Debra J. Saunders

House Republicans are scrambling to rub some of the tarnish off their dingy ethics image. They're desperately proposing reforms that would prevent members from taking pricey golf junkets paid for by special interests -- that is, they want to ban trips they never should have accepted. They're even holding a Feb. 2 in-House election to replace the indicted Texan Rep. Tom DeLay as House majority leader.

 Give it up. A new face on the organizational chart picked from Team DeLay won't save the sorry image of House Repubs. Ditto ethics rules that any half-competent politician can subvert faster than you can say "election lawyer." If Republicans want to convince voters that they've reformed, here's a suggestion: Pick Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., to replace DeLay.

 It would be glorious payback. When Hefley was chairman of the House ethics committee, he stood up to DeLay. In 2004, his committee unanimously admonished DeLay three times -- for offering to trade a candidate endorsement for a vote in favor of the Medicare drug plan, for cozying up to energy lobbyists in a way that "at a minimum, created the appearance that donors were being provided with special access" and for asking a federal agency to track a plane carrying members of the Texas Legislature during a political squabble. GOP biggies were miffed -- not at DeLay, as they should have been, but at Hefley.

 In retaliation, the GOP leadership announced it would change committee rules to make it harder to investigate complaints, and thus shielded DeLay. Hefley complained that the changes threatened "the integrity of the House." The GOP leadership kindly dumped Hefley and found a new man to chair the committee.

 What better man to replace DeLay then the man who lost a committee for standing up to "The Hammer"?

 As the Almanac of American Politics noted, Hefley said of DeLay: "He lets me know repeatedly I'm not part of his team, and that's fine. I don't want to be part of his team."

 Here's another welcome departure from the frenzied logrolling that has been endemic under House Speaker Dennis Hastert: "He often offers amendments to cut appropriations by 1 percent and in September 2004 stripped dozens of transportation projects off an appropriation because they had not been authorized," wrote the Almanac. Hefley had explained, "It's just an exercise to illustrate that you ought to do it by the proper procedure."

Debra J. Saunders

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