Tuesday, August 17, 2010

EDITORIAL >>Candidate’s bankruptcy

Who cannot feel some sympathy for Rick Crawford, whose race for Congress in east Arkansas, including Lonoke County, unlocked some unfortunate past — that he had run up a lot of credit as a young man and got the government to relieve him of the debt? It happens to too many of us. But who cannot feel disappointment, even anger, that he would try to mislead people about what he had done?

He asks people to trust him to represent them responsibly and to tell them the truth about all things public and private, which is the very nature of representative democracy. And he fails the first small test.

Crawford won the Republican nomination for representative from the First District in May, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette then disclosed during the summer that he had filed for bankruptcy 16 years ago in Missouri. He was relieved of $12,000 in credit-card, utility and other debts. Someone meanly pointed out his strong rhetoric about responsibility during the campaign:

“If businesses in America spent money the way the federal government does, they would be in bankruptcy.  If people ran their personal finances the way Congress does, they would be in jail. When is this reckless spending going to stop?  It will stop when we unite to send citizen legislators to Congress who will not cave to the Washington-loving professional politicians.”

It looked a little hypocritical. But Rick Crawford was not the first young man who fell on hard times. The bankruptcy list in the paper every week is so sadly long, the names of good people who lost their jobs or had a family member get sick without insurance and couldn’t pay their bills. Unlike today, those were boom times when Rick Crawford went to bankruptcy court for relief, but even the most prosperous times can leave individuals stranded.

Crawford owned up to the bankruptcy, but he said he had eventually repaid every dime of the debts. But the newspaper reporter did not take him at his word and began to check with creditors. There was a hospital in Columbia, Mo., that he had not paid for surgery and a hospital stay in 1993. When the reporter called University of Missouri Health Care, Crawford had already called to check on the status of his debt. The hospital told the reporter it was forbidden to disclose a patient’s records, even the status of his debt, without a waiver signed by Crawford. He refused to waive his privacy right.

But later he did. The hospital was given permission to disclose only one thing, which was whether at this moment Crawford still owes the hospital. The hospital said that right now he doesn’t owe anything. It could not say when he had paid the bill.

Crawford refuses to say whether he paid the bill this summer after questions were raised and after he had insisted that he had long ago repaid his debts. A campaign aide of the candidate said that was all he was ever going to say about the matter.

Crawford counts on the matter blowing over, and no doubt it will. The centrifugal force of an election season will soon have our minds chasing a hundred other chimeras, and memories are short. There is no reason anyone should store resentments of one man’s irresponsibility as a callow youth if only he had been honest about it — completely honest.

If you cannot trust a man to be honest about so trivial an affair in his own life, how can you vouchsafe any faith in what he says about matters that are truly grave?