Esquire profiles Ronnie Earle

This month's Esquire has a long profile of Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle by John H. Richardson. I don't do this very often, but since it's only available on-line for those who pay $2.95 to subscribe, I recommend going to your local bookstore or newsstand and picking up the March Esquire for $3. Pass it on to your friends after you read it. It's worth the money.

Richardson writes at length about Earle's journey to take on this case. It also has the best compilation of material I've seen anywhere to debunk the charges the Republicans in Washington and Texas about Earle being a "crackpot district attorney" and on a "partisan witch hunt."

Earle comes across as an earnest, honest man trying to do what is right. He is also is a populist who sees this investigation he's leading in a much greater context than simply prosecuting crooked politicians and their corporate donors. That's what's driven him, in the three settlements so far with corporate donors to TRMPAC, to require the corporations to disclose their political donations on their websites and to give substantial donations to an institute at the University of Texas to study and educate the public on corporate money in politics.

At the beginning of the inquiry, Earle subpoenaed the executive director of the Texas Association of Business (TAB) for records related to TRMPAC. When TAB stonewalled, Earle got up in court, clearly frustrated, and said:

"If we can't tell who is behind these elections, why do we have elections? Why don't we just let the Texas Association of Business appoint our elected officials?"

He also was prescient about why these corporate donors had given so much to elect a Republican state legislature. Here's what, according to Richardson, happened in the 2003 legislative session in Austin, along with the amounts given by the interested corporations or associations:

  • A new law protecting nursing homes from lawsuits (Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care had given $100,000)
  • A law was defeated that would have prevented AT&T from entering the internet market in Texas (AT&T gave $20,000)
  • The legislature "took action that cost consumers $1.3 billion in [insurance] premiums over three years, according to one estimate (big insurance companies gave more than $1 million)

Richardson goes on:

And then, of course, there was redistricting, which had been DeLay's prime objective all along.

The profile leaves me with these three reactions:

  1. Earle is a fiercely seeking justice, and it's clear that for voters in Texas to get justice in this matter, DeLay will have to be held accountable. There is no doubt that DeLay is a target of this investigation (Richardson writes, "Over and over, Earle saw Tom DeLay's fingerprints.")
  2. This brazen power grab was masterful for its exploitation of self-interest, and shocking for its arrogant disregard for democracy and the public interest. DeLay wanted more GOP members in Congress and to make a generational shift in Texas politics. Corporate interests wanted a pliant and obedient state legislature. DeLay created one strategy to accomplish both.
  3. Earle is not backing down. With the 60 Minutes show pending, he will be vilified by Republicans and their allies in conservative noise machine as a crackpot district attorney like never before. (Richardson chronicles this, too.) We need to be there to defend him.

Buy this magazine. Pass it to friends. Urge them to pass it along as well. And let's be ready to defend Ronnie Earle's investigation when they come after him. It's not just his fight; it's all of ours.