Chris Bell on the DeLay indictment
Oct. 2, 2005, 12:41AM
Seize this moment for reform
An opportunity for a new covenant
By CHRIS BELL
THE political frenzy swirling around Tom DeLay's
criminal indictment is about so much more than
Republicans and Democrats; it's about more than Tom
DeLay and Travis County District Attorney Ronnie
Earle. This all-too-common analysis being advanced by
politicos and pundits alike misses the real point.
During the past year, many have wanted to turn the
ethics complaint I filed against DeLay into some sort
of personal battle between DeLay and me, but that was
never what the complaint was about.
What has been missed, then and now, is that this is
ultimately about a corrupt system in need of true
reform. It's about how rampant corruption has an
impact on the lives of all Texans, indeed all
Americans. And, most importantly, it's about making
positive change. Today, we have a historic opportunity
to bring real ethics reform to Texas.
So much of our political system has become largely a
self-preservation society for entrenched incumbents
who need only heed the clarion call of cash and the
braying of partisan ideologues. Make no mistake both
parties in Washington pledge fealty to the status quo.
When I filed my ethics complaint, a few leading
Democrats thought that I should back down, not because
they thought I had the facts wrong, but because they
wanted to preserve the so-called "ethics truce" that
had existed for seven years, during which no member
would dare file an ethics complaint against another no
matter how foul the conduct.
Only in Washington would placing a truce on ethics
make sense to some people. Some would obviously rather
look the other way than admit that the universe does
not revolve around them and then act accordingly.
I still think that what I did in filing the ethics
complaint was unremarkable, or at least should be so.
What saddens me is that none of my colleagues in
Congress has filed one since then despite numerous
reports of unethical conduct that have come to light
involving other members of Congress.
Clearly, elected leaders of both parties have
abdicated their responsibilities to police themselves.
As a former congressman, I find this extremely
disappointing. As a native Texan, I am also saddened
to watch as that systemic corruption and apathy seeps
its ugly way from Washington into the pores of the
Austin political establishment. The so-called "culture
of corruption" is very real, and it is alive and well
in both Washington and Austin.
However, with a cloud this big, we can all take
comfort in the fact that there is a correspondingly
mammoth silver lining: The steady stream of scandals
is focusing attention on the need for real ethics
reform. We can use this opportunity to work toward
bipartisan ethics reform.
As I travel the state in my campaign for governor, I
am recognizing a bipartisan consensus for reforms
grounded in the principles of transparency and
accountability. If we seize this opportunity to push
for ethics reform, we will have accomplished something
more meaningful than targeting the cash-and-carry
criminality of one partisan leader.
Taking out Tom DeLay would boost the morale of the
Democratic Party and, I dare say, improve the
representation for the 22nd Congressional District
but it would prove a pyrrhic victory on its own.
Everyone but the scoundrel wants fair elections we can
all trust. Everyone wants a democracy to hold the
corrupt accountable. Taking on Tom DeLay without
accomplishing these goals is an empty pursuit.
I worked for ethics reform long before Tom DeLay and I
crossed paths, but our stories have become
inextricably linked. I'm sure that I will have to
answer questions about Tom DeLay for the rest of my
life. Someday, I would like to be able to say that
even though he has repeatedly demonstrated his passion
for power at the expense of ethics and integrity to
the detriment of those he serves we all owe him a
great debt. Without the scandals he caused, the people
of Texas would not have demanded real ethics reform
and reclaimed our government from the stench of
corruption and special interests.
A new covenant between Texans and their government,
starting with bipartisan ethics reform to make our
state government and campaigns more transparent and
accountable, would be a welcome and fitting conclusion
to Tom DeLay's long history of unjustifiable actions.
More importantly, it would be a new beginning for
Bell, a former Houston congressman, filed the ethics
complaint against Tom DeLay that resulted in the House
Ethics Committee unanimously admonishing the