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Commentary: DeLay Controversy

By Dave Aquino

Buffalo, NY – Editor's note: This is the complete commentary as submitted by the writer. The on-air version included here was heavily edited because of time constraints.

I'd like to talk with you about hypocrisy in the House of Representatives today. Hypocrisy is defined as the pretense of being good, noble, and moral when one really is NOT. I know all of us are tired of hearing the term "flip-flop", which suggests hypocrisy. It was much overused and many times misleadingly used by both parties during the recent presidential campaign. But...

Flip! Flop! Flip!

How does a good idea -- become a bad idea -- and then become a good idea again? Good -- bad -- good. It seems we'll have to watch pretty carefully to keep up with just where the Republicans in the US House of Representatives are, won't we? Of course, if there hadn't been the fear that the democrats would really hang them out to dry on this issue, it might still be a bad idea.

What am I talking about - you ask! Well, it's this issue of whether or not a House leader should have to resign his or her leadership position if a Grand Jury, based on evidence presented, decides to indict the individual on a criminal felony charge.

Back in 1993 the Republicans decided it was a good idea -- an indicted leader should have to resign a leadership position if indicted. At that time, the Democrats held power in Congress and this was the Republican way of putting the Democrats "on notice." A good idea. Then this past November they decided, "No" -- bad idea. But then, just as the new session of congress was about to begin they "flipped," or is it "flopped" -- the "old" good idea of 1993 suddenly once more again became a good idea.

So, what do you think? If your representative is a Republican, would you want to know how he or she voted on this issue? For that matter, what do House Democratic Representatives think? I'd like to see a public and open vote on it -- with all representatives voting -- Democrats and Republicans, instead of the closed sessions the Republicans have had so far, with secret votes. I'd like to know if my representative, Tom Reynolds, flip-flopped on this. Did He? Will he tell us?

Why all this "flip-flopping" in just a few weeks? Well, it seems that it has to do with Mr. Tom DeLay of Texas, the House Majority Leader. His position is second only to the Speaker of the House as far as power and influence in the lower house of Congress. Some say, with good reason, that DeLay is in fact the man who runs the show in that chamber, with the House Speaker, Dennis Hastert, being DeLay's mouthpiece. But there's a chance that DeLay might be indicted back in Texas, and in my mind that's behind these changes of heart.

A little background is important here. In Travis County Texas, which includes Austin, the state capitol, there is a District Attorney named Ronnie Earle. His office has been ranked by the National District Attorney's Association as being one of the ten best in the country. He first took office back in 1977 and recently won his 8th four year term -- uncontested! He seems to be one of those courageous officials, a little like our New York Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer, who is not afraid to pursue legal action against powerful people. Recently, in response to evidence presented by District Attorney Earle, a Travis County Grand Jury of Texas citizens indicted a number of Tom DeLay's associates concerning illegal raising and use of corporate money in political campaigns.

Now there are some politicians and some in the media who would have you believe that Mr. Earle is an intensely partisan District Attorney, out to get Republicans. Not so. Over the years Ronnie Earle has prosecuted 16 politicians, 12 of them being Democrats. That's because the Democrats were in power most of the time. As Mr. Earle says, "We prosecute abuses of power, and you have to have power to abuse it."

I don't know what District Attorney Ronnie Earle's plans are for Tom DeLay, or what they were. Of course he should prosecute where there is cause to do so. And it has looked likely that Tom DeLay might be indicted, so his colleagues protected his leadership position. But House rules ought really to be guided by the moral compass of House members, not fear of who might be prosecuted.

Also at the beginning of this session of Congress, the Republicans put in a new rule. Why and what? Well, last year the House Ethics Committee admonished their Majority Leader, Tom DeLay, because of this illegal raising and use of corporate money in political campaigns in Texas. But the Republicans have protected Tom DeLay against being admonished by the House Ethics Committee again for a breach of ethics. According to the new rule the House Ethics Committee, which consists of five Republicans and five Democrats, needs to have at least six votes in order to open an investigation of a possible ethics violation. This is just to begin an investigation. Begin -- of course with every presumption of innocence until the evidence is in and a judgment can be rendered. It used to be that an evenly divided Committee would investigate. Now, with Tom DeLay, known as "The Hammer," as Majority Leader, it will take a brave Republican to vote just to study the matter. This time I'd be happy if they decided to Flip-Flop back to the old rule. The way it is now we can be pretty sure that the House Ethics Committee won't do many investigations. Did I say "many?" Maybe "any" would be more like it.

The Chair of the House Ethics Committee said on National Public Radio on Thursday, January 6th, that he thought there was a good chance that he'd be removed from that Chairmanship. After all, he chaired the Committee when the admonished Tom DeLay. Is there any connection?

Well, maybe my representative, Tom Reynolds, who is pretty close with the House Republican leadership, could inform us on that. Mr. Reynolds is not a newcomer to Congress. He holds a top leadership position and is generally regarded as an influential "mover and shaker" in Republican circles. At the very least I think he owes those of us he represents an explanation of not only how he voted but more importantly what his reasoning was on both of these questions: the rule concerning an indicted House leader and the rule concerning the number of Ethics Committee votes needed to begin to look into an ethics question. Will he do even that much? Will he let us know how his moral compass guided him? Otherwise how can I know that he isn't being a hypocrite, only pretending to be good, noble, and moral?

Listener-Commentator Dave Aquino is a retired teacher from the Williamsville Central School District.