Think U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Clueless) is going to clip this one for his scrapbook? The New York Times editorializes:
One of Washington’s more amusingly titled institutions – the House ethics committee – is at it again, which is to say not at it again. The panel is a stunning still-life study in Capitol casuistry and partisan standoff. It is dedicatedly not shining a light on complaints pending against a half-dozen members, resolutely holding just one meeting for this entire year, and wallowing in the stagnation that Tom DeLay, the indicted, deposed majority leader, engineered when he purged the committee’s chairman and watered down its rules.
Mr. DeLay now faces criminal charges in Texas for allegedly violating campaign laws, but taxpayers should still not expect much of a stir by the House’s moral arbiters. The new committee chairman, Doc Hastings, a Republican from Washington State, made that clear last week when he stoutly defended the innocence of Mr. DeLay, his political mentor, while insisting that the House ethics committee would continue to shy from its own inquiry. “We don’t have the resources,” Mr. Hastings told The Yakima Herald-Republic, even though the committee received a 40 percent budget increase this year.
The Republican majority is in dire need of a sense of shame. Speaker Dennis Hastert should prod something better from Mr. Hastings. The committee also needs a nonpartisan staff with credible bipartisan rules and an agenda that dares to come to life.
What are the people’s lawmakers afraid of finding out about themselves?
To describe Hastings career up until now as “low profile” would be charitable. During his decade in the House, Hastings has earned a well-deserved reputation as the quietest member of our state’s congressional delegation… a do-nothing attitude that probably plays well with some of his “small government” supporters in WA’s largely rural 4th District. But as Ethics Chair, the chronic torpor that rendered him relatively harmless as just another congressman, totally undermines what little institutional integrity and effectiveness the committee has left. Which of course, is exactly why DeLay gave him the job in the first place: what better way to assure that ethics investigations grind to a halt than to mire the committee with a chair who is not only reliably partisan, but who favors a parliamentary style that borders on the inert?
The Ethics Committee’s year-long dormancy under Hastings’ putative leadership, combined with his ill-considered public statements in defense of DeLay, is not only an embarrassment to Congress, but to the voters of WA’s 4th District. The Yakima Herald-Republic also chimes in with an editorial today, and while I don’t quite understand their assertion that Hastings has acquitted himself by clarifying his position on DeLay (unless by “clarify” they mean “contradict”… am I missing the sarcasm?), they are clearly sending a message that they will hold Hastings responsible should he fail to follow through on his responsibilities.
DeLay will get his day in Texas courts. That’s proper because an indictment is not a conviction.
But once that process is finished, he must then get his due before the Ethics Committee. If you buy into the old saying that “where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” in DeLay’s case we should be thinking Five-Alarm.
As we said in this column before, DeLay is at least an ethical embarrassment and has come to epitomize everything that’s wrong with politics and many politicians. His brand of hardball, sleazy politics doesn’t belong in Congress, certainly not as a leader.
Once he’s settled with Texas courts, and if he’s still a member of Congress, DeLay’s case should be brought before the ethics panel headed by Hastings, who has now assured the public that he has “absolutely no predisposition” concerning this case.
However it happens, let’s hope that the final solution is DeLay’s exit from Congress.
And if Hastings fails to live up to his obligations and public proclamations, then I can only assume that the Herald Republic will endorse Hastings exit from Congress as well.
Indeed, if not for the fact that Democrats have such a weak bench in Eastern WA — they hold only 6 of 63 county commissioner seats — Hastings would be vulnerable to the corruption and incompetence fueled political storm surge that threatens to deluge Republicans in 2006. As of now the Democrats have no strong candidate to challenge Hastings, but that could change. Somewhere out in Eastern WA there must be a maverick Democrat in the mold of Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer… a rancher or farmer or small business owner with the real life experience and force of personality to appeal to voters leery of the culture of corruption that has captured the other Washington under Republican control.
Such a candidate could put Hastings out of a job, where once again his do-nothing attitude would do no harm.