Colorado Rep. Dan Pabon (D. North Denver) was considered a rising political star. Among his well-publicized public policy triumphs was to help pass a law forcing convicted drunk drivers to appear before a DUI victim-impact panel.
Then Pabon himself was pulled over in his vehicle on St. Patrick’s Day evening for driving under the influence of alcohol. Instead of Pabon accepting his fate as an honest lawyer and elected official should, the video of the stop shows the legislator trying to persuade the officer who stopped him not to make the arrest. He tells the officer that he is a state representative who is driving a car without his legislative plates. He asks the officer to call a supervisor or the city attorney so they can direct the officer to give him mulligan. When Officer Brian Bienemann explains that he cannot let Pabon off and indeed would be subject to discipline if he did, Pabon pleads, “Is there any way we can avoid this possibility? This is going to change my life.”
After Pabon pleaded guilty and gave an emotional apology (above) to the public and the legislature, saying “I have taken full responsibility. I have done everything above board,” the editors of The Denver Post begged to disagree. They called for his resignation in an edotorial. They were correct, but they weren’t clear enough about why.
The Post was upset that Pabon didn’t specifically apologize for trying to use abuse his position and power to avoid legal accountability for a serious violation of the law, even after the video of the stop was leaked to the news media. Of course he didn’t. Like most current elected officials, he didn’t see anything wrong with that. Don’t they deserve special consideration and privileges?
There can be no sufficient apology for what Pabon did. Elected officials and other government personnel must not view themselves as deserving special immunity from the laws and regulations they impose on society. Pabon’s attitude and attempt to play the “Do you know who I am?” card is poison to democracy, and exactly the kind of “fix” Donald Trump’s speech last night correctly condemned.
The public sees a Secretary of State expose sensitive information to discovery by the enemies of the United States, and not only is she not punished, she is selected to run for President. The public sees HUD Secretary Julian Castro blatantly violate the Hatch Act, combining an official appearance with campaigning for Clinton, and then learns that the President will not discipline Castro in any way. Casrto is also considered a “rising political star.” A nation in which individuals who break the law are still considered “rising stars” and prospects for national leadership has its values in a tangle.
Pabon can stand for the entire corrupt, entitled, hypocritical political class as it has evolved, with the Clintons being its ethical nadir, and the late Ted Kennedy, who engaged in vehicular homicide and was permitted to become a leader of the Democratic Party anyway, as its patron saint. Why does Pabon think “This is going to change my life” should be an acceptable argument for ignoring lawbreaking in his case, when regular, unknown, unelected, unprivileged, unconnected, non-celebrity citizens have their lives changed by encounters with the police every hour of the day? Why is he special? Why does he think he should be special?
Oh, right. Teddy.
The rules should be and can be simple. Those who make laws and enforce laws cannot break laws, and if they do, they cannot remain in their positions. The DUI offense alone should mandate Pabon’s resignation, but the attempt to argue that his status as a state rep should excuse him from receiving the same treatment as other citizens marks Pabon as a carrier of a destructive unethical contagion that infects far too many public servants and leaders at all levels of government. The only way to stop this plague is by purging the infected, and refusing to make exceptions no matter how prominent and talented the victims may be. (See: Rationalzation # 11. The King’s Pass, The Star Syndrome, or “What Will We Do Without Him?”*)
Pabon should resign, and if he doesn’t have the integrity and courage to do so, his party should remove him. If his party allows him to remains in office, the public should make it and Pabon feel the full measure of their contempt.
The derisive refrain “Laws are for the little people” rings hollow and silly if the public won’t use its votes to make sure that the double standard isn’t tolerated. Getting rid of Dan Pabon is a small step, but a crucial one.
*11. The King’s Pass, The Star Syndrome, or “What Will We Do Without Him?”
One will often hear unethical behavior excused because the person involved is so important, so accomplished, and has done such great things for so many people that we should look the other way, just this once. This is a terribly dangerous mindset, because celebrities and powerful public figures come to depend on it. Their achievements, in their own minds and those of their supporters and fans, have earned them a more lenient ethical standard. This pass for bad behavior is as insidious as it is pervasive, and should be recognized and rejected whenever it raises its slimy head. In fact, the more respectable and accomplished an individual is, the more damage he or she can do through unethical conduct, because such individuals engender great trust. Thus the corrupting influence on the individual of The King’s Pass leads to the corruption of others…
Pointer: Tim LeVier