Michael Barone

 Was Earle acting out of political malice? There's strong evidence for that proposition, including some of his own recent public statements. It's true, as Earle's defenders say, that he has prosecuted prominent Texas Democratic officials and has gotten convictions in many of these cases. But when he first came to office and for many years afterward, there were very few Republican public officials in Texas, and the main political conflict was between liberal Democrats like Earle and moderate and conservative Democrats.

 Also, the fact that a prosecutor has successfully brought valid prosecutions does not guarantee that he has never brought prosecutions in cases in which no one ever should have been charged.

 One such case, in my judgment, was brought by Earle against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in 1993. Hutchison had just been elected to the seat held for years by Democrat Lloyd Bentsen and seemed set to win the race for a full term in 1994. Most of the charges against Hutchison were dismissed before trial, and Earle dropped the remaining charges. Earle may well have been serving the public interest by prosecuting other politicians. But the Hutchison case looked then and looks now very much like an abuse of prosecutorial discretion.

 In the short run, and quite possibly the long run, the DeLay indictment will hurt Republicans nationally and give the Democrats ammunition to charge the Republican Party with corruption. But if my tentative view of the case is right, it also raises serious questions about the place of local prosecutors in our politics.

 American prosecutors are mostly selected through the political process. Most state district attorneys are elected on partisan ballots -- United States attorneys are typically picked by the state's senior senator of the president's political party.

 I have known many prosecutors, state and federal, of both political parties, and have found them all to be very much aware of the huge power that they have in their discretion to bring criminal charges against people involved in politics and determined to wield that power impartially and fairly.

 Mostly, I think, American prosecutors have done so. Ronnie Earle seems to be an exception.

Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM