Steve Stockman and the Last Crusade: D.C. Traffic Camera Edition
Washington’s traffic cameras have nabbed Rep. Steve Stockman a few times during his most recent stint in Congress, but the Texas Republican claims it is his libertarian leanings that have led him to introduce legislation to shut the system down.
“The city is really using them for — really, let’s be honest — to fundraise,” Stockman told CQ Roll Call. “My main problem though, is having a private corporation benefiting from a government entity,” he said, speculating the incentive leads the city to shorten traffic lights. “The people don’t like it.” Automated enforcement cameras generated nearly $89 million in revenue during fiscal 2013, according to a September report from the D.C. Office of Inspector General. In exchange for maintaining the equipment and processing photos, American Traffic Solutions is paid a monthly fee of $3,192 for each red light camera, $4,788 for each fixed or portable speed unit and $6,385 for each mobile speed enforcement camera. The District has dozens of red light and speed cameras.
Stockman said he didn’t necessarily have to pony up the hundreds of dollars in fines, but he did.
“You know when you’re voting … technically you could argue that you can run a traffic light, because you’re trying to get here for a vote and that’s even in the Constitution,” he said. Under Article 1, Section 2, members of Congress attending, going to or returning from session are exempt from arrest except for treason, felony or breach of the peace. “But I didn’t argue that,” Stockman added. “I went ahead and paid it.”
The 58-year-old congressman may have recently brushed up on the rights and privileges of membership on Capitol Hill. Stockman and three members of his staff were subpoenaed in District Court for a grand jury investigation. An Office of Congressional Ethics report made public in June suggested Stockman may have violated federal law and House rules regarding campaign donations during his unsuccessful primary challenge to Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn.
“I’m going to do what ever I can,” Stockman said on the fate of the traffic cameras. Congress already voted to bar the use of federal funds to purchase red-light cameras. Stockman has no illusions about the prospects for passage of his bill, which goes a step further by cutting certain federal highway funds for jurisdictions that use traffic cameras.
“I don’t have any influence though, because I’ll be gone soon,” Stockman said with a chuckle.
Regardless, foes of congressional intervention into District affairs sounded the alarm when Stockman made his move. They did the same when Michigan Republican Kerry Bentivolio drafted a similar proposal last year. The single-term congressman never introduced his legislation, but it wasn’t out of fear of D.C.’s reaction.
“I don’t kiss anybody’s ring and nobody scares me — nobody,” Bentivolio said when asked why he didn’t drop the bill himself. He reminded CQ Roll Call of his years as a combat soldier in Vietnam, quoting lines from the 1998 drama “Saving Private Ryan.” The retired Army sergeant said he has figured out better ways of influencing the House, but agreed to co-sponsor the bill when Stockman wanted to introduce it.
“I’m an old Ronald Reagan guy – doesn’t matter who gets the credit as long as it gets done, right?” he said.
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