Herger protects House leader

On Nov. 17, House Republicans approved a party rules change to allow Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, to retain his leadership post even if indicted by a Texas grand jury on political-corruption charges.

In an unrecorded voice vote, the 150-member House Republican Conference tossed out a 1993 rule that required party leaders who are indicted to step down. Under the new rule, an indicted leader can keep his or her post while the Republican Steering Committee decides whether to recommend any action by all GOP House members.

But only about half of those who voted on the controversial issue made their decisions public. Initially, Rep. Wally Herger, R Chico, was listed on at least one Web log site, dailydelay.blogspot.com, as having chosen not to reveal his vote. Instead, the blog indicated, Herger and 28 of his colleagues had chosen to explain their votes in letters to their constituents. The same blog said 55 members revealed they’d voted for the change, 25 said they’d voted against, 31 abstained and 13 simply refused to say.

In a phone interview this week, however, Herger said he voted in favor of the rules change because the investigation against DeLay is politically motivated. He said he had not purposely hidden his vote, that this was simply the first time he’d been asked about it.

“There are many of us in Washington who feel that DeLay is innocent until proven guilty,” Herger explained.

He said his vote was not made public because “there was a lot going on at that time, and this was already a foregone conclusion.”

Eleven years ago, to show they were superior to the Democrats in the wake of a Democratic leadership scandal, the House Republicans passed a law that required indicted party leaders to step down. But with the Republican victories on Nov. 2 leading to a greater majority in Congress, the party’s leaders are not letting Democratic objections, parliamentary rules of order or government watchdog groups get in the way of advancing their agenda.

Herger said the political landscape has changed since the first rule was passed.

“Unlike ‘93, this is a very politically charged situation,” he said. “It is very motivated by politics and has a lot to do with the redistricting in Texas.”

Herger said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, has also been accused of questionable fundraising efforts.

“We have to look at both sides,” he said. “I’m not pointing any fingers, but look at the minority leader. There has been a fair amount of allegations, somewhat the same type of thing, aimed at her. Both should be held to the law.”

The possible indictment against DeLay stems from his political-action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC), which was formed in 1993 and since then has taken thousands of dollars from corporations such as Enron and passed it on to Republican candidates for Congress and the Texas Legislature. (Herger received $1,105 in campaign contributions from ARMPAC this year.)

However, Texas law says corporate money may not be spent in state races, and that is why DeLay is now under suspicion.

While there is no immediate indication the Austin Grand Jury will indict DeLay as part of a probe led by a Democratic prosecutor, in September grand jurors indicted three of DeLay’s associates and eight corporations in an investigation of possibly illegal corporate contributions to ARMPAC.

For years Delay has worked to build a substantial Republican majority in the Texas Legislature. In 2000, according to an Enron e-mail, DeLay sent notes to the giant energy corporation’s executives “about designating portions of their contributions for use in Texas.”

Days later Enron, which helped nearly bankrupt California via energy-price gouging two years ago and soon after became fabulously notorious for accounting fraud, sent $50,000 to the Republican National State Election Committee. At about the same time the committee transferred $1.2 million to the Texas Republican Party, which in turn donated $1.3 million to 20 candidates running for the state Legislature, possibly in violation of state law.

But Delay’s efforts paid off, as the GOP took control of the Texas Legislature for the first time in 130 years and the congressional districts in the Lone Star State were redrawn, sending more Republicans to the House and further cementing DeLay’s leadership position.

"The prosecutor and a judge in Texas are trying to get back at Tom DeLay," Herger said. "Should Tom DeLay be proven guilty, then he should not be a leader, but he should also not be sitting in Congress."