With the announcement that veteran US Representative Dale Kildee (D, Mich) would not be seeking a nineteenth term, the GOP is actively posturing for a takeover of the 5th district centered in Flint. Republicans would be wise to stick to the abundant political issues and not make the faintest allusion to the sexual misconduct allegations now being publicly leveled against Kildee.
The charges are not new, but are now stated with greater particularity and insistence. Patrick Kildee, the congressman’s 63-year-old second cousin, told Saginaw CBS affiliate WNEM TV-5 that Dale Kildee sexually molested him beginning when Patrick was 12 and continuing for five years.
Monday night, WNEM aired an interview with Patrick concerning a conversation he had with his older cousin while riding around Traverse City several years after the serial assaults had ceased. When confronted about the issue by Patrick, Dale Kildee allegedly said: “Every year I make a general confession…You have no idea how much I suffer because of what I did to you.”
Patrick also recounted how his cousin attempted to attenuate his guilt by insinuating that Patrick had “come on to him” and that the physical contact was “mutual.”
This is strong stuff, but it’s also the kind of ‘he said, he said’ indictment that can be damnably frustrating for the accused to deal with. It’s also 50 years old, so traditional forums for legal denial are no longer available. The statute of limitations for a criminal action has been blown. The rule-based limitations period for a congressional ethics proceeding has been blown.
So the only practical venue remaining open for Dale Kildee was the press, and there he came down with both feet. In a press release and interviews with the Flint Journal and the Associated Press, the congressman has categorically denied allegations of sexual abuse, and of the subsequent dashboard confession, as products of Patrick’s profound and protracted mental illness.
His denials have a proactive element; the public charges, he said, are meant to smear him because prior attempts by family members to blackmail him had been rebuffed. Dale Kildee says he has passed along information about the extortion attempts to the FBI. This is strong stuff, too. It is also all that can be expected of the retiring legislator.
Technically, he could file a defamation suit but that would be a poor idea. It could be perceived as overkill, possibly shifting sympathies over to the psychologically challenged second cousin. The suit could also give extended life to the allegations and, for any one of a number of reasons, Dale Kildee might eventually lose it.
In the wake of his potent denial, Dale Kildee’s political and family credentials should assure that the allegations will gradually fade away. And Republicans would be well-advised not to be associated with them.
The atmosphere surrounding the 2012 elections could scarcely be more polarized. Right or wrong, GOP strategists see this as a juncture where they could gain a number of House seats, including the 5th district. I have no doubt that if they thought they could get away with it, Republicans would allude, with greater or lesser subtlety, to the current scandal as evidence that a fundamental change in representation is morally justified.
They should know that the risk of blowback is just too great. Sure, some Republicans, notable Rick Perry, have shown a proclivity for chasing the shiny object. But Dale Kildee’s decades of political service have generated far too much popular capital to risk disparaging his character during his final year in office.
Politicians may not always play fair, but they ignore to their detriment the voting public’s concern for equity.