Saturday, April 28, 2007

I guess he's going to choose to do it 'the hard way.'

In my last post I asked whether Rick Renzi is going to resign. Since the FBI raided his family business and he was dropped from ROMP (Regain Our Majority Party-- a Republican fundraising group that is presently raising funds for Republican congressmembers in marginal districts), Renzi has since resigned from his congressional committees, leading to intense speculation that he was planning to resign from Congress. Yesterday, however, Renzi said that he doesn't plan to resign, and that he will fight the corruption charges being leveled against him. He claimed that what we are seeing is a partisan attack. Yeah, right. Those Democrats, they sure run the FBI and Alberto Gonzales' Justice Department, especially for the purpose of getting Rick Renzi. But the paranoia aside, it seems that Congressman Renzi intends to fight this out to the bitter end.

So be it.

The evidence is rapidly accumulating that his large and complicated web is unraveling. Details of the Sandlin land deal have grown into a wide reaching investigation of alleged bribery, kickbacks and other schemes with Renzi running for Congress essentially out of the proceeds. The FBI raid last week resulted in the seizure of documents, presumably related to the ongoing investigation. And with Attorney General Gonzales in the crosshairs for the firing of U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton in what it is increasingly clear was an effort to sidetrack the Renzi investigation, don't expect that Congressman Renzi will get any more favors from the Justice Department-- Attorney General Gonzales is desperately trying to hold onto his own job, and the last thing he will do is stick his neck out again to save Rick Renzi's.

I'm not sure whether his leaving the committees will make much difference, because Rick Renzi has scores of absences from committee meetings and committee votes during the past four and a half years, so by resigning from the committees he was serving on he only makes official what was unofficial before-- that he's just not interested in the day to day work of House committees. However, as the only member of Congress without any committee assignments, I'm not sure what exactly Mr. Renzi is supposed to do. More to the point, as the print edition of the Arizona Republic pointed out this morning, his no longer serving on the committees will cause his source of donors to dry up.

Politically, it is hard to see how Renzi can survive this, even if he tries to stay in Congress. He does have broad support here, having crafted a coalition of Republicans and Native Americans (since he has spread a lot of Congressional money around on the reservations.) But while his support is broad, it is not deep. I've met Republicans (and occasionally others) who are willing to go the wall for, say, Jon Kyl or Jake Flake-- they just fundamentally believe in and support those candidates. I may disagree with their supporters, but in many cases they are voting for Jon Kyl or for Jake Flake very specifically because they like them. On the other hand, I've hardly ever met anyone who was excited about Rick Renzi. Republicans vote for him because he is a Republican, Native Americans vote for him because they expect Federal money back as a reward, but I don't ever think I've met anyone who was really jacked up about voting for (or working for) Rick Renzi. At events I've seen him or his representatives at like parades and fairs, the only people wearing 'Renzi' attire were his campaign staff-- mostly college age interns imported from someplace else (like Renzi himself is) and presumably expected to don his campaign wear. So what I'm saying is that if, say, Jon Kyl for example were involved in a similar scandal (not that I have any hint or reason to believe right now that he might be), he'd have some core level supporters who would stick with him no matter what. Renzi just doesn't have that depth of support.

Renzi refusing to resign also puts the GOP in a pickle. On the Democratic side, State legislator Ann Kirkpatrick, who represents the Navajo reservation in addition to Flagstaff and Sedona, had been considering running against Renzi even before this all broke. I'd say at this point it is highly likely that she will run, and if/when she does she will make a formidable candidate. On the Republican side, they have a tough situation. If Renzi left Congress soon enough then they could put together a challenge, possibly by former State Senate President Ken Bennett. But if he stays and fights, then do they run against him in the primary and risk weakening him further? If not, then might he end up being indicted a la Tom DeLay and Bob Ney and hand the seat to the Democrats anyway?

On the national level, he also puts the GOP in a jam. Last year when they lost soundly in November the two main issues according to exit polling were Iraq and the 'culture of corruption.' As I blogged on Wednesday, with the President failing to budge on getting us out of Iraq and finally beiong confronted on it by Congress, that issue will work to the advanted of Democrats in 2008. So now thanks to Rick Renzi, the corruption issue will now be front and center. In other words, the GOP will be heading into the 2008 election cycle without having gotten out from the wrong side of the two issues which worked so devastatingly agains them in 2006, and Rick Renzi fighting it out will be like Bob Ney and Tom DeLay trying to fight it out were in 2006-- the kind of slow drip story that will keep GOP corruption in the headlines (although after Renzi, ongoing investigations against Reps. John Doolittle, Tom Feeney and Gary Miller will keep the pipeline running.)

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