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The Freshmen Visit Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

A parable.

The best thing that ever happened to former-Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA) was that he was elected to Congress.

Paradoxically, the worst thing that ever happened to former-Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA) was that he was elected to Congress.

Cunningham is now serving eight years in a federal penitentiary for accepting nearly $2.5 million in bribes from defense contractors. Cunningham's sentence is the longest ever meted out to a Member of Congress.

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Congratulations, members of the 2010 Congressional freshmen class. Like Charlie Bucket in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," you've all scored a golden ticket. You have special entrée to the United States Congress.

Now the question is, can you make it out of the Congressional chocolate factory unscathed?

Or will vanity, arrogance, greed, lust, sloth and general misbehavior prevail?

The halls of Congress are wonderful, much like Wonka's factory. Capitol Hill features its own alluring versions of chocolate rivers, lickable wallpaper and edible grass. The temptations are great. TV cameras and klieg lights offer the beacon of fame. K Street lobbyists command your attention. People want to donate to your campaign.

Like in the Willy Wonka tale, will you suffer the same fate as Augustus Gloop? Will you fail to heed warnings not to drink out of the Congressional chocolate river and be sucked into an oversized pipe in the Capitol Hill Fudge Room?

Or will you wind up like Violet Beuaregarde and morph into a roly-poly blueberry after trying a Congressional Three-Course-Dinner? Will you get rejected like Veruca Salt as a "bad egg" and dispatched down the House garbage chute? Or, will you turn out like Mike Teevee and be shrunk to a miniscule size when you try to appear on the still untested version of Congressional Wonkavision?

Remember, it's hard for the C-SPAN cameras to focus on you at the lectern when you're only a few inches in height.

It's a heady experience to become a Member of Congress. But Wonka's Oompa Loompas may have offered the best advice for an incoming Member of Congress.

"Oompa Loompa do-ba-dee-doo,If you're not greedy you will go far."

There are so many freshmen. So much is expected of them. And the media scrutiny is so intense.

Someone will screw up. Or some enterprising reporter will unearth something tawdry about one of them. Or they'll get siphoned into a political maelstrom. It's inevitable someone will step in it. It's Capitol Hill.

I'll remind you of the historic, Republican freshman class of 1994. That year, the GOP picked up 54 House seats and seized the majority for the first time in decades. A grand total of 73 House freshmen arrived, each driven and idealistic. And all with a golden ticket to get into the factory.

Not all made it out in one piece.

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"Little surprises around every corner. But nothing dangerous." - Willy Wonka.

Former Rep. Enid Greene Waldholtz (R-UT)

The poster child for the 1994 freshmen was 37-year-old former-Rep. Enid Greene Waldholtz (R-UT). Waldholtz arrived in Washington a darling of the conservative movement. She became the first freshman in seven decades to secure a seat on the influential House Rules Committee. Waldholtz was newly married and was expecting the couple's first child. They purchased a ritzy, Georgetown townhouse that once was the home of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

But things began unraveling. The FBI was soon investigating her husband Joe Waldholtz for check-kiting, misusing campaign funds and pilfering $2 million from their joint bank account.

Joe Waldholtz then went on the lam. The newspaper headlines screamed "Where's Waldholtz?"

How to fix all of this? Hold a news conference.

Enid Greene Waldholtz then embarked on what became one of the most bizarre and twisted media briefings ever conducted in Congressional history.

For five hours (yes, HOURS), Waldholtz sobbed and told all before the television cameras. She described herself as a dupe who was blinded by love and alleged that her husband tricked her into filing false tax returns.

"I loved Joe Waldholtz and trusted him with all my heart," said the Congresswoman. "I know now from the experience of the last four weeks, the person I loved and trusted never existed."

Joseph Waldholtz surrendered to the FBI nearly a week later. Soon the pro-family freshman Congresswoman filed for divorce from her new husband and efforted to keep portions of the "child custody" portion of their divorce decree sealed because of what she called "questionable lifestyle choices."

"I'm sorry most of all that I trusted and believed in a husband who hurt so many people," said Waldholtz.

The Congresswoman lasted one term.

"I just ask you to do this: When you go home tonight and you're with the person you love most in the world, and they're holding you in their arms as you go to sleep, and tell you that they love you . . . ask yourself if they are capable of what I've just told you."

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"Invention, my dear friends, is 93 percent perspiration, six percent electricity, four percent evaporation, and two percent butterscotch ripple." - Willy Wonka

Former Rep. Frank Cremeans (R-OH)Problems for former Rep. Frank Cremeans (R-OH) erupted even before he arrived in Washington. President Clinton was in the midst of imposing the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy regarding gays in the military. And in 1994, Cremeans challenged then-Rep. (and current Ohio Governor) Ted Strickland (D) for his seat.

