Under the rubric "The exact same person can be a hero and corrupt, even a felon in some cases," barrister Bunch uncoils a fascinating narrative about courage and corruption.
All of this is a prelude to our saying that if the Democrats make Murtha the majority leader -- and there's a good chance they will -- they will be making their first big mistake of their leadership, before it even officially starts in January.
Murtha would get our vote for the bravest House member, and we'd like to see him play a key role in resolving the endless debate on Iraq. But the position that the Pennsylvania seeks is a political post, and as a career politician, Jack Murtha has been more than just a disappointment. In fact, the body of evidence shows that he has been one of the most ethically challenged, if not outright corrupt, Democrats in Congress.
-- This article from last September on TPMmuckraker chronicles how Murtha has
shamelessly steered millions of dollars in defense contracting "earmarks" to companies that used lobbying firms that hired his former staffers, and one of them reportedly also employs the congressman's own brother, Robert "Kit" Murtha. (You may recall that voters in Attytood's home district looked unfavorably on a GOP congressman who did something quite similar, helping firms that hired his daughter to lobby.)
-- Philly blogger BooMan finds Murtha's legendary vote-trading to get defense dollars for home district and his friends to be also worrthy of reproach: "Murtha has made his career in the minority by using his powerful ranking position on the
Appropriations Defense Subcommittee to trade Democratic votes to the Republicans in a game of extortion. If you are a Democrat and want to save that air force base in your district, you better find a vote to give to Murtha that he can sell to the Republicans. It's an ugly business and Murtha does it well. It makes me
sick." (Emphasis in original)
-- There are even lingering questions about what Murtha was really up to when the FBI captured him on tape with two agents posing as rich Arab sheiks in the 1979-80 Abscam probe (he was not charged with wrongdoing.)
So if the Democrats really cared about proving to voters about ethics and cleaning up Washington, rejecting Murtha would be a powerful message that would mean a lot more than the reform package that Pelosi is promising for January. Unfortunately, Murtha's main rival, centrist Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, is only a slight upgrade, at best. TPMmuckraker notes that Hoyer is heavily weighed down by special interest money and K Street connections, not to mention his repulsive (around these parts, anyway) vote in favor of pro-business bankruptcy bill last year.
So the best choice in the majority leader race for the Dems would clearly be...none of the above. Is it too late for a third hat in the ring?
Meanwhile, the same TPMmuckraker post calls out several other ethically hallenged Democrats -- including West. Va. Rep. and FBI prove target Alan Mollohan and impeached former federal judge Alcee Hastings -- who will now take on key roles.
This is very bad news for the Democrats indeed. Why? Because the exit polls from last Tuesday's election showed that American voters were more angry about corruption in Congress than most people realized; 42 percent told CNN's pollsters that corruption was the most important thing, while just 37 percent said Iraq. That's a positive for the Dems today, but not so positive if and when voters decide that the new boss is same as the old boss. (Emphasis supplied)
Luckily for the Democrats, there is one good deed the party can do -- but it needs to act quickly. Few may be aware of it, but there's a congressional runoff now down in New Orleans that pits arguably the most corrupt Democrat of all -- incumbent Rep. and $90,000 freezer man William Jefferson -- faces a fellow Democrat, state Rep. Karen Carter. If the national Dems, including Pelosi, have any common sense, they will pour considerable resources into ensuring that Carter wins.
That would be one small step for man...but one giant leap for the Democrats.