We give a lot of lip service about holding politicians accountable. But how often do we hold them to account? Rarely. If we treated political malpractice for the violent crime that it is, we would likely get much better public servants.
It may seem extreme to talk about prosecuting political malpractice, but ultimately unless we do so, innocent people will continue to die. What is political malpractice? It is above my pay grade to define it. clearly. That said, it is codifiable.
The Hurricane Harvey flood in Houston is a classic example. Several years ago I interviewed Jim Blackburn, Donna Hackemack Bryant, & Christina Walsh, three environmental activists and politically aware Houstonians who understood that absent action from the county, it was just a matter of time before the catastrophic flood causing loss of life and property would occur.
To assume that Houston’s flooding was not a known to those who should know is false. The ProPublica/Texas Tribune article “Boomtown, Flood Town” is probative.
“More people die here than anywhere else from floods,” said Sam Brody, a Texas A&M University at Galveston researcher who specializes in natural hazards mitigation. “More property per capita is lost here. And the problem’s getting worse.”
Why? Scientists, other experts and federal officials say Houston’s explosive growth is largely to blame. As millions have flocked to the metropolitan area in recent decades, local officials have largely snubbed stricter building regulations, allowing developers to pave over crucial acres of prairie land that once absorbed huge amounts of rainwater. That has led to an excess of floodwater during storms that chokes the city’s vast bayou network, drainage systems and two huge federally owned reservoirs, endangering many nearby homes — including Virginia Hammond’s.
On top of that, scientists say climate change is causing torrential rainfall to happen more often, meaning storms that used to be considered “once-in-a-lifetime” events are happening with greater frequency.
But it gets worse. It turns out that politicians were not only given a study, but a solution to channel water through conduits directly to the Houston ship channel.
In a report dated May 1996, engineers for the Harris County Flood Control District concluded the area’s reservoir system was severely insufficient and imperiled thousands of properties. The report’s authors proposed a $400 million fix: constructing a massive underground conduit that would carry water out of the reservoirs and into the Houston Ship Channel more quickly.
Had the report’s recommendations been heeded, the catastrophic flooding that struck Houston a week ago might have been greatly diminished, sparing thousands of homes from flood waters. Instead, the report got filed away and was all but forgotten. Government leaders ignored its advice.
What is most disconcerting about ignoring the report is that construction on I-10 (the Katy Freeway in the Houston Metropolitan Area) could have been leveraged to build the conduits beneath the new freeway. The solution was ever present. However, political malpractice killed every Texan directly or indirectly.
A drunk driver who gets into a fatal collision does not set out to kill anyone. A gun owner who drops his loaded gun in a crowded restaurant that kills a person had no intention of taking the life of anyone. The engineer who builds a structurally defective bridge that falls and kills many never intended said outcome. A doctor who makes a mistake that causes the death of a patient didn’t do so on purpose. Every single one of these events is prosecutable as some sort of negligence and potentially manslaughter or even homicide.
One could wager that political malpractice kills much more people. There is a difference, however. The politicians effecting political malpractice do so knowingly. If there are solutions that would have reasonably saved lives but said solutions were not implemented because of corruption or because of dubious rationales, they deserve prosecution just like any citizen who unwittingly harmed someone.
Every politician in the Houston Metropolitan Area who placed Houstonians at risk by allowing the construction of homes in neighborhoods that were sure to flood and who knew there were viable options to prevent the disaster should be prosecuted. Every Texas politician and for that matter everyone who voted against the Medicaid Expansion to the Affordable Care Act should be prosecuted for causing the deaths of thousands of Texans and Americans. One could go on and on deaths caused by the decisions of politicians not based on what is right and doable but on negligence or outright corruption, read the corrosive nature of money in politics and the negative influence on politicians.
Political malpractice likely kills more people than all the murders in the country. After all, even some of the socioeconomic realities that create a crime culture is a form of political malpractice. We created societies because we understood that pooling our efforts, our diverse skills, make life better for all. It is a contract we signed implicitly. When that contract is broken, the perpetrators must be punished. The intent is not to criminalize politics. It is to ensure that politics isn’t criminal.