During a meeting with ministers in Portsmouth, OH, Cremeans explained his opposition to Mr. Clinton's decision. Cremeans claimed that ancient civilizations fell because of what he described as rampant homosexuality.

"The Greeks and Romans were homosexuals. Their civilizations did not stand. Did they come into contact with a social disease like AIDS? I don't know the answer. But I wonder," Cremeans said.

Cremeans also said it "would be very demoralizing" to have "homosexuals in the foxholes with our soldiers."

Cremeans' spokeswoman at the time, Anne Hamilton, claimed that her boss "theorizes and gets going and doesn't always get right to the point of what he wants to say."

The Washington Post then described Cremeans as a work "in progress."

A few days later, Cremeans held a press conference to announce that he was "not an authority on ancient civilizations."

Cremeans lasted one term as Strickland rallied to defeat him in 1996.

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Mr. Salt: What is this, Wonka? Some kind of funhouse? Willy Wonka: Why? Having fun?

Former Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-ID)

"She is the poster child for the militia movement," said Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Bill Mauk of former Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-ID). "She is pandering to a very extremist element."

Helen Chenoweth emerged as a champion of the second amendment with ties to the militia movement. In fact, militia groups helped distribute campaign literature during her 1994 campaign.

Early on, Chenoweth authored a bill that would require federal authorities to first seek permission from local authorities prior to arresting people or conducting search warrants. She also declared that the federal government was "unlawful" and said that "we have democracy when the government is afraid of the people."

A pro-family conservative, Chenoweth blasted President Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky. And during her 1994 campaign, Chenoweth's staff attacked then-Rep. Larry LaRocco (D-ID) for not telling the truth about an affair he had.

Then Chenoweth admitted she conducted a six-year affair with Congressional aide Vern Ravenscroft.

When denying the affair, Chenoweth decried her political opponents.

"When they can't debate the issues, they turn to character assassination," Chenoweth said.

Even after admitting to her own infidelities, Chenoweth voted for aye on all four Articles of Impeachment against President Clinton.

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"Now, let's see what the damage is this year, shall we?" - Willy Wonka

Former Rep. Wes Cooley (R-OR)

Former Rep. Wes Cooley (R-OR) had trouble with the law when he was in office as a freshman from the class of '94. And it continued well after his Congressional career came to a close.

In 1997, Cooley pleaded guilty to lying about his military record in official campaign documents. A judge sentenced Cooley to two years probation and a fine after paperwork surfaced showing that Cooley never served in Korea. When Cooley filed to run for Congress, he indicated that he was a part of U.S. Army Special Forces while in Korea. Military records later showed that Cooley was never deployed to Korea.

Last year, a California grand jury indicted Cooley on six counts of money laundering and one count of tax evasion in connection with an investment scheme that bilked people out of more than $10 million.

The Congressman's ex-wife later claimed in court that Cooley was a chronic liar and that he boasted he had a master's degree and law degree when he had neither.

While in Congress, Cooley lost his temper with the media as they tightened the screws around him. A photographer for the Capitol Hill publication Roll Call famously captured the former Congressman flipping him the bird when he tried to take Cooley's picture.

The photo made it onto the front page of the publication that week.

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"A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men." - Willy Wonka

Others from the 1994 freshman class made ignominious names for themselves later.

Former Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) resigned in 2006 after pleading guilty to conspiracy charges in connection with the Jack Abramoff lobbying affair. Ney served time.

Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) was a freshman House member in 1994. Last year, Ensign said he had an extramarital affair with Cynthia Hampton, the wife of one of his campaign aides.

And then there were the three Marks.

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) was also a part of that freshman class. He gained fame after admitting to an affair with Maria Belen Chapur. The South Carolina legislature censured Sanford for using state money to travel to Argentina for their trysts.

Former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) was a freshman in 1994. Foley resigned in 2006 after it was discovered that he had sent racy text messages to underage, male House pages.

And then there was former Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN). Elected as a family values conservative in 1994, Sounder quit earlier this year after he admitted to an affair with aide Tracy Jackson. Souder and Jackson had made a video together that touted abstinence.

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So the much-vaunted freshman class of 2010 takes office in a few days. Most new lawmakers will do well and perform their duties admirably and without fanfare. But some will stumble. It's inevitable with a class this big.

Who will it be?

I refer you again to Willy Wonka.

"The suspense is terrible. I hope it'll last," Wonka said.

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