Commentary

Shame on Lockyer

This article appeared in the Los Angeles Times, June 6, 2001.
Here’s what California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer said at a press conference about Enron Corp. Chairman Kenneth Lay: “I would love to personally escort Lay to an 8-by-10 cell that he could share with a tattooed dude who says, ‘Hi, my name is Spike, honey.”’

Here’s why Lockyer should be removed from his office of public trust: First, because as the chief law enforcement officer of the largest state in the nation, he not only has admitted that rape is a regular feature of the state’s prison system, but also that he considers rape a part of the punishment he can inflict on others.

Second, because he has publicly stated that he would like to personally arrange the rape of a Texas businessman who has not even been charged with any illegal behavior.

Lockyer’s remarks reveal him to be an authoritarian thug, someone wholly unsuited to holding an office of public trust.

But his remarks do have one positive merit: They tell us what criminal penalties really entail.

Contrary to some depictions of prisons as country clubs, they are violent and terrible places. More and more politicians propose criminal sanctions for more and more alleged misdeeds, and as a result ever more kinds of behavior are sanctioned by criminal penalties, perhaps now even selling electricity. Those found guilty of such crimes are put into cages, where they are deprived of their liberty and dignity and, as Lockyer so clearly acknowledged, raped and brutalized. What’s worse, Lockyer has indicated that he believes that rape is an appropriate part of the system of punishments he administers.

Should it matter that Lay is a businessman? Imagine the outcry if the head of Enron were female. What would Lockyer’s fellow Democrats have said to that?

Should it matter that Lay is chairman of an electricity generator? Does the nature of his business justify threats to escort him to his own rape? Lockyer told the Los Angeles Times that he had singled out Enron’s chairman because the Houston-based company is the world’s largest energy trader.

So apparently singling out a man for a heinous threat is OK because he’s the chairman of the world’s largest energy trading company. That’s according to the man who, as a state senator, sponsored California’s 1984 hate-crimes law. Evidently the crusader against intimidation on the basis of race, religion and sexual orientation feels no hesitation at all about intimidating someone and threatening him with the brutal use of physical force simply because he heads the world’s largest energy trading company.

Lockyer and Gov. Gray Davis seem to think that the best way to keep the lights on is to threaten electricity producers with brute force, rather than to offer to pay competitive rates in competitive markets. Are energy producers to blame for California’s energy problems? No. Bad policies, including rigid controls on retail prices of electricity, are the cause of the problem, not the people who generate energy. Scapegoating producers and threatening them with violence is an old ploy of authoritarians. Californians should not stand for it.

An Enron spokesman said that Lockyer’s chilling stated desire to arrange the rape of Lay does not merit a response. The spokesman is wrong. Lockyer’s remarks merit public disgrace and removal from office. After all, rape is not a form of legal justice in America— is it?

Tom G. Palmer is a senior fellow.