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Does Randy Kuhl's Personal Abusiveness Matter?

In New York State's 29th Congressional District, a growing scandal threatens to destroy the efforts of Republican Randy Kuhl to take over the seat in the House of Representatives long held by Amo Houghton. Unknown people using unknown methods have obtained Randy Kuhl's divorce papers, and found a shocking history of wildly out of control behavior.

The original photocopies of the Kuhl divorce papers may be found at a web site called Blue Lemur.

The basic lowdown:

Randy Kuhl and his ex-wife has issued a joint statement criticizing whoever released their divorce papers. However, neither Kuhl nor his ex-wife have denied the truth of what was found in those papers. Essentially, Kuhl has admitted that it's all true.

Now the people of New York State's 29th Congressional District have to make a difficult decision. They must decide whether knowing that Republican candidate Randy Kuhl has an acknowledged history of drunk driving, coming on to women in front of his own wife, threatening his wife with murder at gunpoint, and in general treating his wife in an inhuman manner, should affect their votes.

In particular, Democrats mush search their souls on this matter. After all, just a few years ago, they defended Bill Clinton's right to remain as President of the United States by saying that someone's personal actions should not be used as criteria for kicking them out of public office.

Defensive Republicans in Western New York State will be asking: What's the difference between Bill Clinton and Randy Kuhl? If Bill Clinton should have been left alone, why not Randy Kuhl?

The Difference:

There are similarities, of course. The offenses we're examining are not only personal, they're also private. While the offenses may indicate a lack of integrity on the part of the politicians involved, they do not involve any abuse of the public's trust, or any misuse of public power.

What's not the same is the timing of the offenses, and their potential consequences. When Bill Clinton's offenses were revealed, he was already elected and in office. The only way that his scandal could have removed him from office would be through official government means: Impeachment as the President of the United States.

Randy Kuhl's offenses have been revealed during his attempt to gain public office. Thus, the issue is whether he should be prevented from gaining a seat in the United States Congress, not whether he ought to be kicked out of Congress for his misbehavior. In the case of Randy Kuhl, the power for punishment rests in the hands of voters, not the government.

Voters do not have to justify their decisions about how to vote. A voter can refuse to vote for a candidate because that candidate has bad hair, or comes from an unfamiliar part of town, or even because of that candidate's ethnicity. Voters' choices do not have to be backed up by legal or moral arguments. Voters are within their rights to choose one candidate over another by tossing a coin.

Thus, any issue that could affect voters' choice of candidate is up for grabs in a campaign. Yes, even the really disgusting issues like ethnicity. The barrier to outrageous slander and bigotry in a campaign is that voters don't like bigotry and slander. So, candidates rarely make bigoted insults of their opponents, and rarely tell out-and-out lies. These issues are usually more nuanced. However, even if they were blatantly offensive, there would be nothing illegal about that.

Voters are free to make stupid mistakes, including the decision to ignore big warning signs about a candidate's character. Thus, voters were free in 2000 to ignore the fact that George W. Bush is a convicted drunk driver. Voters were free in 1992 to ignore the fact that Bill Clinton had an apparently long history of cheating on his wife. In 2004, voters are free to ignore the fact that Randy Kuhl is a drunk driving, unfaithful and abusive man who has held his own wife at gunpoint. It's up to the voters to decide whether issues like these matter enough to deny a candidate the right to hold office.

It's worth remembering, if you are a voter in the 29th District of New York State, that the right of a voter to make a choice about a candidate based on that candidate's personal character goes away once that candidate gains a public office. Presidents, members of Congress, and other government officials, cannot be held accountable for poor choices in their private lives. They must be judged on the basis of their integrity in the execution of their public duties.

Randy Kuhl's history of abusive, out-of-control behavior is extremely relevant to his campaign to become a member of Congress. After all, if his own wife could not feel safe living with Kuhl, how could we trust Kuhl with decisions that affect the future of our American democracy?

The strange thing is that Kuhl doesn't even bother to provide us an answer to this question. His campaign web site does not inform visitors of what his positions on various issues are. Instead, the web site is filled with announcements of endorsements by powerful people. Combined with Kuhl's abusive history, his public emphasis of power over substance should serve as a powerful warning to voters in his district. Kuhl seems more interested in what he has the power to get away with than in what he can accomplish with the power that he's given.

The people of New York's 29th Congressional District now know what they're voting for. Let's hope they don't repeat the mistake of the former Mrs. Kuhl.

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