Wednesday, September 28, 2005

DeLay Neutralized - Is Frist Next?

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was indicted by a Texas grand jury today on charges of conspiracy in a campaign finance scandal. Under Republican House rules, DeLay was forced to temporarily resign his position as majority leader. GOP congressmen quickly replaced DeLay with Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri. (Reuters: No.2 Republican in U.S. House indicted).

While DeLay's resignation was called temporary, it is in all likelihood a career ender for the embattled congressman. The indictment alone is sufficient to do permanent damage to his career. Even if ultimately found not guilty of the charge (which carries a 2-year prison term), it is unlikely that his political career can recover from the scandal. The concept of "innocent until proven guilty" no longer applies in our society, and a simple indictment is sufficient to end a career in any field, not just politics.

DeLay is not the only Republican on the ropes. House Speaker Bill Frist is also being investigated for a questionable stock sale, although he denies any involvement in the decision to sell. Allegations of insider trading by the Speaker, coming in the wake of other high profile stock scandals, may prove costly to Frist. The impact of legal difficulties involving both the Speaker and Majority Leader will be problematic for the GOP heading into the mid-term elections. Given the state of the economy, rising gas prices, and a war in Iraq that is becoming increasingly unpopular, this is not a good time to be an incumbent. Adding two high profile legal problems to the GOP ranks will not make holding control of both houses any easier.

There have already been cries of a political witch hunt. I'm sure there's some measure of politics involved - it would be naive to think otherwise - but both cases are more the result of political stupidity. In DeLay's case, the scrutiny followed redistricting in Texas that resulted in a net increase in Republican controlled districts. Was he foolish enough to think that wouldn't spur an investigation? In Frist's case, the stock sale preceded negative earnings announcements and a 9% drop in stock price. That type of sale is certain to raise eyebrows regardless of party affiliation. So I'm staying out of the political witch hunt conspiracy theory quagmire. Rather, I'm going to wait for the legal system to do its job.

Regardless of how it turns out, my personal opinion is that DeLay is politically finished. I don't believe he can survive this indictment. Frist still has a chance, if he can prove he did not have a hand in either the stock sale or prior knowledge of the earnings announcement. That will be a tough sell, given his brother's first-hand knowledge of the financials. Either way, 2006 is going to be a difficult campaign year for Republicans. Sadly, they only have their own leadership to blame for it.


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1 comment :

Alan Fraser said...

There's no witch-hunt. DeLay has had this coming for years and it's been, at best, disingenuous of the GOP to defend someone who everyone knew to be evil to the bone.

There's no particular axe to grind with Frist other than his wimpy pandering on the stem cell issue. That makes him, in my view, pretty much of a protozoan (i.e., spineless) as he knew the science but voted the party line anyway...until he chose to switch. He doesn't have much credibility with me but I hadn't regarded him as a crook.