Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Democrats and corruption

The Democrats made some leadership choices today, and it sends a few confusing messages about their committment to fighting corruption.

I'm actually less worried about the House, where Nancy Pelosi has been criticized for publicly favoring John Murtha over her current deputy, Steny Hoyer.

The criticism is twofold: that Pelosi is waging an unnecessary battle that she can only lose -- either dividing her caucus or suffering an intramural defeat -- and that Murtha has long been linked to questionable ethical moves, ranging from enthusiastic use of earmarks to the Abscam bribery scandal a quarter century ago.

But frankly, Pelosi and Murtha's leadership will be judged on their deeds, not their past. The political wisdom of picking an early and public fight aside, Pelosi backing Murtha doesn't signal anything about her anti-corruption drive.

Over in the Senate, though, the Democrats have made another odd choice. The main Senate leadership team is unsurprising -- Harry Reid will be majority leader, with Dick Durbin as his assistant. But they also named Terrance Gainer as sergeant at arms for the Senate.

Why is that odd? Because Gainer resigned as chief of the Capitol Police in April after hiring his son-in-law as a police officer in violation of nepotism laws. What's even weirder was that it was repeated confrontations with congressional Democrats that eventually led to revelations of the hiring and thus his ouster.

I suppose one can view this as a form of reaching across the aisle, or simply take the view that the nepotism case really wasn't that big a deal. But it's still sends a mixed message on the corruption front.

The true test of Democrats' devotion to clean government still lies in what Congress does about lobbyists, earmarks and openness. But these moves don't exactly fill me with hope.

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