In 1993, House Republicans were aghast that Dan Rostenkowski, then Democratic chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, was holding onto his chairmanship despite the fact that he’d been indicted for abuses of his mail “franking” privilege.

The Republicans were outraged! How could an accused criminal continue to hold a high position in the Democratic leadership? What rank hypocrisy! What a stark example of Democrats being unethical and protecting their own even if they might be criminals!

Eleven years later, what is the very first thing House Republicans do when they return triumphantly after their election victories? Reform the Intelligence community? Pass an energy bill that reduces our dependence on Saudi oil? How about repeal an ethics rule so that the House Majority leader can keep his leadership position while facing a corruption indictment.

House Republican leader Tom “The Hammer” DeLay is on the verge of being indicted for violations of Texas state election laws, and House Republicans voted today to change the rules to allow Tom DeLay to keep his leadership post even if that indictment comes down.

In fairness, DeLay says the prosecutions, which already include several indictments against key fundraisers in his employ, are just politically motivated. Yes, the District Attorney pursuing DeLay is a Democrat. But, then again, as a sworn law enforcement officer, the Texas D.A. may also simply be doing his job and the political benefits of putting the hammer to “The Hammer” may just be a happy side benefit.

The reality is that, as Molly Ivins says, it’s pretty damn hard to violate Texas election law, mostly because Texas election laws are so few and far between. About the only rule in Texas that means anything is the one about not taking money from corporations. Guess which one DeLay and his minions allegedly violated? And to compound the hypocrisy, DeLay allegedly set up a foundation for poor children through which to launder corporate donations. This is not what they meant by leaving no child behind…

The brazen and hypocritical behavior of Tom DeLay is nothing new. He has incurred three rebukes by the House Ethics panel, two in a single week. He was the one who called the Federal Aviation Administration claiming a Homeland Security emergency to help track down the airplane carrying Texas Democrats who were trying to avoid a vote in the Texas Legislature to redraw congressional district lines to favor Republicans. (Shock of shocks, in this month’s elections, most of the new Republican gains in the House of Representatives were Republicans unseating Democrats in Texas!)

The slimy career of Tom DeLay, who started life as an exterminator, has been chronicled in Lou Dubose’s book The Hammer Tom DeLay: God, Money, and the Rise of the Republican Congress. It’s a good read, but it will definitely make your skin crawl. There is a great interview with Lou Dubose at Mother Jones and on NPR’s Fresh Air.

As if giving DeLay a pass on his alleged crimes weren’t enough, Republican leaders are reportedly trying to roll back ethics rules to let political appointees and high ranking elected officials conceal conflicts of interest, such as having financial stakes in companies they might be regulating. Is this what passes for ethics in the “Red” states?

More on this topic soon. Sadly, lax ethics and conflicts of interest are an evergreen theme in the Bush Administration.