Prosecutor Ronnie Earle at Head of DeLay Probe

Steve Inskeep talks to Wayne Slater, senior political writer of the Dallas Morning News, about Ronnie Earle. Earle is the district attorney leading the charges against Tom DeLay.

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NPR's Andrea Seabrook has covered one key personality in this story. Reporter Wayne Slater of The Dallas Morning News has covered another, the Austin district attorney Ronnie Earle.

And, Wayne, he doesn't seem afraid of a high-pressure prosecution himself.

Mr. WAYNE SLATER (The Dallas Morning News): No. He's a tough guy. He's done this for years, for almost three decades, going after, among regular crooks and criminals, he still has two or three broken fingers on his right hand from when he played linebacker at Birdville High School. He was small but he was feisty.

INSKEEP: And he's prosecuted a number of politicians over the years.

Mr. SLATER: He has, and if you really look at his record over the years, what he has done is gone after people in power. When Democrats were in power, he went after Democrats, brought many of them down, including a former Texas House speaker, a member of the Supreme Court. More recently he's gone after Republicans as they're in power.

INSKEEP: Although Republicans do point out that he is a Democrat, is his thumb on the scale at all when it comes to prosecuting Republicans?

Mr. SLATER: You know, I've watched Ronnie Earle for almost 20 years now, and what I see, based on the record, is that he's more an idealist than an ideologue. What he's about is the effect of corporate and labor money on political campaigns. He's worried, he says, about democracy. He talks about the future of democracy and the role that big money plays. That's what he says guides him, and I think despite the partisan attacks on one side and the partisan support on the other, if you look in the middle ground, that really seems to be the force that's guiding this action and other actions in the past.

INSKEEP: Does he have ambitions for higher office?

Mr. SLATER: He does not. He wanted to retire, and he told me in his office about a year ago that when he saw this investigation, he wanted to see this through. He's postponed his retirement, where he wanted to move back on the ranch and live out the rest of his life, but he decided to postpone the retirement because of the indictment. And this is not about future office. This is about, I guess, the end of his long political career in which he apparently has decided to swing for the fences.

INSKEEP: Wayne, thanks.

Mr. SLATER: Sure.

INSKEEP: Wayne Slater is Austin bureau chief for The Dallas Morning News.

And if you'd like to read a copy of Tom DeLay's indictment, you can find one at our Web site,

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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