Tom DeLay- Corporate Whore

Wrong `Hammer' for the job

Published October 11, 2004

Don't look now, but "The Hammer" is getting nailed. Unless Republicans win a landslide victory on Nov. 2 that silences his many critics, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay stands a good chance of being turned out of his post by year-end. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy, considering how this patron saint of partisanship has earned his appropriately aggressive nickname.

In the clubby halls of Congress, getting spanked by the in-house ethics police is pretty rare. Last week, DeLay was walloped not once but twice, on top of a separate trip to the woodshed the week before.

Unfortunately, the Texas Republican's conduct lends support to the most cynical view of how the nation's top lawmakers carry out their duties. And his angry reaction to being admonished by his peers shows that DeLay is too arrogant to mend his ways.

The House Ethics Committee, in a unanimous, bipartisan vote , has rebuked DeLay for unethical conduct. The five Republicans on the 10-member committee, led by U.S. Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), should be commended for standing up to such a powerful member of their own party.

The facts, as revealed in the committee's investigative findings, are plenty damning. The most egregious example of misconduct involved DeLay's intervention in the Texas legislature's 2003 battle over redistricting. Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives had flown the coop, preventing state lawmakers from obtaining the quorum needed to ram through new districts that expanded Republican control.The speaker of the Texas House had heard that an airplane was shuttling the absent legislators out of state and wanted DeLay's help tracking it.

DeLay took down the tail number and directed one of his staffers to call the Federal Aviation Administration, which traced it to an Oklahoma airfield.

The Ethics Committee pointed out the obvious, namely that DeLay had no business using the resources of the federal government to further the partisan goals of his party in Texas.The committee also took DeLay to task for a smelly bit of fundraising in 2002. Just as Congress began a conference on high-stakes energy legislation, DeLay participated in a two-day event that included Westar Energy, a big contributor with an interest in the measure.

As DeLay and a pair of his senior advisers golfed and dined at a swanky resort, a Westar operative lobbied them for a special provision in the final bill. By all appearances, the committee concluded, Westar's $25,000 check to the "Texans for a Republican Majority PAC" had bought it special access to DeLay & Co.

Last week, the House panel also admonished DeLay for pressuring Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.) to vote for the Medicare prescription drug bill. In exchange for the vote, DeLay offered to endorse Smith's son in a congressional primary. That quid-pro-quo stuff is certainly a no-no, though to us it sounds like small potatoes compared with DeLay's airplane and fundraising capers.

But, hey, we're from Chicago.

DeLay has responded to his comeuppance with irrelevant bluster. Perhaps that's to be expected, given the uncompromising character of a fellow who has done as much as anyone to polarize Congress.

He's still not out of the woods on the Texas redistricting controversy, which has led to indictments against three of the majority leader's associates and eight companies.

DeLay has rejected Democrats' calls for his resignation. These may not be fireable offenses--they may be more common than anyone in either party wants to admit. But this much is certain: The Republicans need a new majority leader.

Eventually, House Speaker Dennis Hastert will retire, and the GOP will be looking for a successor if they still control the House. DeLay will be in line for speaker. The Republicans will make a terrible mistake if they hand it to him.

Far more than ideological zeal, voters want to see honesty and ethical behavior in public office. DeLay doesn't fit the job description.

Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune

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