Western New York congressman Chris Collins (R) is a bumptious and wealthy entrepreneur-speculator who used to buy and sell businesses the way kids once traded baseball cards. In 2016, he became the first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump for president. Yesterday, he was arrested on charges of insider trading with respect to an Australian biotech company.
A fell blow against a corrupt politician, or politically motivated harassment of a Trump ally? Only time will tell, confided the sententious, chin-pulling pundit.
The late senator and poet Eugene McCarthy proposed to bring members of Congress closer to the citizenry by greatly increasing the number of districts. Like all fresh and historically informed ideas, McCarthy’s was a total non-starter. Chris Collins is “my” congressman only in a hopelessly attenuated sense that a ladder-climber representing a sprawling district can speak for the faceless masses —710,000 of us per district, on average — who happen to reside within its geographically incoherent bounds.
As powerless rural outliers in a gerrymandered district dominated by the soulless Buffalo-area Erie County machine, we have for nigh unto three decades been fed a steady diet of occasionally scandal-spiced gruel:
Republicans Bill Paxon (who served from 1989-1999) and Tom Reynolds (1999-2009) each declined to run for re-election under circumstances that may be interpreted as, uh, murky. Did they return home upon leaving Congress to helm the insurance office, or edit the local paper, or drown their sorrows at the watering hole down the street, as James Madison and the Founders hoped they might?
Nah — they whored out as lobbyists, like most retired pols do. They were succeeded by the Draculately named Christopher Lee (2009-2011), a pretty-boy Republican nonentity who hadn’t the wit to run campaign ads in which he vamped it up, Transylvania-style, hissing into the camera, “I vant to have your vote!”
Lee stepped down after he was found to have gone trolling online, in all his shirtless glory, allegedly for she-male sex partners. Timing is all. Had Lee waited a few years, he’d have been lauded, feted, and sucked up to by the corporate media.
Christopher Lee was succeeded by a pleasant suburban Buffalo Democrat named Kathy Hochul (2011-2013). A mildly populist pro-Second Amendment, anti-illegal immigration moderate, Hochul lost her re-election bid to Chris Collins. She has since repudiated her Upstate-inflected positions, as Governor Andrew Cuomo’s loyal lieutenant governor.
Those of us inured to the shenanigans of Erie County Republicans have been waiting for the inevitable scandal to take Chris Collins down. I do credit Collins for having the guts to back Trump when no one else would, though he resembles the 45th President in his arrogance and avarice, without sharing any of the qualities that make Trump interesting, primarily his sporadic heterodoxy on foreign affairs.
Last time I flew from Buffalo to Washington, I found myself standing beside Chris Collins on the shuttle from the tarmac to the airport gate. He was boasting to a flunky about how he had reduced a female House staffer to tears over some minor slip-up. What a gent!
So good riddance if he slinks away from Capitol Hill. Collins promises to stand and fight these charges, but his days in the House, if not the big house, seem numbered. We look forward to his replacement by another ethically challenged Erie County Republican, or a Democrat with equally flexible principles.
And so it goes and so it goes and so it goes and so it goes, as Nick Lowe once sang. But where it’s going, no one knows.
Bill Kauffman is the author of eleven books, among them Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette (Holt) and Ain’t My America (Metropolitan).