Monday, May 24, 2010

Without his flag, the Lukens Buz is gone.

THE DEATH OF former Ohio congressman D0nald (Buz) Lukens was reported on the Plain
Dealer obit pages with a photo of a forlorn figure atilt to the right. If it suggested a need for sympathy, there was something missing. As one of his aides once explained to me after he and a few others struggled to force upright an American flag whose pole scraped the ceiling of a small airport office, "The congressman never goes anywhere without a flag."

For a time back in the Rhodes Era of Ohio politics, Lukens, a feel-good, show-biz, super-patriotic, Bible-quoting conservative, could not be entirely ignored by the Republican Party, whether he was recruiting right-wing support groups or looking for ways to embarrass Gov. Rhodes in anticipation of challenging him for a senate race in 1970.

At first glance, Lukens was a pleasant, unthreatening creature with a lively wit and the sort of looks that might very well attract young women to a sweet-talking bachelor on the way up.

As a political reporter for the Beacon Journal, I spent several days in the Middletown area in southwestern Ohio tracking down rumors that Buz was engaged in mischief with campaign funds. That included mysterious $100 rewards to majorettes for reasons not easily explained.
His friends back home were concerned about it as they appeared to have no more than a superficial understanding of where the money was going. Even his "24th District Club" was little more than a name on a letterhead. When I talked to the club's treasurer, Ed Cranmer, he had trouble remembering the name of club president, Fred Harding. Later, Harding tried to explain the unaccountable nature of the club: "If I sound somewhat vague at times, it's because we have a somewhat loose operation and our bookkeeping might be a little sloppyl"

That suited Lukens just fine.

But there were big, bad moments ahead for him. He tried to undermine Rhodes by secretly passing along charges to Life magazine alleging the governor's earlier ties with the mob - a clandestine initiative that he vehemently denied at a hastily -called Capitol Hill news conference denouncing me after my article appeared in the BJ. (One of his aides later said Buz was upset because the article's details were so accurate he wondered who leaked it.)

Twenty years later, having returned to congress after a long break in the Ohio senate, he was convicted of having fully-paid sex with a 16 year old Columbus girl, then lost the 1990 GOP primary to John Boehner. He resigned before his term expired. His troubles didn't end there: In 1996, he was sentenced to a 30-month prison term upon conviction of accepting bribes from a couple of Cincinnati businessmen.

Despite that photo, flag or no flag, I find it hard to sympathize.


No comments: