Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Buz Lukens: when the cheering stopped

THE NEW YORK TIMES Sunday Magazine (Dec. 26) carried its annual Lives They Lived sketches of noteworthy persons who died in 2010. The brief bios carried many familiar names that included an ubiquitous congressman from southwest Ohio whose career will be best remembered by his moral recklessness that finally sent him off to federal prison for 30 months in the mid-1990s for bribery. But that was just the tip of the iceberg for Donald "Buz" Lukens, the Hollywood-handsome, right-wing Republican who freaked out young women in his Middletown district with his youthful crew-cut looks and engaging wit. He had, after all, been convicted earlier of a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old girl and there were reports that he tried to fondle a young woman elevator operator in Congress. With Lukens, where there was smoke one could usually find fire.

As a political writer at the time, I was always on alert for the next Lukens scandal. There were so many instances of his misbehavior, even for a pol of his stripe. He had generated a Life magazine story linking Gov. James Rhodes to the mob, but when I reported it in the Akron Beacon Journal he hustled Ohio newsmen together on the the Capitol steps to denounce me as a liar. However, a source had confided that Lukens had read the galley proofs before the article was published - which he finally admitted to me. Such sharing of texts was not common for a major magazine. There had to be more to the story.

On another occasion I spent some time in the Middletown area tracking down reports that he was flagging money from his campaign fund to a majorette. He later described it as "scholarship" money. But even a dentist who served as treasurer of the fund (in name only) was mystified by Lukens' relationship to the young woman.

For all of the talk, Lukens was irrepressible. Until he was caught, he had held all of the right cards because he had carefully chosen them to suit his purposes. Even his arrival in a small airport conference room for a press session carried Lukens' orchestrated patriotic fervor. When his aides struggled to place an American flag behind the lectern because the mast wedged against the ceiling, I asked one of them why it was necessary to delay the meeting with such stagecraft. The congressman, he told me , always brings his own flag and wants it to appear in photo-ops.

As writer Francis Wilkinson so keenly noted in the bio:

"Lukens' ideological allies abound. The former Lukens legislative assistant John Kasich is governor-elect of Ohio. The state legislator who defeated Lukens and represented the district is John Boehner, the next speaker of the House. And if Lukens could mingle with the incoming House majority, he'd discover a curious phenomenon: legislators positioned to his right. Lukens' conduct took its toll in personal dignity. But it didn't deny him a powerful legacy."

Buz would probably take a bow for the powerful legacy. But I doubt that a person of his repeated vile behavior would give a damn about such things as personal dignity. It doesn't
come with the territory.

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