When a federal grand jury indicted State Senator Bert Johnson on two felony charges a couple of weeks ago, it was a big surprise to anyone who knew good old Bertie.
OK, that's a lie. It was, in fact, about as much of a surprise as rain in April. Johnson has long had an unsavory reputation as someone who doesn't pay his debts. He often doesn't bother to show up to vote in the legislature either.
And you know what?
To an extent, this is the fault of white liberals — and the Democratic Party establishment. They enabled Johnson and other black politicians guilty of bad behavior, out of cowardice, fear of losing votes, and perhaps patronizing reverse racism.
And they need to be called out on it.
Now before you go ballistic — I haven't gone through a political conversion. I believe Bernie Sanders is closer to getting it right than any politician today, and wish he were 55, not 75.
I think Barack Obama was in many ways the best and most honest president of my lifetime, and that the Republican Party is, to paraphrase Bill Maher, mostly a party of racists and haters who are total dicks every chance they get.
But let's tell the truth here.
On the federal charges, Bert Johnson is, of course, entitled to the legal presumption of innocence until actually proven guilty. People have, indeed, beaten federal charges.
And yes, in bygone years, some charges were clearly politically or racially motivated. But that doesn't seem to be the case here. The indictment charges that Johnson borrowed $10,000 from Glynis Thornton, a corrupt vendor who pleaded guilty to paying kickbacks to a corrupt Detroit school principal.
You have to wonder now if Bertie knew about that scandal before the rest of us did, because he hit her up for a $10,000 loan. She paid; he didn't pay back. She got demanding.
Finally, according to the feds, Bertie got a bright idea: He'd let the poor chumps who live in the Great Lakes State pay her. He put glamorous Glynis on the state payroll at $22 an hour, and kept her there until she'd taken home more than $23,000 — payback with a great rate of interest. She didn't have to work very hard, or at all. Matter of fact, she never showed up at the office. Eventually, some bean-counter started asking questions, and ... boom! went Bertie Johnson's house of cards.
Five years ago, when he fooled himself into thinking he could beat U.S. Rep. John Conyers in a Democratic primary, Johnson, now 43, tried to sell me his personal heroic narrative.
As most folks know, back when he was 19, Johnson was convicted of armed robbery. He did his time, and told me and everyone else he was a changed man.
He never quite made it through college, but got a job as an office manager and then chief of staff to then-Rep. Bill McConico. When term limits caught up to McConico, Johnson followed him, and from there he went to the Senate.
That was a wonderful and inspiring story, and held up till I actually talked to people about dealing with Bertie.
"Bert Johnson bounced a $7,500 check to me — twice," one of the state's most prominent female lawyers told me.
Then, she said, he lied like a rug about what could possibly happen. Ironically, Johnson had hired her because he was in a fight against a primary opponent who was living outside his district and lying about it. "Very sad that this is what the residents of Detroit have representing them," she said.
Well, agreed. But did the lawyer do anything about it? Make a public stink? Go to the Democratic caucus, or sue him?
Well, ah, er... no.
"I was on the verge of filing charges against him," she said. "But I assumed everyone in the party would hate me if I did."
But the irony was insane. "Here he wanted me to challenge the unethical acts of a state rep. just as he was writing bad checks to me," the lawyer said. "Where do these people get the chutzpah?"
Feeling grumpy, I growled, "Possibly because they can bank on white liberals like yourself never calling them on it."
The lawyer, a civil rights crusader who is, in fact, one of the most honest people I know, owned up.
"Probably. I will own that," she said. She did finally send the good senator an email, which she shared with me, politely requesting payment — or even a small settlement.
She warned him that if he didn't respond at all, she'd have no choice but to "file a complaint with the Detroit Police Department," for his giving her a bad check — a two year felony.
But she never did. Nobody knows how many other people were stiffed by this creature, who is paid $71,685 a year by the taxpayers, before the federal grand jury did its work.
Johnson, however, is not alone. Longtime readers of this column will remember the adventures of Virgil Smith, Jr. a man whose last name is important — his father was a legislator before becoming a circuit judge.
Two years ago, Junior, who was also in the state senate, shot up and destroyed his ex-wife's car on a residential street in Detroit after a sordid sexcapade went wrong.
You might have thought he would have been denounced by the Democratic leadership, or at least asked to resign. The district is safely Democratic, and he could have been replaced by somebody less likely to be a total disgrace.
But nope. They took his committee memberships away, but Virgie didn't care; he mostly did what the Republicans told him to do for the next nine months till he had to report to the slammer.
Then, of course, there was Mr. "Felonies Galore," State Representative Brian Banks (D-Harper Woods.)
I don't know if voters have elected anyone with eight felony convictions to the legislature before.
I do know Banks is the only member who, within months of arriving in Lansing, was accused of forcing a male staffer to let Banks suck his dick. Yes, my language is vulgar, but that's nothing compared to what he did to the citizens.
Paying for Banks' lawyer and paying off the victim cost taxpayers almost $100,000.
But did anyone suggest not re-electing him? Democrats, once again, stood strong for the felon. Mayor Mike Duggan even disgraced himself by campaigning with him.
Banks was, sadly, re-elected, but he must have known the end was near. He was facing four more felony charges for loan fraud when he resigned Feb. 6, to avoid a long prison stretch.
His voters have no representation in Lansing now... but did they anyway? Give GOP leaders credit: They quickly took action to throw Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat out of the legislature, once it was learned they'd used state resources to try and cover up their cheesy and tawdry affair.
But none of the state's top Dems breathed a word against Banks. Are they scared of alienating black voters?
Is this a kind of patronizing "what can you expect from those people" reverse racism?
You tell me.
First time tragedy, second time farce: Speaking of the devil ... when Virgil Smith Jr. signed a plea bargain agreement last year, he agreed not to hold any office for at least five years. But keeping promises are not important to Big Gun Smith, who has now taken out petitions to run for Detroit City Council. The courts are deciding whether his promises are binding. If he is allowed on the ballot, it is my fervent hope that anyone who votes for him gets exactly what they deserve.