Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Fall of Senator Leland Yee
On March 26th, California State Senator Leland Yee was arrested on charges of bribery and gun trafficking. For the past year, the FBI had been conducting a sting operation against Senator Yee, involving undercover agents pretending to be east coast mobsters eager to conduct a multimillion dollar arms deal from the Philippines. The 65 year old politician has a 25 year career in California politics, starting out on the San Francisco school board in 1988. He's lived in San Francisco since the age of 3 when his family moved into the Chinatown district.

According to FBI recordings between him and undercover agents, the Senator was desperate to pay off a 70,000$ debt from his failed mayoral campaign for San Francisco. Nearing the end of his term limit and losing ground in his bid for secretary of state, he turned to what he thought was the criminal underworld to cover the cost. Though most of the crimes are nothing more than breaking the public's trust by accepting cash for political favors, the gun running charges are especially damning and could lead to a prison sentence.

The Senator may get off the charges if he can convince the court he was entrapped by the FBI, but it will likely spell the end of his political career. He was staunch gun control advocate for most of his career, and considered a leader in the anti-gun movement. He was also outspoken against violent video games, and pushed legislation to keep violent games from being sold to children. If the charges against him prove to be true, his lengthy career would be considered the height of hypocrisy.

At least that's how most news stories go on about corrupt politicians. Readers here have probably read that story numerous times in their lives, because corruption has become so ubiquitous in governments around the world. It doesn't matter if it's some faraway dictatorship, or your local school board, political corruption appears to be rampant. More likely, it's always been there, only now the proliferation of the internet has shined more light on the subject. Many of us have become jaded to this kind of news (I know I have). I read the news every day, and this kind of thing is in one ear and out the other. It's so commonplace it barely registers. That is until I heard about Leland Yee.

This time it was a little more personal, as I have briefly met Senator Yee on several occasions. He's well known in my family, for helping my grandfather build a war memorial to the ship he served on in World War Two. Every Memorial day, my grandfather and his former shipmates meet at the haunting U.S.S. San Francisco Memorial, and nearly every time I have attended, Leland Yee has been there. What I've heard over and over, is that the memorial would have never been built without the Senators political help. What seems more surprising is that the Senator continues to show up every year. In a time when we've become so accustomed to the selfishness of our leaders, Leland Yee always surprised me.

There was no longer any political reason to show up to the event. Most of the 200 or so people who attend probably live outside of his voting district. The local news would occasionally film a couple minutes of the scene, or conduct a brief interview with my grandfather. That was the extant of the exposure for the Senator. It always appeared to me that he wasn't like other politicians. His every move wasn't carefully coordinated to maximize his visibility. He didn't show up to the memorial every year to puff himself up, or to appeal to a certain voting bloc. He took one day out of his year, nearly every year, to stand in the fog and rain with a couple dozen old war dogs and listen to their stories. I think he showed up for no other reason, than he was simply proud of something he helped build for his community to enjoy.

It appears people are more complicated then we thought. Especially politicians. It's easy to read a headline and jump to conclusions. It's so very simple to hear about another corruption case, and think that's all there is to that person. That they were scoundrels all along, and that everything they had ever done must have been for ulterior motives. Well, it isn't always so.

Should this all be forgiven? Probably not. Atrocious behavior should never be forgotten and it should never be forgiven just because you did something nice that one time. What we should take from this, is that behind every headline there is a real person, not a one size fits all caricature. Behind every story lies living breathing people, some good, some evil, and some that have quite a bit of both.

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