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Murtha’s Augean Stables

It didn’t take long for Democrat unity to become hopelessly entangled in petty feuds and party alliances.

Speaker elect of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi’s choice for Majority Leader, Rep. John Murtha, was quickly voted down by a majority of Democrats. Many of the incoming “young turks,” swept into office owing to voter disenchantment with the war in Iraq, voted for Murtha on Pelosi’s recommendation, which came late in the day after Rep. Steny Hoyer had secured promises of support among House members uncomfortable with corruption in Washington DC.

Among Murtha most vigorous supporters in Connecticut were one “young turk,” Joe Courtney, who defeated Republican Rep. Rob Simmons by the narrowest of margins, and one “old turk,” Rep. John Larson, who praised Murtha’s opposition to the war in Iraq as a sufficient reason for supporting him. Larson has been appointed House Democratic Caucus vice chairman in the reconfigured congress and, as such, may have felt himself duty bound to support Pelosi’s decisions, however inadvisable.

A majority of Larson’s associates in the House, however, offered a stunning rebuke to Pelosi. The vote for Rep. Steny Hoyer and against Murtha was a lopsided 149 to 86. In a Washington Post press report preceding the vote, Murtha, far from being a Hercules prepared to clean the soiled Augean stables in Congress of corruption, was portrayed as one of the contented Beltway cows.

The Post report mentioned Murtha’s involvement in an FBI sting operation that involved agents posing as Arab sheiks. Following the vote for Majority Leader, the New York Times observed gravely in a stinging editorial, “The well-known shortcomings of Mr. Murtha were broadcast for all to see — from his quid-pro-quo addiction to moneyed lobbyists to the grainy government tape of his involvement in the Abscam scandal a generation ago. The resurrected tape — feasted upon by Pelosi enemies — shows how Mr. Murtha narrowly survived as an unindicted co-conspirator, admittedly tempted but finally rebuffing a bribe offer: ‘I’m not interested — at this point.’”

For people in Connecticut, rubbed sore by corruption, Murtha’s involvement with lobbyists and money changers in the temple of US Congress is itself disqualifying. Connecticut sent to jail a governor who used confederates in his office to procure favors from contractors doing business with the state, though former Governor John Rowland was convicted on a lesser charge. A battalion of red flags were waving over Murtha’s head when he was favored by Pelosi to be Majority Leader.

In Connecticut today, especially among Democrats, Rowland still figures as a campaign hobgoblin, a spook brought out during elections to frighten away those considering voting for any Republican who has had any attachment to him, however remote and inoffensive. But Rowland did not “put on hold” Arab sheiks who were attempting to bribe him with a drawer full of money; he did not fail to report such bribery to proper officials; he did not provide earmarks for a company, The PMA Group, that had reaped 60 special provisions, or earmarks, worth more than $95 million. The PMA Group – whose two lobbyists were Paul Magliocchetti, a former aide to Murtha, and Murtha’s brother Robert “Kit” Murtha – was described in the Washington Post story as “the go-to firm to approach Murtha as ranking Democrat on the Appropriations defense subcommittee.” Both the Post and the Times are liberal papers that have vigorously criticized the war in Iraq.

If Murtha were a Republican governor of Connecticut, he likely would have been impeached and prosecuted.

All the information now presented in major stories has been long available to politicians that endorsed Murtha as Majority Leader. The Los Angeles Times broke the story in June 2005, and the Times last October reported extensively on Murtha’s questionable connections with lobbyists. Apparently, there are among us in Connecticut politicians and commentators who are perfectly willing to turn a blind eye to the evident corruption of a politician who has done yeoman service for them in other respects; thus, Murtha is to be given a get out of jail card because he strenuously opposed President Bush’s war in Iraq.

Among the first Republican politicians to condemn John Rowland was Rep. Rob Simmons, defeated this year by Courtney. John Larson holds what surely is among the safest seats in the House, and yet he could not pluck up the courage to vote against Murtha – because he did not wish to alienate the affections of incoming Speaker Pelosi.

This is not an auspicious beginning in the new Democrat Congress for "turks" young and old.

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