The U.S. House of Representatives lost one of its most colorful characters last week when it voted 420-1 to expel Congressman Jim Traficant from Ohio.

The flamboyant congressman, known for his wild hair, narrow ties, combative speeches and trouble with the law, got the boot in the wake of his conviction on 10 counts of bribery, tax evasion and racketeering. He now faces up to 63 years in prison on those charges.

Traficant has long been scorned by more dignified members of the House who were constantly irritated and embarrassed by his antics, which included trademark one-minute speeches ending in the battle cry, "Beam me up." The only vote against his expulsion came from Rep. Gary Condit, another congressional black sheep whose claim to fame was having an extramarital affair with former intern Chandra Levy, who later turned up dead in a Washington, D.C., park.

As expected, Traficant didn't go quietly. Though he did not perform a "Michael Jackson moonwalk" as he threatened the previous week, he railed on other members who had affairs with congressional pages "that would be rape in any state in the union" as well as other misdeeds that he portrayed as far worse than his own.

While Traficant has been despised and ridiculed in Congress he has become something of a folk hero back in the blue collar, steel mill towns that he represents. His defining moment was in 1983 when he was sheriff of Mahoning County and, acting as his own attorney, beat federal bribery charges. He insists that his victory in that case so angered the feds that they began a vendetta to bring him down. Those accusations resonate with many of his constituents.

Even expulsion and a long jail term have failed to deter the feisty ex-congressman who says that he intends to run for election again next fall and serve, if necessary, from his jail cell. "I can operate and function as effectively as any member of Congress from behind bars," he boasted. The funny thing is many political observers believe Traficant may win the election and indeed have an opportunity to deliver on that promise.

Now there is an idea with some potential ... congressmen doing their work from prison. At least if they were sequestered away in the slammer perhaps they would be less apt to climb in bed with lobbyists, special interest groups, and attractive interns. Free of these distractions maybe they could focus on the country's business. R.S.

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