Political Corner: DeLay Indictment

Ron Walters, professor of political science at the University of Maryland, and Robert Traynham, a GOP strategist, discuss Tom DeLay's indictment on a conspiracy charge in a campaign finance scandal. They also consider policies developed at two recent African-American political conferences.

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ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Every Thursday we join NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams and guests on our Political Corner. Tom DeLay's political and legal woes top today's discussion.

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

We're joined now by Professor Ron Walters. He's a professor of political science at the University of Maryland. Professor Walters was an adviser to Reverend Jesse Jackson's campaign for president. Also with us, Robert Traynham. He's a GOP strategist.

Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us today.

Professor RON WALTERS (Political Science, University of Maryland): Thank you, Juan.

Mr. ROBERT TRAYNHAM (GOP Strategist): Good to be with you.

WILLIAMS: Let's start with the news of the day, which is the indictment of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. He has notified House Speaker Denny Hastert that he will step aside, at least for the time being, as majority leader under House GOP rules.

Will this quite the controversy, Robert Traynham?

Mr. TRAYNHAM: Well, listen, this is a very serious charge that Majority Leader DeLay has been faced with. DeLay did the right thing by stepping down temporarily yesterday to clear the air, to make sure that all the facts get out, and to make sure that his attorneys do the right thing, which is to make the case, according to him, that he's completely innocent.

WILLIAMS: Ron Walters, the Republicans have been in power for a little while now and, as you know, the old saying is power leads to corruption. There's no getting away from it. Do you think they've reached the point now where the American public may start to see Republicans, who went into office for cleaning the decks and throwing out the bums, may themselves now be identified as corrupt?

Prof. WALTERS: I think that, you know, the Republican Party has been able to weather these storms. It's kind of like, you know, water off a duck's back. The things--in this era of American politics, the things that would have killed Democrats the Republicans get away with. So I kind of have to check myself and wait to see what's going to happen because right now this conservative consensus is really very strong.

Mr. TRAYNHAM: Ron, I take issue with that. It's not a question of whether Republicans get away with anything. The question is whether they're innocent or guilty. And if you take a look at what some of these alleged things that have happened over the years when it comes to Republicans, Republicans have been pretty good at making sure that there's a transparency in government when it relates to what they do in their private lives. What I mean by that is that the reason why this stuff hasn't stuck--or stick--is because they haven't been found guilty of anything.

Prof. WALTERS: Well, you know, I want to go back to a point at which the Republican leadership in the House actually changed the rules of the Ethics Committee in order to protect Tom DeLay. That wasn't transparency. It wasn't perceived to be transparency by the other party and a good part of the public.

WILLIAMS: You know, Ron Walters, it surprises me to hear you say that you don't think this is going to have a negative impact on the Republicans, but it sounds as if you're just depressed about the Democrats' chances to take advantage of it.

Prof. WALTERS: I really am. I think there is a deficit over there in the Democratic Party in terms of leadership. There is a fairly recent article by E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post; really was very prescient because he put his finger on something, which is to say that Democrats are always sort of looking over their shoulder now because they're looking at their constituency and trying to figure out if they're going to be punished for looking like liberal ideologues on some of these issue. And so they are sometimes in bed with, even sympathetically, with Republicans on a whole range of issues. Look at the recent defection of Senator Leahy in the Senate on the Roberts nomination. That really speaks volumes when you can have a leader of the Democratic Party support a relatively conservative presidential nominee to the Supreme Court. So there is disarray, but I think it's reflective of the fact that at this moment in history conservatism has changed the political culture and it even--has even changed the politics of the Democratic Party.

WILLIAMS: All right. One last topic for the two of you. This past weekend in Washington, you had the Congressional Black Caucus annual meeting and also BAMPAC, the Black conservative group, having its annual meeting. What came out of these meetings? Was there anything that represents progress or an initiative that deserves the attention of the American public? Ron Walters?

Prof. WALTERS: Well, I think that when you look at the Congressional Black Caucus panels--I've participated, just for public honesty, in three of them--and in almost all of these panels, there was a concern about what's going on with respect to rebuilding of the Gulf. The leadership of the Congressional Black Caucus was concerned about the fact that the president had excluded affirmative action from the contracting process, that the president had set aside prevailing wage standard and excluded, really, many small-business people. Some development in terms of wanting to participate in the Million More Movement, and make that--it's going to take place on October the 15th.

WILLIAMS: This is in line with the Million Man March, and again, sponsored by Louis Farrakhan.

Prof. WALTERS: That's right. But it is an upcoming--a huge mobilization that's going to take place in this city, and a lot of people want to shift what happened last weekend to this demonstration format.

WILLIAMS: Robert Traynham, what came out of the BAMPAC meeting on the Republican side?

Mr. TRAYNHAM: You know, it's interesting, because the BAMPAC meeting--Black America's Political Action Committee--we had a two-day meeting here in Washington, DC, where the issues that were presented--or, rather, discussed--were, I think, issues that are really important to the black community. Specifically, we talked about HBCUs and increased funding for education. We talked about the faith-based initiative and what that means for the black community. We also talked about marriage and defining exactly what that means in the black community. We talked about economic empowerment. Ken Mehlman, who's chairman of the Republican National Committee; Lynn Swan, who's running for governor in Pennsylvania, African-American; Michael Steele, who's the lieutenant governor in Maryland who's running for the Senate; Keith Butler, who is a bishop out in Detroit who's running for the Senate in Michigan--all were on hand to really talk about the salient issues within the black community and how do we move the ball forward.

And what's interesting, Juan, about all of this is that the Congressional Black Caucus has been having their, quote, "CBC weekend" now for--I don't know--10 or 15 or maybe even 20 years now, and they're still talking about the same old issues and almost literally chasing their tails. But what BAMPAC was talking about was issues that are salient in the community today, moving the ball forward for tomorrow, really coming up with solutions to really affect--that really affect black Americans in this country. And so what I think you saw--at least what I saw--was literally night and day.

WILLIAMS: I've been joined by Robert Traynham, a GOP strategist, and Ron Walters, professor of political science at the University of Maryland and former adviser to Reverend Jesse Jackson's campaigns for president.

Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us on this week's Political Corner.

Prof. WALTERS: Thank you, Juan.

Mr. TRAYNHAM: Thanks for having me.

GORDON: Join us every Thursday to hear more from Juan Williams and our Washington insiders right here on Political Corner.

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