The North Coast's two representatives in Congress split on the question of whether Rep. Charles Rangel should be censured for financial misconduct.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, voted in favor of the punishment, which was approved by the House of Representatives on a 333-79 vote, while Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, voted against it.

Woolsey was one of a handful of colleagues who stood Thursday to defend the veteran New York Democrat, who was found guilty last month by the House ethics committee on 11 of 13 charges of financial misdeeds.

The rules infractions included failing to pay taxes on property in the Dominican Republic for 17 years, more than $500,000 in undisclosed financial assets and inappropriately raising millions of dollars for a New York City college from corporations with business before the Ways and Means Committee, which he chaired.

Woolsey suggested that censuring Rangel was overly severe. The punishment, one step short of expulsion, has been imposed only 23 times in the history of the nation, and not once in the last 27 years.

"In the past, this punishment has been reserved for serious acts of corruption -- taking bribes, lying under oath, gross sexual misconduct, profiting from one's office. Carelessness and minor rules violations have never been grounds for censure," Woolsey said in a statement made on the House floor.

She singled out two former Republican leaders, Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay, who were accused of ethical transgressions in office but were never censured. DeLay resigned in 2005 after he was indicted on criminal money laundering charges. He was convicted last month. Gingrich was reprimanded by the House in 1997 for making inaccurate statements during a probe into Democratic allegations that he misused tax-exempt donations.

"Far more serious ethical lapses than Mr. Rangel's have not met with censure," Woolsey said. "For example, Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay. But they were not censured. In fact, Newt Gingrich continued to serve as Speaker of the House."

She appealed to colleagues' "sense of fairness" as they deliberated the appropriate punishment.

An amendment by Rangel supporters to reduce the public censure to a private reprimand failed.

In a telephone interview Friday, Thompson said he agreed with Rangel's supporters who underscored the 20-term congressman's service to his country. He also agreed there was no evidence that Rangel had sought personal financial gain.

"It wasn't for personal gain. He is a war hero. He has 40 years of dedicated public service," Thompson said.

Nonetheless, Thompson said, he sided with the recommendations of the House ethics committee, which voted 9-1 for censure after a lengthy investigation.

"They had given him an opportunity to take the lesser punishment, and he chose not to do that," Thompson said. "I figure that the ethics committee did their due diligence, and I am going to support their findings."

-- Ted Appel

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