possession, the Times and Reg would demand prison time for such a betrayal of the public. But their response has been muted—and recalls their feckless handling of corruption in the case of another Republican city official, former Huntington Beach City Councilman Dave Garofalo. Garofalo's years of graft make Boyd look like a mere student of the art. Like Boyd, Garofalo will not see the inside of a prison cell—at least not for his past office-holder offenses.

Scandals like this make for a cynical public—all politicians are crooked, but nothing ever happens to them, so who cares about politics? From that, we get low voter turnout, abysmal registration and complete citizen apathy—factors that go a long way toward keeping crooked officials in power. Add a complacent media, which never demands harsh prosecution as a deterrent to such crimes, and politicians like Boyd quickly become the norm.

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