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Published: Sunday, 7/31/2005

Privilege should be in the service

Palm-tree vacations and pricey steak dinners. The first criminal charges to spring from a statewide investment scandal originate in the world of privilege.

The irony? These specific perks were just cheap-o items straight off the shelf at the Government Wheel-n-Deal Dollar $tore.

The governor's ex-right hand man, Brian Hicks, admits he paid no more than $500 to stay in Tom Noe's Florida vacation house - located in an area of the Keys where the comparable rental rate is more like $2,000.

Meanwhile, prosecutors say Cherie Carroll - Mr. Hicks' ex-statehouse assistant and current associate in his political lobbying firm - enjoyed the "Noe Supper Club."

These were dinners at a costly Columbus steakhouse where Mr. Noe gladly picked up at the tab for powerful insiders.

Mr. Hicks and Ms. Carroll each pleaded no contest to first-degree misdemeanors and agreed to $1,000 fines, but the greater cost is to their political careers.

That's a price Bob Taft might also face. The Ohio governor from a storied political family is now at risk of leaving a legacy of mismanaged state money and freebie golf.

Obligated to disclose such outings, Mr. Taft didn't. "Errors and omissions," he said. Now investigators are checking just how often the governor accepted freebie trips to the links.

Ohio Democrats act likes it's Christmas morning. But if Dems had enjoyed entrenched statehouse power lo these many years, odds for scandal would likely not be any less.

This is more about simple human nature and less about government. Privilege, not politics.

Just as the Queen of England never carries cash in that dowdy purse of hers, so it must be for many people comfortable with power.

Golf Tuesday? At Inverness? Got a few things I've been meaning to discuss with you, anyway. See you there!

Aren't Americans supposed to aspire to that level of access and privilege? And isn't the failure to remember minor details like paying your share just part of a country-club mentality?

Let's pay lotsa money for a place where the whole point is to be among other people who can afford to be someplace where "common" people cannot enter.

It's all summed up in two words: We're special.

And if we're special, well then, we deserve to be treated specially.

We deserve - well, we just deserve. Period. Let entitlement begin.

A dinner here, a cut-rate vacation there. Pretty soon you're talkin' real money - even multimillion dollar fiascos that end at taxpayer expense.

It's the American Dream, really, to "work your way up" to that kind of access and privilege. I almost feel sorry for Brian Hicks and Cherie Carroll and anyone else ensnared in this mess.


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