EDITORIAL 

Scofflaws

F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong. Not only are there second acts in American lives, sometimes those second acts are infinitely more significant than the first.

On the Shelby County political scene, the first act consisted of last month's embarrassing disclosures concerning the extracurricular foibles of two prominent local political figures. One was Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, who was revealed to have fathered a child out of wedlock; the other was state senator John Ford, who became a national laughingstock when he testified in child-support hearings that he was living in two separate households and giving financial support to children in both. The hearing itself was being conducted to consider additional support for yet a third household.

We don't know what further complications will appear in Herenton's immediate future and won't hazard a guess. But we have a good idea about those confronting Ford, and we can say this much: Nobody's laughing now, least of all the senator himself. Word from almost everybody conversant with the facts -- Ford's friends and foes, as well as officials whose interest is politically neutral -- is that the Memphis senator may, at long last, be on the way out.

It isn't Ford's morals that are at question here. Those are, in every sense, hardly worth talking about. And they figured in the outcome only insofar as Ford's testimony concerning his surprisingly high income led to investigation about its sources. And that, in turn, led to his current predicament. What we have learned constitutes reason for believing that the senator has violated both the spirit and the letter of public service. For starters, Senator Ford appears to have received substantial income from a firm providing dental services through TennCare -- this while he simultaneously sat on the legislative TennCare oversight committee and, as chairman of the Senate General Welfare, Health and Human Resources Committee, directly oversaw legislation relating to TennCare.

Worse, Ford failed to disclose this information on state financial disclosure forms that required it (though he did include it on his filings with the Internal Revenue Service). And he apparently used his legislative know-how last year in a parliamentary delaying procedure that prevented passage of a bill that would have imposed even more stringent disclosure requirements.

In response to these and other recent revelations about Ford, notably the high likelihood that he has not maintained a residence in the district he represents for some time, the state Senate Ethics Committee has been moved by popular pressure to subpoena a variety of records -- including those from the child-custody hearings that include his IRS filings.

Clearly, Ford is in trouble not only with his fellow senators, who normally are loath to move against a colleague, but, depending on where the various trails of investigation lead, potentially with law enforcement authorities as well.

We do not wish the senator ill, though we too have wondered why his constituents haven't tired of his antics. We credit Ford with being responsible for several good legislative turns -- on behalf, say, of the state's mental health community. But he must be held responsible for any misconduct on his part.

Simultaneous with the developments concerning Ford has been the act of the state Election Registry in enforcing the letter of the law against prospective state Senate candidates Joe Towns and Michael Hooks, who were disqualified after being adjudged to have violated either financial-disclosure regulations or residence requirements or, in Hooks' case, both. At press time, Hooks was involved in a judicial appeal. He has charged state representative Kathryn Bowers, his leading opponent, with using her legislative muscle to see that the law was enforced.

Under the circumstances, with so much evidence that our lawmakers are using their position to circumvent the law, we can hardly object to that.

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