On this holiday weekend I give thanks to 12 of my Austin, Texas peers for doing the right and just thing and finding Tom DeLay guilty of money laundering and conspiracy. But even more so, I thank the lamentably neglected hero of this case: former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, whose dogged pursuit of political corruption is the key factor in the DeLay conviction.
That is not at all to discount the lawyers and office Earle left behind when he retired in 2009 after 33 years of truly honorable public service, no indeed. To defeat Dick DeGuerin, DeLay's lead defense attorney, is almost akin to Sisyphus finally getting that damned rock to remain atop the mountain. DeGuerin is, after all, the guy who recently got singer-songwriter Billy Joe Shaver off the hook for pulling a gun in a barroom dispute and asking the man just past the end of the barrel, "Where do you want it?" and then firing.
Yep, DeGuerin is that good. And Texas sure loves its crafty defense lawyers who win seemingly open and shut cases as much as its outlaw country troubadours like Shaver (so much as to wink at the transgressions of the latter). They are Lone Star State folk heroes. And similar admiration for wily politicians who can bend and break election laws with brass and canniness -- even begrudging from the opposition -- is yet another proud Texas tradition. In this here republic unlike any other of the 49 states, a bit of populist frontier sun always shines through most any cloud over those wheelers and dealers with a genuine streak of roguish élan (and one well beyond anything Sarah Palin has a clue about when it comes to truly going rogue).
It was all but obvious what DeLay was up to when I reported on the case for Salon in 2006, yet his conviction was anything but a foregone conclusion. The corruption of the democratic process with corporate cash rocketed to disturbing levels in the recent election cycle following the Supreme Court's shameful Citizens United decision last January. This conviction is a heartening counterweight.
Earle drew a line in the sand by indicting DeLay. It is emblematic of the former district attorney's modesty that the first news accounts of the verdict have not credited Earle's role. But make no mistake: Earle is the one to thank as much as anyone if not more so for the gavel of justice slamming down on The Hammer. And as I say my grace before my turkey dinner, I will give thanks for such a man of quiet integrity. And pray that more good men will similarly come to the aid of this country.