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ANALYSIS: Missouri lawmakers are arrested less often than their constituents

Sunday, September 7, 2008 | 5:18 p.m. CDT; updated 11:01 p.m. CDT, Sunday, September 7, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — With recent arrests for drunken driving, fleeing a car accident, bank fraud and using false identification at a casino, Missouri's lawmakers seem to have been on a crime rampage.

Since January 2007, eight of the state's 197 lawmakers have been arrested and half of those have pleaded guilty. But an analysis of crime data by The Associated Press shows lawmakers are getting arrested less often than the people they represent.

The most recent lawmaker to be accused of violating the law is a St. Louis-area Republican who is scheduled to be arraigned Monday on felony charges of deviate sexual assault.

Rep. Scott Muschany was indicted by a grand jury in Cole County, the Capitol's home, and now faces up to seven years in prison and a fine of $20,000. Some fellow House Republicans, Gov. Matt Blunt and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder have suggested Muschany should resign, even though he is not seeking re-election in November.

Rep. Bob Dixon, one of the House leaders who has called for Muschany to step down, said that the charges are serious and a grand jury indictment has a lot more weight behind it than a mere allegation.

"The process of justice has to work and that's all well and good, but elected officials are guardians for the public trust and should be beyond reproach," said Dixon, R-Springfield.

The effects of lawmakers' legal extracurricular activities have gone beyond the courtroom, trickling into the political attacks lobbed between the parties. The state Republican Party has a tally on its Web site of Democrats charged with crimes. And the Democratic-leaning blog "Fired Up! Missouri" devoted numerous posts to the legal troubles of one former GOP lawmaker.

Still, the AP analysis shows that the members of Missouri's citizen legislature are arrested about 60 percent less frequently than the people they are elected to represent.

Using 2006 federal crime data, the most recent available, Missouri's overall arrest rate for nontraffic offenses is 6.47 per 100 residents. And from September 2007 to September 2008, the arrest rate for Missouri lawmakers calculates to 2.54 per 100 people.

The arrest rates for politicians compared to all state residents cover slightly different periods of time, but since 1995, Missouri's annual arrest rate hasn't varied much - from just under 6 arrests per 100 residents to a little more than 9 arrests per 100 residents.

The federal crime statistics include arrests for drunken driving - for which two lawmakers have been nabbed. But the federal data don't count other traffic-related arrests, such as one that ensnared a House member from eastern Missouri earlier this year.

Rep. Brad Robinson, who announced in May that he is not seeking re-election, faces felony charges for leaving the scene of an accident. Robinson, D-Bonne Terre, is accused of hitting a pedestrian early New Year's Day and then switching places with his wife in the pickup truck. A high school's surveillance camera captured the Robinsons switching places in the pickup truck before Tara Robinson told police that she had been driving.

So if politicians are less likely than their constituents to end up in handcuffs, do less experienced House members or their Senate counterparts lay greater claim for criminal proclivities?

It depends how you measure it. Ditto for Democrats and Republicans.

Six Democrats and two Republicans have been arrested. Of those arrests, two Republicans and one Democrat pleaded guilty to or currently face felony charges while the rest ended up with misdemeanors. And the only lawmaker in prison is former Republican Rep. Nathan Cooper of Cape Girardeau.

Cooper is serving 15-month sentence in a federal prison after pleading guilty to one felony count of visa fraud and one felony count of making a false statement to the Department of Labor.

When it comes to comparing arrests between the legislature's two chambers, not surprisingly the more populous 163-member House has had more members arrested - by a 6 to 2 margin. But a larger percentage of the 34-member Senate - 6 percent versus 4 percent - has gotten in trouble. Then again, only House members have been charged with felonies.

David Kimball, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said arrests for crimes that would be mundane or ignored if committed by an ordinary person get more attention when a politician is involved.

"Human beings make horrible decisions from time to time, and politicians are human beings, so they make mistakes, too," Kimball said.

 


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