Renzi and Republicans
Extortion and money laundering are usually the province of gangsters, not Western Congressmen. That changed yesterday with the indictment of GOP Representative Rick Renzi of Arizona on charges that he used his seat on the House Natural Resources Committee to enrich himself through a trail of payoffs on land deals.
Prosecutors allege that Mr. Renzi used his clout to push land sales that could then be traded for other property owned by the federal government. Companies that wanted to trade acreage in exchange for federal land they considered promising for mining opportunities were encouraged to buy property belonging to one of Mr. Renzi's business partners. In return, they were promised a smooth ride with the committee on the land swaps. When the sales went through, the Congressman allegedly got a cut of the proceeds from his pal, at least $733,000.
Mr. Renzi has already said he isn't seeking re-election this year, and his lawyer said yesterday that "We will fight these charges until he is vindicated." But the indictment alone will remind many voters of the kind of corruption and arrogance that contributed to the GOP's defeat in 2006. Other Republicans are still under investigation for misusing Congressional power, and further indictments can't be ruled out.
The Renzi episode is the residue of what might be called the Tom DeLay era of Congressional rule, when keeping power for its own sake became the GOP goal. Current Republican leaders, now and perhaps for years to come in the minority, tell us they resent our antiearmarking editorials. But Republicans aren't going to win back voter trust if they don't once again become the party of reform and modest government, instead of dubious land swaps.